The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)

128 mins | Musical comedy | 11 June 1964

Director:

Charles Walters

Writer:

Helen Deutsch

Cinematographer:

Daniel L. Fapp

Production Designers:

George W. Davis, Preston Ames

Production Company:

Marten Productions
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HISTORY

The Unsinkable Molly Brown was based on the Broadway musical of the same name, a fictionalized account of the life of Colorado socialite Margaret Tobin Brown that ran 3 Nov 1960—10 Feb 1962 at the Winter Garden Theatre. A few months into its engagement, the 3 May 1961 and 31 May 1961 DV reported that actress Judy Garland and several major Hollywood studios such as Warner Bros. Pictures, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., and Columbia Pictures were vying for film rights to the property, which were set at an asking price of $1 million. Around the same time, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) also expressed interest in Brown’s life story, as producer Joe Pasternak briefly considered developing a project based on a chapter in Gene Fowler’s 1933 book, Timberline, called “The Unsinkable Mrs. Brown.” Amid reports that that the similar titles had caused a holdup in the rival studios’ negotiations, MGM eventually withdrew their independent plans and entered into the competition for Meredith Willson and Richard Morris’s Broadway playbook. On 2 Mar 1962, DV announced that MGM had successfully secured the property for producer Lawrence Weingarten. An additional DV brief three days later indicated that Morris was in talks to adapt his work for the screen, but script duties were eventually assigned to Helen Deutsch.
       Although MGM initially intended the picture as a vehicle for Doris Day, the search for a leading lady continued for an additional year. The 3 Oct 1962 and 12 Oct 1962 issues of DV indicated that the studio spoke with Tammy Grimes, whose stage performance as the titular heroine won the Tony Award for Best Featured ... More Less

