Another terrific film by poor neglected Richard Quine (1920-1989). An actor, singer, and dancer before he turned to directing, Quine was particularly adept at showcasing the beauty, personality and talents of his female stars: Audrey Hepburn in Paris When It Sizzles, Nancy Kwan in The World of Suzie Wong, Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl, and – especially – Kim Novak in four films: Pushover, Bell, Book and Candle (Quine’s masterpiece), Strangers When We Meet, and The Notorious Landlady. In the 1955 widescreen film musical My Sister Eileen, Janet Leigh gets the Quine treatment. With delightful results.
The movie was adapted by Quine and Blake Edwards from material that had previously provided the basis for a Broadway play, a 1942 non-musical movie adapted from the play, and yet another musical Wonderful Town (never filmed) with an entirely different score. The durable story is about two sisters, “one witty” (Betty Garrett), “one pretty” (Leigh), who come to New York to make it as, respectively, a writer and an actress.
However, Quine and Leigh are not the only reasons to watch My Sister Eileen. The film was choreographed by a young Bob Fosse – who also plays Leigh’s boyfriend in the film – working here at the top of his game. Most of the film is enjoyable as a diverting light comedy, but during the dance sequences it soars. (Regardless that the Jules Styne score is not particularly memorable.)
The film also features a young Jack Lemmon, a frequent Quine collaborator (6 films), singing and dancing as the romantic interest of Ms. Garrett.
But the film ultimately belongs to the multi-talented Janet Leigh. I knew she could be a great actress (Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate, Touch of Evil) and that she could write (her book on Psycho), but I had no idea she could sing and dance this well. To see her executing precision Fosse choreography alongside Fosse himself is truly something else.
Janet Leigh was born Jeanette Helen Morrison, on July 6, 1927, in Merced, California. She would have been 81 today.
Happy Birthday, Janet, wherever you are.