Unsinkable Molly Brown, The (1964)

MGM (Marten Productions)

Debbie Reynolds received her first and only Best Actress Oscar nomination for playing the title role in this musical comedy, directed by Charles Waters, about a Colorado mining camp hellion who became a social millionaires and a heroine of the Titanic disaster.

Scripted by Helen Deutsch, based on the Broadway musical from Richard Morris, the movie unfolds as a chronicle of the rise of a high-spirited Colorado hillbilly from rags to riches. When Molly and her miner hubby Johnny (Harve Presnell) strike bit, she gets her dream come true, a bug estate in Denver. Snubbed by Denver's high-society that treats them like misfits, the nouveau-riche decided to go to Europe to get a crush course in good manners and high culture. Unable to adjust to the Continent's mores, Johnny goes back, but Molly becomes popular due to her candor and wit. Later, she becomes one of the few heroes during the catastrophic sinking of the Titanic.

Realizing that this might be the artistic performance of her career, Reynolds was eager to play Molly Brown. To that extent, she was willing to reduce her salary demands to $200,000, instead of $250,000 and a percentage of the revenues. She turns in a solid, if too aggressive performance. Supporting cast, headed by Ed Begley, Jack Kruschen, and Hermione Baddeley, is better.

The musical score is uneven, with three or four good songs, including “He's My Friend, “Belly Up to the Bar, Boys,” and I Ain't Down Yet.”

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 6

Actress: Debbie Reynolds
Cinematography (color): Daniel L. Fapp
Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color): George W. Davis and Preston Ames; Henry Grace and Hugh Hunt
Sound: Franklin E. Milton
Scoring: Robert Armstrong, Leo Arnaud, Jack Elliott, Jack Hayes, Calvin Jackson, Leo Shuken
Costume Design (Color): Morgan Haack

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

In 1964, the Best Actress winner was Julie Andrews, for another musical, Mary Poppins.” “My Fair Lady” swept most of the Oscars, including the technical categories for which “Molly Brown” was nominated. It's likely that Reynolds got the nomination spot that Oscar observers thought belonged to Audrey Hepburn.