There’s No Business Like Show Business is the movie that showcased the song of the same name. It is from 1954 and surprisingly, has very little misogynistic content. It regales the tale of the Donahues, a family of Vaudeville performers.
It begins with the story of the mother and father’s Vaudeville act. They have three children, but are forced to give up the act during the depression. She does radio work and the father has an act centered around women. Dad is a little bit of a jerk who objectifies lots of women throughout the movie.
After the depression they are able to take up the act again, but this time as a family of five. This only works for a little while because the children are growing up and want to have their own identities.
The oldest child is a son named Steve. He becomes a priest much to the distress of his family. They even give him a musical number where he evangelizes. Then he performs a marriage, but really falls off the screen.
The daughter is the familial glue. She is the one who tries to keep everything together throughout everything. She is peppy, perky, and full of faith. So she knows that everything will be okay. She marries an unimportant man and is pregnant at the end of the movie, ending up with a pretty perfect little life.
The youngest son has the most remarkable story of the children. He falls in love with Marilyn Monroe (Vicki Parker) and when she puts her career before him, at least for part of the movie, he gets drunk, leaves the act, and disappears. There is then a morose part of the movie where everyone is depressed. Eventually he comes home and there is a great reprise where they all sing together.
Marilyn Monroe is really a secondary character in this movie, which does not happen very often. She is an aspiring show business gal and meets Tim the night she gets her big break. She then has a musical number called “Heat Wave.” I have no idea how it got past the censor boards. She is dancing around in a skimpy bottom with a big skirt attached, talking about how she is hot and makes the temperature rise. This is emphasized by the fact that she has male dancers with her. I am sure that it was quite a number back in the day.
The most remarkable character in the movie is Molly, the mother played by Ethel Mermen. She narrates, she sings, she dances, she is the show business person in the whole movie. She also holds it together for the post part while her family is falling apart. Molly forgives Vicki for breaking Tim’s heart and it’s all okay, because the night she forgives Vicki, Tim comes home. He was just in the navy the whole time. This is probably one of Ethel Merman’s stronger performances that I have seen. She is charming, graceful and incredibly worth watching.
The dad is somewhat unremarkable. He sings, objectifies women, tries to ensure his children fulfill classic family and sexual roles, and then goes to look for Tim because he’s gone. He’s not a very good husband, poor Molly.