Fantastic flick this holiday weekend. Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema is Marjorie Morningstar, starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly. I haven't seen this film in decades, but as a young girl it was a favorite, and I suffered Marjorie's heartache and lamented each time I watched it. I am not sure if such sentiment is relatable today. The feminists have ruined romance, emasculated our men, and destroyed the whole idea of courtship. And who paid the biggest price? Women (more here, if you are interested on my thoughts on that).
Herman Wouk's novel Marjorie Morningstar was one of the biggest selling novels of the middle 20th century, and still sells enough in the 21st century to justify remaining in print. As a movie, however, it was a dubious proposition, owing to the fact that both its story and its characters are so steeped in -- and conflicted about -- the Jewish religion.
The basic problem in adapting the book to the screen in 1957 was its Jewishness. Hollywood, as a movie mecca founded largely by businessmen who were Jewish, was notoriously reticent about utilizing plots focusing too closely on Jewish subject matter, or even allowing films to dwell too closely on identifiably Jewish characters. In a sense, this was simply good business, as well as a lingering reaction to the anti-Semitism that many of the moguls had experienced in the past -- the business feared calling attention to itself as an industry founded by Jews, and the moguls feared calling attention to their own Jewishness. Additionally, it was questionable whether movie audiences in 1958 would respond to the plot's intense questions about the Jewish faith and its role in modern life, in sufficient numbers to justify the making of a multimillion-dollar production.
The solution came from the sheer size of the book -- as there was no hope of transposing all of Wouk's 565-page novel to the screen anyway, the producers made sure to tone down and excise most of its focus on religion and shifted the story's focus in the screenplay to Marjorie's attempts at balancing her romantic life and career aspirations. Natalie Wood, who was cast after dozens of other actresses had tried for the part, was very good as the naïve, vulnerable Marjorie. She not only looked right (although one suspects that Susan Kohner could have done just as good a job), but the timing of the production was perfect to get the most from her work -- Marjorie Morningstar's shooting coincided with Wood's engagement and first marriage to Robert Wagner, and, perhaps with this going on in her personal life, she ended up being excellent in her romantic scenes.
NY Times: Mr. Wouk's reading public should be apprised that Everett Freeman's screenplay has deviated somewhat from the original. But the changes are not awkward. It is basically the same examination of upper middle class Jews of Manhattan who have made the short but often tough trek from the Bronx to Central Park West. And, while the book delved more deeply into the religious background of the principals, it is not avoided here but simply sketched in.
The film, in following the route marked by the book, takes the teen-aged Marjorie from Hunter College to a counselor's stint at a summer camp in the Adirondacks and then to a Borsht Belt Elysium for adults, called South Wind, where she meets Noel Airman, the social director who becomes the passion of her life. Our hero, it may be recalled, is a tortured man, whose talents, seemingly limitless at South Wind, are revealed as amateurish on Broadway. Although he is a romantic idol with more than his share of conquests at camp, he is ready to tempt the fates and rise above his mediocrity for the love of Marjorie.
That he is destroyed by this grand emotion and is forced to return to his natural artistic level in the Adirondacks seems a foregone conclusion. Whether Marjorie will find true love at last does not appear to be too pressing a question. Marjorie has had her fling in Bohemia and life, it can be assumed, thereafter will be placid, if not beautiful.
MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR; screenplay by Everett Freeman; based on the novel by Herman Wouk; directed by Irving Rapper; produced by Milton Sperling; a Beachwold Pictures Production presented by Warner Brothers. At the Radio City Music Hall. Running time: 123 minutes.
Marjorie Morningstar . . . . . Natalie Wood
Noel Airman . . . . . Gene Kelly
Rose Morgenstern . . . . . Claire Trevor
Arnold Morgenstern . . . . . Everett Sloane
Uncle Samson . . . . . Ed Wynn
Wally Wronken . . . . . Marty Milner
Marsha Zelenko . . . . . Caroyln Jones
Greech . . . . . George Tobias
Dr. David Harris . . . . . Martin Balsam
Lou Michaelson . . . . . Jesse White
Sandy Lamm . . . . . Edward Byrnes
Philip Berman . . . . . Paul Picerni
Puddles Podell . . . . . Alan Reed
Imogene . . . . . Ruta Lee
Dancer . . . . . Patricia Denise