There were some terrific moments too. I love the relationship between Herbie and Rose, his adoption of Louise as her father, and his disdain for Louise turning into a stripper at Rose's encouragement (though not at first). I love the scene at the train station when the boys area cutting loose, Rose's ego bruising as she clings desperately to her imperiousness -- the moment she decides Louise, her worst performer, will be her lead. I know controlling personalities like this, they care nothing for the quality of the work, and everything for their dominance over it. It's pretty nice to see when Louise later branches out on her own, and the theatre posts a notice to keep Rose out! Rose's most empathetic moment happens in a wonderful monologue after she's learned her place next to Gypsy Rose Lee, followed by a song that captures her ego. This touches Gypsy in the soft spot of her heart, where Louise still resides, and Rose is her mother. "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" is my other favorite number - colorful, funny, active as the girls satirize their stage personas.
Louise's transformation into Gypsy Rose Lee happens late in the third act, and above some terrific eye candy, makes for a poignant character arc - they've managed to make a starlett like Natalie Wood feel overlooked throughout. They've also managed to age her a good 15 years, from a little paltry dancing girl to a glamorous sexy sought-after woman. It's exciting, tantalizing, and unexpected for anyone who doesn't know the story. The montage is intelligent, showing a collection of performances where she continually reveals more skin each time, climaxing in a quick reveal of her in a two piece. She mocks her girlhood line, "hi, my name is Gypsy, what's yours," or singing "let me entertain you." She was a girl before, it feels dangerous to be enjoying this -- that's the idea.
By the way, whatever happened to baby June?
Gypsy Rose's childhood is not unhappy, at least in this account, and in fact it's touching in some ways, though certainly different. She didn't get an education, and didn't even know her real age, as her mother needed her to remain under twelve well into her teens, because of child labor laws. We see her out of sync in the early group performances, and in the shadow compared to her younger sister June (Suzanne Cupito and later Ann Jillian), who her mother says has the "real talent". A funny scene shows her relegated to the front end of a cow costume, mooing out replies to June in one of their barnyard numbers. It's interesting to see this bygone world of vaudeville, and the Broadway number where Russell pantomimes June as she auditions is entertaining in its own right.
Unfortunately, there is a veneer of feel-good dishonesty to the entire movie. One exception, however, is stage manager and boyfriend Herbie's (Karl Malden's) shocked reaction to the mother's decision to have Rose fill in for a missing stripper. She is so stubborn, refusing to admit that it's over, and never taking no for an answer. The look on Malden and Wood's face when she pushes Rose into it instead of leaving that final night and settling down into quiet, married life is priceless. Her own daughter! She says there is an invisible barrier between the crowd and the stage, and that she'll be an artist - but Malden knows better, while Wood, resigned, simply begins changing into a hurriedly put together outfit. She comes out in a blue dress, of course immaculate, and transformed. Wood is seductive as she slinks around the stage, increasing in confidence over time until she's practically purring "Let Me Entertain You", but the performances are ridiculously tame, even for the period.
The movie needs something - editing (at 243 minutes it's too long), or more of an edge, or better vocal talent, or more honesty - but there is enough here to make it worth watching.
One 'quote', the lyrics to "Let Me Entertain You", my goodness:
"Let me entertain you
Let me make you smile
Let me do a few tricks
Some old and some new tricks
I'm very versatile
And if you're real good
I'll make you feel good
I want your spirits to climb
So let me entertain you
And we'll have a real good time, yes sir
We'll have a real good time"