There's No Business Like Show Business Review

There’s No Business like Show Business

is the story of The Five Donaghues, an Irish-American vaudeville music family and their fortunes and misfortunes who, regardless of the circumstances, adhere to the principle that the show must go on.

As the above description implies, most of the showbiz musical cliches are here in force, not to mention a few racial ones. Stephen Donoghue, played by Johnnie Ray in his uniquely individual style, leaves The Donoghues to pursue his calling as a priest, while Donald O’Connor’s Tim Donoghue is the drunk of the family, turning to drink in a harmless 1950’s cinema sanitised way when his relationship with Vicky Parker (Marilyn Monroe) runs into difficulties.

The film is heavy on the musical numbers and extremely light on plot, story and characterisation. Fortunately, the colourful set pieces and Irving Berlin’s musical numbers more than make up for the shortcomings of the story. This is not the kind of musical where the songs are integrated into the story à la Singing In The Rain or South Pacific, but just standard show numbers that the characters perform as part of their stage act. These numbers however are beautifully staged, choreographed and costumed and are a wonderfully colourful extravaganza.

Performances are mostly good throughout. Ethel Merman as Molly, the mother, does not have exactly the most melodic voice in the world, but she belts out her numbers with gusto and remains in tune. Dan Dailey is solid as the father while Donald O’Connor’s tendency to go just a little bit over the top is restrained here, but he is left to let loose on his dance routines and is superbly light on his feet. Johnnie Ray sounds marvellous when singing, but his acting performance isn’t great and didn’t earn him any other acting roles in the movies.

Marilyn Monroe, while obviously the star attraction, does not have a major part in the film. Her musical numbers, ‘After You Get What You Want You Don’t Want It At All’ and ‘Heatwave’, however are absolutely stunning, and her singing voice and delivery are excellent. Whatever you might feel about her merits as an actress, here Marilyn Monroe does what she does best, looking fantastic and lighting up the screen with her presence. Every inch the star attraction, she pouts, purrs and poses perfectly through her routines. While she doesn’t have to work too hard at acting in the rest of the film, her performance is nevertheless creditable.

The 2.35.1 anamorphic picture is superb, exploding with the bold and vivid colours that you expect in an elaborate musical that certainly has to be seen in full Cinemascope like this to be fully appreciated. The original print negative wasn’t in too bad a condition without much colour fading, so little restoration work had to be done for this DVD release. The picture is generally quite sharp with only the merest hint of light flicker and grain. Otherwise the print has been restored to be practically free of any marks or scratches of any kind.

The soundtrack has been restored from the original 4 channel soundtrack, mixed for the most part voice centre, music in stereo left and right and one channel mixed discretely (if not inaudibly) across the two rear speakers. The sound isn’t exceptional but remarkably good considering the age of the material. It performs particularly well on the music numbers, which considering they make up about 80% of the film, is certainly where it counts. The centre channel seems a little low and sounded better when I boosted this channel on my amp, although it has to be said that Ethel Merman’s voice certainly required little extra enhancement. Some extra dynamics have been added panning the voices from the centre to the side speakers when the characters move across the screen. This doesn’t always quite work successfully, but the overall sound remains clear, wide and reasonably dynamic.

There is very little in the way of extras on the DVD. Most of the extras being saved for the extra disc in the box set this belongs to. 2 Theatrical Trailers are presented anamorphically almost in full widescreen, one showcasing the musical numbers, the other the story of a showbiz family. A Portuguese Trailer is similar to the second trailer, but with a Portuguese voice-over. Curiously the film retains the original English dialogue without subtitles. There is a short 2 minute feature showing a Restoration comparison, although almost a minute of that is just unintelligible text explaining the restoration process. A One-sheet poster for the movie is included as well.

The film tends to drag a little ini the in-between sections when it tries to make tie the various musical numbers together into a story, but the majority of the film is made up of some very strong songs and some spectacular and colourful routines and is certainly worthwhile on the strength of the Monroe routines alone. Although light on extra material, the picture and sound quality of the DVD are superb. It is wonderful to see this film in its full glory.

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