Heller in Pink Tights is clearly in love with the kind of ramshackle entertainments that used to dot the Old West (and, in various forms, entered rural masses well into the 20th century). As a love letter to this entertainment, and the shady but lovable characters that were part and parcel of it, Heller succeeds; but as a cohesive piece of filmmaking, it falls far short of the mark. There's a raffishness about Heller that is quite attractive, but it's never developed into anything. As a matter of fact, far too little of Heller develops into anything. Oh, there's a plot alright, but it's a rather slapdash affair, made up of pieces of this and a little bit of that, with some horses and guns and a rather exciting Indian attack thrown in. In Walter Bernstein and Dudley Nichols' screenplay, none of this really adds up to much, unfortunately. Better films have been made from material not too dissimilar, but they were blessed with crackerjack characterizations, engaging dialogue, and strong, clear direction. All of this is lacking in Heller. George Cukor's direction is very hit-or-miss, adding to the jumbled feel of Heller. Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn are not perfect casting for their parts, but they bring undeniable star power and charisma to their roles, and this goes a long way. Even better are supporting players Eileen Heckart, Edmund Lowe, and Ramon Novarro, with former child star Margaret O'Brien turning in a very good performance that makes one wish she had encountered better luck as an adult actress. Heller in Pink Tights is full of color and atmosphere, and its cast makes it enjoyable; for those in an undemanding mood, it's adequate entertainment.
by Craig Butler review