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The Helen Morgan Story

4.5 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com

The Helen Morgan Story, a musical bio of the great 1920s torch singer, begins with a scene of flappers and jazz babies spontaneously dancing on a train. If you can buy into that kind of crazy history, you might just enjoy this tuneful 1957 drama, the rise-fall-comeback of a tragic showbiz figure (which neglects to include the tragic final act). Ann Blyth, who'd garnered an Oscar nomination for playing Joan Crawford's ingrate daughter in 1945's Mildred Pierce, is Helen Morgan, the Prohibition songstress for whom perching atop a piano became a signature pose. We watch Morgan's early successes crooning in speakeasies, and her wrong moves in her personal life; seems the lady just can't help lovin' a no-good gangster, played by Paul Newman (still very early in his career). Newman's character keeps showing up, like a bad penny, even after Helen is taken up by a wealthy (and married) lawyer, played by Richard Carlson. The many heartbreaks eventually lead to alcohol addiction, which killed the real Morgan in 1941, although the film stops short of her unfortunate ending. Morgan's success in the original production of Show Boat goes by quickly, but the movie includes a decent roster of songs from various stages of her career. Michael Curtiz directed, and his dark eye (and Ted Tetzlaff's widescreen black-and-white cinematography) gives the movie a pleasing film-noir overlay. The biggest problem is Blyth, too small for the role and finally defeated by the simplistic diagnosis of Morgan's problems. Blyth's singing voice was dubbed by Gogi Grant, who has a strong voice that doesn't especially sound like Morgan's. --Robert Horton

Special Features

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Product Details

  • Actors: Ann Blyth, Paul Newman, Richard Carlson
  • Directors: Michael Curtiz
  • Format: Black & White, Widescreen, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Warner
  • DVD Release Date: February 17, 2009
  • Run Time: 118 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001GS7Z0I
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,440 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Helen Morgan Story" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael C. Smith VINE VOICE on May 7, 2004
Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
The Helen Morgan Story is a formula biopic with equal parts soap, song and gin. The thing that makes it stand out are three very good performances and a wonderful parade of vintage 1920's hits voiced for the star by Gogi Grant.
From the moment the film begins to unreel with its Broadway marquee titles you know you are in for a good old-fashioned tearstained campy drama. Loosely based on the life of Helen Morgan, who is most famous today for creating the role of Julie in the groundbreaking "Show Boat" in the 20's. The film centers on her rise and fall as well as her unrequited love for gangster Larry Maddux.
Playing the title role is Ann Blyth who does her best to give Helen all the pathos, drama and tragedy required in such a story. She does a fine job but one can't help but recall her best work as Veda in Mildred Pierce. Some years earlier.
The real stars of the show are comedian Alan King, TV star Cara Williams and a new guy to pictures by the name of Paul Newman. These three pros take a filmland formula and mix it until it explodes.
Alan King is quite a fine actor as well as a gifted comedian. He imbues the character of Benny Weaver, Larry's partner with life and humor. As Helen's best friend and Benny's moll Cara Williams shines.
But the best performance is given by a very young Paul Newman who shows us just what he could do with the good for nothing huckster role. He soars in the role and gives us a preview of some of the better roles he will fill out in the future from Fast Eddie to Hud.
The black and white cinematography by Ted D. McCord is stunning as are the sets and costumes. And the Warner Brothers orchestra makes the mono soundtrack burst its boundaries to near stereophonic sound.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The magnificent voice of Gogi Grant at the peak of her considerable powers may be the best thing about "The Helen Morgan Story." The story of her life as depicted here (based on a TV play that starred Polly Bergen, and wouldn't that be fun to see on DVD!) is largely fictionalized, with even some actual events (Helen was actually voted "Miss Mount Royal" when she was studying voice in Canada in the mid-'20s; here, the contest is a set-up somehow tied in with a bootlegging scheme!) turned into melodrama. On the plus side: stunning B&W widescreeen photography; snappy direction by Michael Curtiz; wonderful supporting turns from Cara Williams and Alan King and a fine performance from star Ann Blyth, who somehow manages to make it all believable. Then there is rising star Paul Newman, channeling Clark Gable in his lady-killer period, as the no-goodnik hood who bewitches and bedevils the fragile singing star. Newman mainly glowers his way through a part that he doesn't seem to care for, as was the case with many of his earlier roles (see - or better still don't see - "The Silver Chalice"), but his sex appeal is rampant.

Now for the good stuff: the music. Morgan introduced or performed many outstanding American songs from the golden age of 1926-1933 and many are represented here, recorded on the best sound-stage in Hollywood, with magnificent arrangements by Ray Heindorf and his staff, and featuring Gogi Grant, who receives full screen credit and was pictured on the cover of the best-selling soundtrack album (RCA were no fools: she had just been voted Most Popular Female Singer of 1956 and this was her first major release on their label).
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Format: VHS Tape
Ann Blyth stars as ill-fated torch singer Helen Morgan in the musical biography THE HELEN MORGAN STORY (1957). The movie follows the life of the tragic 1920s songbird from the heights of acclaim in the original Broadway production of "Show Boat" to her dramatic battles with depression and alcoholism.

Inspired by Polly Bergen's searing performance as Morgan in a "Playhouse 90" TV special which aired earlier that same year, producer Jack Warner geared THE HELEN MORGAN STORY as a showcase not for actress Ann Blyth, but rather the popular singer Gogi Grant, whom he employed to supply Blyth's voice for the musical numbers--if the truth be known, Blyth's own singing would have sufficed.

In the tradition of a backstage soap-opera, the more tawdry facts of Morgan's life were glossed over (the "Playhouse 90" screenplay reflected Morgan's life in a more accurate light, having Morgan's mother Lulu as a consultant). Paul Newman plays her stormy boyfriend; Blyth shines (especially in the recreations of the "Show Boat" stage production), and the soundtrack springs to life with such Morgan standards as "Why Was I Born?", "Bill", and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man".

The supporting cast includes Richard Carlson, Gene Evans, Alan King and Cara Williams. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Recommended.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The only good thing about this movie is Paul Newman. His acting stands far and above everybody else's. There is zero chemistry between Newman and Ann Blyth. She is miscast and comes across awkwardly during the whole movie. She's totally unbelievable as she tries to portray Morgan and the drama and vices Morgan went through. The script doesn't do much to really develop the backstory of Morgan or what she actually experienced during her life. This movie was/is for the generation that already knew her story. For contemporary audiences, reading a biography of Morgan is more informative and entertaining than this movie.
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