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Oct 06 2016

George Sidney Centennial: Bye Bye Birdie

Our Centennial celebration of director George Sidney continues withJoseonBye Bye Birdie

George Sidney's adaptation of the Tony award winning musicalBye Bye Birdiecontinued showing his prowess when it came to making big,bold,Technicolor musicals.The plot imagines the frenzy surrounding the imminent departure of an Elvis-like superstar,who receives his draft notice,but decides to reward one of his biggest fans with one gift before leaving: a televised kiss.Though the plot's depiction of how the media thrives on scandals surrounding celebrities was rather prescient (not to mention how it predicts how love and sex would become "prizes"on reality shows) its gender and racial politics have made it one of the most icky musicals of the era.

Its casting proved significant for two reasons: for the big part of Kim MacAfee,the director chose a complete unknown he discovered dancing in a Las Vegas casino.After being selected out of millions,just like Kim,Ann-Margret would go on to become one of the biggest stars of the decade.

In fact just a year afterBirdie,Sidney cast her opposite the real life Elvis inViva Las Vegas-- perhaps as a tribute to how he discovered her and also toBirdie?...

Ann-Margret is not only beautiful in the film,but also aces every single number she is given.It's no wonder Don Draper would become so obsessed with her onMad Men.She is bewitching.The opening scene which features the title song,which was composed for the film version,knows the effect she will cast on its audience.Sidney simply placed her against a blue background and let her voice,sensual movements and appeal take hold of audiences.

Sidney's risky casting was a such a success,that Ann-Margret's co-star Janet Leigh (who was also a much bigger star) was afraid she was getting snubbed in favor of the newcomer.Leigh plays the other female lead,Rosie DeLeon,and her casting proved signifcant for less successful reasons.

As lovely as she is,and hoenstly few actors were as charismatic as Leigh,she was cast due to her stardom,and ethnicity,to play a Latina character.Onstage Rosie had been played by the legendary Chita Rivera,who was a success on Broadway,but seemed to have no luck having her characters transfer to the screen.Just a few years beforeBirdie,her biggest stage character to date,Anita inWest Side Story,had won Rita Moreno the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.Rosie (named Rose Alvarez in the stage version) is also an example of the ultimate passive female character,who waits for a man to make up his mind about finally proposing to her,and seems unaware of her power.Fortunately,the filmmakers were smart enough to remove the insensitive number "Spanish Rose",which potentially would've had Leigh passing as Latina singing about being a "hot tamale".Sigh.At least we'll always have that perfect opening number.

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Reader Comments (8)

I recently watched this on TCM and loved it.Such a delightful movie!

October 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterConnor

I love this film as it's just good fun as I despised the Birdy character.I hated what he did to the Fender Jazzmaster.It's disgusting.Plus,I was happy to see Troy Donahue whack that no-talent Elvis wannabe.Yet,it was the guy who played Ann-Margaret's father,Dick Van Dyke,and Janet Leigh that made the film for me as is Ann-Margaret when she's dancing.

October 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Ann-Margret's force of personality certainly carries the movie though she is surrounded by very talented co-stars.

Her sixties movies outside of Viva Las Vegas are mostly shiny junk,fun junk but junk nonetheless.So called sixties sex comedies are such an odd beast,often leering but beautifully made and rather puritanical for something that wants to be so "with it".A-M's best examples of this are The Pleasure Seekers,Made in Paris and The Swinger (which is mindnumbingly stupid).Kitten with a Whip is an law onto itself!She did manage to fit a good one in every once in a while like The Cincinnati Kid until Carnal Knowledge gave her flagging career a boost.

October 7,2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

The parts of the movie without Ann-Margret are beyond dreadful.How could they screw up Kids so completely?And the Ed Sullivan Show with the speeded up ballet is particularly stomach-turning.But when she's on - Wowza!In particular,the I've Got a Lot of Living to Do number is one of the greatest musical sequences in any movie ever.

October 7,2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

This adaptation is a rough one,though I see how they perhaps thought the choices being made were cinematic.I'd much rather keep the exposition song "An English Teacher"rather than the new chemistry prof/speed pills subplot.

October 7,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Sidney's fixation with A-M is legendary,which partially inspired a famous quote by Maureen Stapleton,this from Mo's pal,Neil Simon: Legend has it there was a large wrap party at the end of shooting and one of the executives got up and made a toast to Ann-Margret,predicting she was going to be a major star.This was followed by similar toasts by others involved with the production,all men and all mentioning Ann-Margret.Then they asked Maureen to get up and say a few words.After much appreciative applause from the crew and company,Maureen said,"Well,I guess I'm the only one here who doesn't want to fuck Ann-Margret."

October 7,2016 | Unregistered Commenterrickgould

Ann- Margret steals the movie.

October 7,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon


October 7,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

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