The Unsinkable Molly Brown was based on the Broadway musical of the same name, a fictionalized account of the life of Colorado socialite Margaret Tobin Brown that ran 3 Nov 1960—10 Feb 1962 at the Winter Garden Theatre. A few months into its engagement, the 3 May 1961 and 31 May 1961 DV reported that actress Judy Garland and several major Hollywood studios such as Warner Bros. Pictures, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., and Columbia Pictures were vying for film rights to the property, which were set at an asking price of $1 million. Around the same time, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) also expressed interest in Brown’s life story, as producer Joe Pasternak briefly considered developing a project based on a chapter in Gene Fowler’s 1933 book, Timberline, called “The Unsinkable Mrs. Brown.” Amid reports that that the similar titles had caused a holdup in the rival studios’ negotiations, MGM eventually withdrew their independent plans and entered into the competition for Meredith Willson and Richard Morris’s Broadway playbook. On 2 Mar 1962, DV announced that MGM had successfully secured the property for producer Lawrence Weingarten. An additional DV brief three days later indicated that Morris was in talks to adapt his work for the screen, but script duties were eventually assigned to Helen Deutsch.
       Although MGM initially intended the picture as a vehicle for Doris Day, the search for a leading lady continued for an additional year. The 3 Oct 1962 and 12 Oct 1962 issues of DV indicated that the studio spoke with Tammy Grimes, whose stage performance as the titular heroine won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. However, additional casting items throughout the fall of 1962 and spring of 1963 suggested that Shirley MacLaine was considered the frontrunner, with Carol Burnett, Shirley Jones, and Debbie Reynolds also “in talks” based on MacLaine’s availability. According to a 16 Mar 1961 DV item, Reynolds had been interested in playing the character since the touring stage production moved to Los Angeles, CA. Even though the 9 Mar 1964 LAT claimed that Richard Morris vehemently disapproved of her casting, Reynolds ultimately won the role, and the 18 Mar 1963 DV announced that production would be delayed until later that fall while MGM continued negotiations for a male co-star.
       Recording artist and actor Robert Goulet was the first choice to play Reynolds’s onscreen husband “Johnny Brown,” but the 13 Feb 1963 DV explained that the studio failed to reach an agreement with Goulet’s current contractors at Columbia Records over the rights to the soundtrack album. Various DV editions noted that Robert Culp, Clint Walker, and James Garner were contenders for the role before Harve Presnell was selected to reprise his stage role for his motion picture debut. In a 15 Jul 1963 DV article, Joel Grey claimed he was also approached to appear in the film.
       Principal photography began on location in Montrose, CO, on 4 Sep 1963, according to a DV article published the following day. Establishing a base camp in Montrose, the 125-person unit was scheduled to spend three weeks shooting around the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Telluride, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and along the White River. On 30 Oct 1963, DV reported that production had temporarily stalled when Reynolds fell ill with the flu. Remaining work was completed on the MGM studio backlot in Culver City, CA. According to the 16 Dec 1963 DV, the “He’s My Friend” musical number (which Willson wrote specially for the film) required the entire cast and 110 background actors. Filming of the sequence wound on 13 Dec 1963, at which point the crew returned to work on the dramatic scenes, including the sinking of the RMS Titanic. A 10 Dec 1963 DV item estimated that production would be completed on Christmas Eve 1963.
       A 14 Jan 1964 DV article revealed that the Titanic sequence was partially created using footage borrowed from the 1953 Fox picture (see entry) and the 1958 British drama A Night to Remember, which was then colorized in post-production. Although several other sources listed a budget of $4.1 million, DV cited a final cost closer to $5.4 million, and attributed the expenses to the high production value of Reynolds’s costumes and the $500,000 collection of antique furniture borrowed from Warner Bros. prop houses, including a $250,000 piano that once belonged to businessman Harry Payne Whitney.
       The same item also claimed that Leo Shuken and Jack Hayes had been hired as two of the film’s four orchestrators under conductor Robert Armbruster, but Leo Arnaud and Jack Elliott are credited onscreen.
       The world premiere of took place 11 Jun 1964 at the Denham Theatre in Denver, CO, as reported by a 12 Jun 1964 DV news item. According to the 29 May 1964 LAT, Reynolds attended the gala and other events in Chicago, IL; Philadelphia, PA; and New York City dressed as her character and arrived in the 1911 Havers automobile used in the picture. The Los Angeles, CA, benefit premiere was held 25 Jun 1964 at the Egyptian Theatre, where the film began its exclusive engagement the next day, followed by a New York City opening at the Radio City Music Hall on 16 Jul 1964. The Unsinkable Molly Brown was a commercial success, as the 30 Sep 1964 Var claimed it was the first movie playing at the Music Hall to surpass $2 million, earning $2,001,566 in ten weeks of release. DV stated that rentals were nearing $12 million by 1 Sep 1965.
       Debbie Reynolds earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the title role, while the film garnered additional nominations for Art Direction (Color), Cinematography (Color), Costume Design (Color), Music (Scoring of Music—adaptation or treatment), and Sound. Harve Presnell received the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actor. Reynolds was also nominated for Actress in a Leading Role – Musical or Comedy, and the film was nominated as Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
16 Mar 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
3 May 1961
p. 1.
Daily Variety
31 May 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
30 Jun 1961
p. 3.
Daily Variety
21 Jul 1961
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
21 Dec 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
2 Mar 1962
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
5 Mar 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 Sep 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
3 Oct 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
12 Oct 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
18 Jan 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
13 Feb 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
19 Feb 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
21 Feb 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 Feb 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
14 Mar 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
18 Mar 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 Mar 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
19 Apr 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
5 Jul 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
15 Jul 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
12 Aug 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
5 Sep 1963
p. 8.
Daily Variety
30 Oct 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
10 Dec 1963
p. 7.
Daily Variety
16 Dec 1963
p. 6.
Daily Variety
14 Jan 1964
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
28 Feb 1964
p. 20.
Daily Variety
24 Mar 1964
p. 6.
Daily Variety
29 Apr 1964
p. 3.
Daily Variety
12 Jun 1964
p. 4.
Daily Variety
27 May 1964
p. 3.
Daily Variety
1 Sep 1965
p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jan 1962
p. 22.
Los Angeles Times
6 Aug 1962
Section C, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
9 Mar 1964
Section C, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
29 May 1964
Section D, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
26 Jun 1964
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
4 Jul 1964
Section A, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
4 Nov 1964
Section D, p. 8.
New York Times
17 Jul 1964
p. 15.
Variety
30 Sep 1964
p. 5.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Lawrence Weingarten Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus cond & supv
Orch
Mus arr
SOUND
Rec supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff
Spec visual eff
Spec visual eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Unsinkable Molly Brown by Meredith Willson, Richard Morris (New York, 3 Nov 1960).
MUSIC
"Dolce far niente" and "Up Where the People Are," words and music by Meredith Willson.
SONGS
"I Ain't Down Yet, "Colorado Is My Home," "Belly Up to the Bar, Boys," "I'll Never Say No," "Leadville Johnny Brown" and "He's My Friend," words and music by Meredith Willson.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
11 June 1964
Premiere Information:
Denver premiere and opening: 11 June 1964
Los Angeles premiere: 25 June 1965
Los Angeles opening: 26 June 1964
New York opening: 16 July 1964
Production Date:
4 September--24 December 1963
Copyright Claimant:
Marten Productions
Copyright Date:
20 April 1964
Copyright Number:
LP28121
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex
Color
Metrocolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
128
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Molly, a tomboy orphan rescued from the Colorado River and brought up by Shamus Tobin, sets out to find a rich husband. Arriving in Leadville, she gets a job singing in Christmas Morgan's saloon. En route she has met Johnny Brown, and when he refurbishes her cabin, she marries him. Johnny, wishing to satisfy Molly's hunger for money, sells her silver mine for $300,000, but the paper currency is accidentally burned after Molly hides it in the stove. Comforting her, Johnny tosses his pickax in the air, and it cracks open the richest gold vein in Colorado history. The Browns and Shamus move into a mansion in Denver, where the unpolished Molly hopes to break into society but is thoroughly snubbed by the elite. The Browns then go to Europe, where Molly becomes the toast of royalty. They return to Denver, bringing along their royal friends, and Molly's party to introduce them to Denver society is a success until Johnny's Leadville friends show up and turn it into a free-for-all. Rejected once more, Molly returns to Europe despite Johnny's warning that the separation will end their marriage. He returns to Leadville. In Europe, Prince de Lanière falls in love with Molly, but she decides to go back to Johnny. She sails on the Titanic, and when the ship sinks, Molly saves the lives of the people in an overcrowded lifeboat. Her courage and selflessness make worldwide headlines, and all of Denver at last welcomes her home with open arms. And Johnny, too, is on hand to welcome Molly. ... +


