Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rosalind's Sister Eileen

Here we go again: Does My Sister Eileen sound familiar? That's because we saw the 1955 version with Betty Garrett last summer. This is the 1942 version with Rosalind Russell as Ruth, and Janet Blair as her sister Eileen.

It's the same story, two sisters move from Columbus Ohio to a basement flat in Greenwich Village. Eileen, the pretty airhead sister, wants to be a actress. Ruth, the older, wiser sister wants to be a writer, who finally finds her niche writing about the exploits of her sister and the men she attracts.

It starts out like one of those misfortune comedies, where everything goes wrong, but it quickly gets a lot sillier than that. Mrs. Spenser was literally ROTFL - of course, we watch TV on a floor cushion, so we were already on the floor. But she was amazed at the surreal zaniness, and called it a live-action Loony Tunes. I was a little more temperate, since I remembered the previous version and I also knew how this one came out (advance spoiler warning).

But my question is, how does the Rosalind Russell version compare to the later Betty Garrett version? Let's see:
  • Janet Leigh (1955) made a better Eileen. She had a nice Monroe-type voice, breathy and sweet. Janet Blair(1942) had the figure, but wasn't so obviously a bubble-brain.
  • Ruth's editor is played by Brian Aherne in the 1942 version. He's a solid businessman, a little beefy, mature, with a mustache - kind of a Brian Donlevy type. This role was played by Jack Lemmon in the 1955 version, making the character less solid, more neurotic, more modern. It doesn't work for me.
  • Muscle-bound neighbor Wreck Loomis is played by Dick York in the 1955 version, and not in 1942. Advantage: 1942.
  • Eileen's primary suitors in 1955 are played by Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall (it's technically a musical). They made no impression on me at all - I don't remember any songs or dancing. So that doesn't tip the balance much one way or the other.
So it should come down to Rosalind Russell v. Betty Garrett. Although Russell is a major star, she's a little too glamorous and assertive to pass for the mousy, wry Ruth. Garrett has this role nailed. So it might seem that the Betty Garrett version has the edge.

But - for general zaniness and madcappery, this 1942 Rosalind Russell version actually wins out. Plus - SPOILER - it has a secret weapon: A last minute appearance by the Three Stooges: Moe, Larry and Curly.

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