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USA 1963
Directed by
George Sidney
112 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Bye Bye Birdie

George Sidney’s adaptation of the hit Broadway musical comedy by Michael Stewart (book) with Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (songs) is far from being one of the great musicals but it is a fun film that with its tongue-in-cheek zest, gaudy '60s production design, exuberant choreography by Onna White and exaggerated performances, keeps a strong sense of a stage experience.

There are some catchy numbers especially the opening/closing number “Bye Bye Birdie” (which was not in the original stage show) with Ann-Marget singing against a plain blue background,  a nicely staged dewy-eyed  romantic ballad “One Boy”, an amusing novelty number “Kids”,  and, perhaps best of all, a tongue-in-cheek paean to the Ed Sullivan Show, then the most popular television show in the land in "Hymn for a Sunday Evening".

The fairly ridiculous story concerns an Elvis Presley-ish rock’n’roller, Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson), who is drafted into the army much to the disappointment of an unsuccessful Tin Pan Alley songwriter, Albert Peterson (Dick Van Dyke), whose secretary-girlfriend, Rosie (Janet Leigh) dreams up a stunt in which Birdie will visit the small Midwestern town of Sweet Apple where he will bestow a farewell kiss on one lucky girl, Kim McAfee (Ann-Margaret), the whole thing to be televised on the Ed Sullivan Show with Birdie singing a purposed-penned number by Albert.

The film was a hit although purists pointed out that it was significantly different from the stage production with both Van Dyke and Paul Lynde (Mr. MacAfee) who were reprising their stage roles criticizing the film for making Kim McAfee, who was supposed to be fifteen or so into a sex pot and turning the production into a showcase for her. It is true that the twenty-two year old actress was way too old for the part but she does sizzle (the film made her a star and is credited with getting her the part opposite the real Elvis in his most creditable film, Viva Las Vegas, the following year)

It is less easy to tell whether the portrayal of the Elvis character was supposed to be so ludicrously unsexy or whether Jesse Pearson was simply miscast (my suspicion is the latter). Maureen Stapleton is also rather underwhelming playing a Jewish mother although Janet Leigh, hardly known for her song-and-dance skills is surprisingly good whilst Dick Van Dyke does his familiar goofy schtick.

Susan Watson, who created the role of Kim in the original stage production said: "Anyone who likes the film didn't see the show".  And that is as good an overall assessment as any of this uneven but diverting film. .




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