No more faithful to facts than other Hollywood biopics of entertainers, The Helen Morgan Story piles up a lot of clichés as it tells its rise-fall-rise story, adding in a standard tortured romance along the way. (The real story of Helen Morgan has plenty of drama and soap opera itself and would probably have made for a more compelling film.) Still, Morgan works as a showcase for a number of great standards, as well as for director Michael Curtiz' atmospheric recreations of honkytonks, nightclubs, and the backstage life. There's also some nifty period dialogue, as well as some interesting "is she or isn't she?" allusions regarding the sexual preferences of some of the characters. In the title role, Ann Blyth is appropriately sympathetic and handles her numbers (to Gogi Grant's voice) well, but she has a difficult time with the scenes in which we see the alcohol affecting her. Paul Newman gives a strong and assured performance, and he makes an unsympathetic character fairly likeable -- which goes a long way to explaining why Blyth stays attached to him. In a supporting role, Alan King makes a definite impression and helps to make up for the rather colorless performance of Richard Carlson. If Morgan is not the picture that its subject deserved, it still provides a good deal of entertainment.
by Craig Butler review