Our story starts here as little Louise Hovick and her little sister Baby June are hoofing it up to win a spot on Uncle Jocko’s Kiddie Kapers vaudeville show. Surprisingly, Uncle Jocko (Karl Malden) is into grown women.
Believe it or not, Baby June (on the left) is played by Morgan Brittany. Louise is dressed like a lesbian.
Fearing that they’re not getting the proper attention, their mother Rose, played by the divine Rosalind Russell, storms up on stage, makes a spectacle of herself and promptly gets her whole family thrown out of the theater.Louise slowly rocks back and forth and sucks her thumb in embarrassment. