Derek Winnert

There’s No Business Like Show Business **** (1954, Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe, Donald O’Connor, Dan Dailey, Johnnie Ray, Mitzi Gaynor) – Classic Movie Review 2611


Director Walter Lang’s big, bold and brassy 1954 musical hit focuses on the lives of an American show business family.

It’s put across with storming performances by Ethel Merman and Dan Dailey as mum and dad Molly and Terry Donahue, Johnnie Ray as their son Steve who becomes a priest, Donald O’Connor as song ‘n’ dance man Tim who falls for hat-check girl Vicky (Marilyn Monroe), and Mitzi Gaynor as their third child Katy, who becomes a star.


At the start of the story (by Lamar Trotti), the five family members are The Five Donahues, until Tim meets Vicky and the family act begins to fall apart. Meantime, Katy begins dating Charlie Gibbs (Hugh O’Brian), the show’s tall and spare lyricist.

There’s a fantastic collection of Irving Berlin musical numbers, both old and new, assembled with considerable verve and put over with all possible zest. There’s a lavish production and lovely cinematography in CinemaScope and DeLuxe Color.


The smell of greasepaint is here, particularly in the performance by Merman, who’s seen at her all-time great movie best and belts out the title song with a power that would lift a theatre’s roof to the heavens. Monroe sizzles in her singing of the ‘After You Get What You Want You Don’t Want It’ and the ‘Heat Wave’ numbers. It is alleged that Monroe didn’t really want to do the part and initially refused it, but the Fox studio upped her salary to $3,000 a week and promised her the lead in The Seven Year Itch (1955). 


Leon Shamroy’s cinematography makes inventive use of CinemaScope for the songs, but you have to have widescreen TV, otherwise there’s a problem with it, especially trying to get the whole cast on the screen for the big finale.

Also in the cast are Frank McHugh, Richard Eastham, Rhys Williams, Lee Patrick, Eve Miller and Robin Raymond.


Berlin worked with Merman in a previous mix of his songs, Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938) and was so impressed he wrote two Broadway shows especially for her: Annie Get Your Gun in 1946 and Call Me Madam in 1950, which also starred Merman in the 1953 film adaptation. The song ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ is from Annie Get Your Gun.

Because production delays and the lavish musical numbers, the budget shot up to $4,340,000, so its box-office take of $5,103,555 wasn’t the $2 million profit-maker Fox was hoping for. Over the years, critics and fans have re-evaluated the movie upwards.

© Derek Winnert 2015 Classic Movie Review 2611

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