Saturday, June 11, 2011

#309. Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

Directed By: George Sidney

Starring: Dick Van Dyke, Ann-Margret and Janet Leigh

Trivia:  Despite portraying the mother of Dick Van Dyke's character in the film, Maureen Stapleton is just six months older than Van Dyke

Bye Bye Birdie, a 1963 musical based on a hit Broadway show, is the movie that rocketed Ann-Margret to super-stardom. As legend has it, director George Sidney was so impressed with the young starlet that he restructured the entire movie around her, going so far as to put up his own money (when the studio refused to do so) to shoot an additional musical number written especially for Ann-Margret (titled “Bye Bye Birdie”), which would both open and close the film. Co-star Dick Van Dyke, who reprised the role he made famous on Broadway, believed the director showered far too much attention on the unseasoned beauty, and felt the film suffered for it. To be sure, Ann-Margret does receive her share of screen time, but not to the detriment of the remaining characters, all of whom do their part to make Bye Bye Birdie an entertainingly memorable movie experience. 

To the dismay of millions of young girls around the world, rock star and teen heart-throb Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pierson) has just been drafted into the U.S. army. Sensing an opportunity, Rosie DeLeon (Janet Leigh), whose fiance is struggling songwriter Albert Peterson (Van Dyke), pays a visit to Ed Sullivan (who appears as himself), hoping to convince the legendary TV personality to book Birdie on his next show.  Promising huge ratings, Rosie's proposes her plan to have Birdie sing a brand new song (written, of course, by Albert) before giving one lucky fan a symbolic “goodbye kiss” live on the air. Sullivan agrees, and Rosie immediately sets to work putting the pieces together. She informs Albert, whose lack of success as a songwriter has prevented the two from getting married, and he, in turn, comes up with the perfect song, titled “One Last Kiss”. When Birdie sings it on the Sullivan show, “One Last Kiss” is sure to become an instant hit, yet while Albert and Rosie's money troubles may soon be a thing of the past, Albert's meddlesome mother (Maureen Stapleton) remains a force to be reckoned with, and she has no intention of allowing her darling son to get married. The lucky young girl, chosen at random, to be on the receiving end of Conrad Birdie's kiss is Kim McAfee (Ann-Margret), a high school student living in Ohio. Excited by the prospect of being kissed by a rock star on national television, Kim ignores the protests of her father (Paul Lynde, also reprising his role from Broadway) and her boyfriend, Hugo (Bobby Rydell), both of whom feel the attention will be too much for the inexperienced teen to handle. 

From this synopsis alone, you can tell there's a lot more to Bye Bye Birdie than just Ann-Margret. For one, the various musical numbers, ranging from high-tempo comedy to gentle romance, prove an amusing mix. “The Telephone Song”, in which Kim's high school chums clog the town's phone lines spreading the word of her relationship with Hugo, is a lot of fun, as is Paul Lynde's rendition of “Kids”, where he laments the fact that his daughter won't listen to a word he says. Along with the music, the film's various side stories (Albert and Rosie, Albert and his mother, Kim and Hugo, etc), all receive ample attention; when the movie is over, you don't feel as if a single one has been left with any loose ends. 

There's no denying Ann-Margret was the perfect choice to play Kim. From her bouncy rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie” to the sultry “A Lot of Living To Do”, the actress displays an incredible range, and damn near steals the show. But with so many great performers surrounding her, all playing characters equally as engaging, the fact remains she's never able to steal it for very long.

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