Bye Bye Birdie (1963) – full review!

Bye Bye Birdie (1963) – full review!

Directed by George Sidney with Michael Stewart’s Tony Award winning play being adapted by Irving Brecher (Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)) this average Musical comedy received Oscar nominations for its Sound and Score which includes “The Telephone Hour” & “Put on a Happy Face”. It stars Janet Leigh & Dick Van Dyke (from the stage play along with Paul Lynde) and features Ann-Margret. Maureen Stapleton Bobby Rydell Jesse Pearson Lynde Mary LaRoche & Michael Evans (among others) and Sunday night TV variety show legend Ed Sullivan as himself round out the cast. Ann-Margret’s breakout performance Lynde’s trademark fussiness the aforementioned songs (the cleverly edited “telephone” sequence and Van Dyke’s signature which includes some special effects) some time capsuled innocence and Leigh with blackened hair (trying in vane to match Chita Rivera’s Broadway performance) are about the only things worth seeing unless you love the genre.

A famous rock n’ roller Pearson as Conrad Birdie who makes teenage girls swoon like Elvis is drafted causing these High Schoolers to march on Washington D.C. to make it not so while seemingly ending Albert Peterson’s (Van Dyke) career as a struggling songwriter. A friend of Conrad’s Albert had written the singer’s next song which was to be produced along with the debut movie for the young sensation. But Rosie DeLeon (Leigh) Albert’s secretary and almost fiancée has a winning idea – before Birdie has to enter into military service (within the next 10 days) have him perform a song (to be written by Albert and titled “One Last Kiss”) and kiss a representative female fan goodbye before a national television audience on the Ed Sullivan show. Kim McAfee (Ann-Margret) daughter of Harry and Doris (Lynde & LaRoche respectively) is selected … right after she’d been pinned by (e.g. to go steady with) Hugo Peabody (Rydell). In addition to this conflict Mamma’s boy Albert has yet to tell his mother Mae (Stapleton) about his pending engagement to Rosie. In fact Albert is a chemist by education but has let his former vaudeville performing mother bully him into the music business while she alludes that Rosie (indeed no woman) is good enough for her son.

Sweet Apple Ohio is the chosen location for Birdie’s farewell performance because the other planned guest on Sullivan’s show the next Sunday is the Russian Ballet who is on a goodwill tour of the United States and happens to be there that night (and remote feeds being difficult to coordinate on the fly in those days). Hence the selection of Kim McAfee who lives there (Kim Darby uncredited is recognizable as one of Kim’s telephone friends). Evans plays Claude Paisley a teacher at the High School who serves as a temporary pawn in the relationship between Albert and a fed-up (with his Mamma’s influence over him) Rosie. Of course Birdie is too much for the small town its residents the Mayor and his wife (Frank Albertson & Beverly Yates uncredited). But Albert is able to smooth things over by befriending the McAfees – especially Harry who owns a fertilizer business when he shows him a speed pill he’s invented. To demonstrate its potential Albert gives one to their son Randolph’s (Bryan Russell) turtle which proceeds to race around their home & grounds.

When the Russian ballet’s performance threatens to consume the entire allotted time for remote broadcast portion of Sullivan’s show Rosie (posing as a photographer) gets its maestro (Gregory Morton) to consume some milk doped with Albert’s speed formula. This leads to a wildly rapid ballet performance which isn’t as funny as the audience in the film makes it out to be which leaves time for Conrad to sing Albert’s song. But the planned kiss is interrupted by a suddenly emboldened Hugo and the film ends with three happy couples: Kim & Hugo Rosie & Albert and even momma Mae with a three time widower (Milton Frome) she’d picked up in a bar!

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