Saturday, February 18, 2017

Denver Hillbillies

Film: The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Don’t tell me that I don’t make sacrifices for this blog. My Blu-ray player has evidently gone the way of the dodo, which meant that I wasn’t able to watch the movie I had planned today. Instead, I’m stuck pulling something off the DVR. Normally, on a night when I’m alone in the house, it would be a chance to watch something that my family can’t see—films like Blue is the Warmest Color or Last House on the Left come to mind. In this case, I decided on one that I’d be embarrassed to be caught watching by my family for a different reason: The Unsinkable Molly Brown. I put up with some shit for you folks. Please acknowledge that.

Now, I’m not going to get all “I hate musicals” on you here, although that’s certainly a direction I could go. The Unsinkable Molly Brown is clearly a most musical-y musical with everyone on screen playing for the back row. But no, there are other reasons for me to dislike this film that are absolutely more legitimate, although the absolute feast that everyone makes of the scenery at all times does rank pretty high. The Unsinkable Molly Brown features one of the most unpleasant title characters I’ve run across in a long time, at least in terms of characters that I’m supposed to actually like and root for. What press agents and the like would call “spunk” in this case is something I’m more apt to call a painful need for attention.

Molly as an infant is plopped into a river in a basket where she is rescued by her adoptive father Seamus Tobin (Ed Begley). Not really knowing how to raise a girl, he more or less raises a boy, and Molly (Debbie Reynolds) is the least desirable catch in her area. Molly decides to leave to see the world, wanting to go to Denver especially, since that’s her best chance of finding a rich husband.

It is in these travels that Molly gets a job as a saloon singer and also meets Johnny Brown (Herve Presnell), a miner who is negotiating with someone to purchase his claim. Johnny is obviously entranced with Molly, and the feeling appears to be mutual, but she won’t settle for anything less than the richest man she can find. Johnny rebuilds his cabin to suit the things that Molly says she wants, and she marries him on the spot. A few days later, Johnny sells his claim. Because she’s not very bright (more on this later), Molly stores the money in the stove, where it is burned up. Undaunted, Johnny goes out a strikes it rich on gold, and the two move to Denver, bringing Molly’s father along as promised.

Now staggeringly wealthy, the Browns discover themselves to be social outcasts in Denver society, mostly because they are backwoods uncouth and didn’t inherit their money like “decent” people are supposed to. Unsatisfied with their neighbors, the Browns take to Europe, where they are for some reason embraced by the royalty there. Johnny isn’t much of a fan of Europe, though, even though Molly seems to be in her element there. Eventually, the pair return to the States and Denver, hoping to make a big splash with their new fancy friends, but Johnny’s old friends more or less spoil the party. Molly returns to Europe without her husband and is romanced, there, but eventually decides to come back (on Titanic), and returns a hero, having saved lives from the sinking ship. Yes, I realize I’ve included a spoiler here. You’re welcome.

Oh, but I hate this fucking movie.

The single overwhelming reason I hate this movie comes down to Molly Brown herself. I know because of Hollywood reasons that I’m supposed to find Molly irrepressible and charming and fun. I don’t. She’s awful. She’s loud and obnoxious, and I could live with that even if it wouldn’t make me like her any more. What I can’t forgive is her staggering pretension and selfishness. This is a woman who wants nothing more than for everyone to tell her how great she is. She wants nothing more than everything she thinks she deserves, which is everything she sees. It’s not until the very end of the movie that Molly decides that another person in the world exists who might deserve a moment of her time.

Slightly more than two hours of listening to Molly Brown screech about how great she is is slightly more than two hours too many. Seeing Harve Presnell in his film debut is small comfort to having to sit through Debbie Reynolds literally shrieking over and over again.

Frankly, I prefer the version of Molly Brown played by Kathy Bates in Titanic. She was fun. The only thing I really liked in this was when Johnny hauled off and gave Molly a slap.

Why to watch The Unsinkable Molly Brown: Uh….
Why not to watch: Pretty much everything.


  1. I love Debbie Reynolds and I didn't hate this nearly as much as you but it is one of her films that I never return to. She was very fond of it and I guess as a star vehicle I can see why, the focus is on her for about 95% of the running time but she's been much better and far more appealing in pretty much every other film she ever made.

    The production values are top of the line but the songs are mediocre and forgettable. As for everyone playing to the balcony I blame director Charles Walters. A usually very fine director especially of musicals who for some reason seemed swamped by the overblown dynamics of the script.

    1. I have no doubt that the fault for many of the things I don't like about this movie fall squarely on the shoulders of Charles Walters. I'm sure Debbie Reynolds did everything she was asked and did it as well as she could have.

      Ultimately, my problem isn't with Debbie Reynolds, but specifcally with Molly Brown, who is kind of an awful person.