Movie review: “There’s No Business Like Show Business”


Recently TCM showed “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” with Dan Dailey and Ethel Merman and Marilyn Monroe and Donald O’Connor and Johnnie Ray and Mitzi Gaynor.



About halfway through, Partner – who was, I think, watching “The Good Wife” in the next room – got up and very quietly closed his door.  Too much Mermanization, I assume.  She really does fill a room, doesn’t she?



This film is big and bloated, a regular Baby Huey of a movie.  It’s the story of a show-business family through the years, from vaudeville to Broadway, with radio along the way.  It pulls out all the stops: a son (Johnnie Ray) who becomes a priest, another son (Donald O’Connor) who runs away and joins the army, and – ahem – Marilyn Monroe (extremely unconvincingly) as a big Broadway singing star.  (Her big number – “Heat Wave” – is one of the most entertainingly embarrassing musical numbers ever filmed.)




Then there’s the gay angle.  Seeing Dan Dailey (the father of the all-singing / all-dancing Donohue clan) and Johnnie Ray (the son who aspires to become a Catholic priest) performing together, along with gay icon Ethel Merman – well, I’m surprised blood didn’t start spurting from my ears.  (For those of you who wonder how I know that Dan and Johnnie were gay: well, sadly, Johnnie was arrested several times in the benighted 1950s for soliciting sex with men.  Dan was fingered by the 50s Hollywood gossip magazines, and it seems to be pretty much accepted that he was gay.  Information from those days is obscure, certainly.)



But, oh my dears, the musical numbers!  And the goofiness of the production!  This is Hollywood at its Velveeta cheesiest. 



Which means also, perversely, that this is Hollywood doing what it does best. 



Please put it on your list.  One way or the other, whether you think it’s terrible or wonderful, it’s a must-see, a classic.



(Some other time we’ll talk about Ethel Merman and her short-lived marriage to – gasp! – Ernest Borgnine.



(Essay question: what do you suppose that honeymoon was like?)


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

3 Responses to Movie review: “There’s No Business Like Show Business”

  1. Bird says:

    Now I have the song stuck in my head!!

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