Molly, a tomboy orphan rescued from the Colorado River and brought up by Shamus Tobin, sets out to find a rich husband. Arriving in Leadville, she gets a job singing in Christmas Morgan's saloon. En route she has met Johnny Brown, and when he refurbishes her cabin, she marries him. Johnny, wishing to satisfy Molly's hunger for money, sells her silver mine for $300,000, but the paper currency is accidentally burned after Molly hides it in the stove. Comforting her, Johnny tosses his pickax in the air, and it cracks open the richest gold vein in Colorado history. The Browns and Shamus move into a mansion in Denver, where the unpolished Molly hopes to break into society but is thoroughly snubbed by the elite. The Browns then go to Europe, where Molly becomes the toast of royalty. They return to Denver, bringing along their royal friends, and Molly's party to introduce them to Denver society is a success until Johnny's Leadville friends show up and turn it into a free-for-all. Rejected once more, Molly returns to Europe despite Johnny's warning that the separation will end their marriage. He returns to Leadville. In Europe, Prince de Lanière falls in love with Molly, but she decides to go back to Johnny. She sails on the Titanic, and when the ship sinks, Molly saves the lives of the people in an overcrowded lifeboat. Her courage and selflessness make worldwide headlines, and all of Denver at last welcomes her home with open arms. And Johnny, too, is on hand to welcome Molly. Songs : "I Ain't Down Yet" (Molly), "Colorado Is My Home" (Johnny), "Belly Up to the Bar, Boys" (Molly), "I'll Never Say No" (Molly), "Leadville Johnny Brown [Soliloquy]" (Johnny), "He's My Friend" (Molly & Cast). +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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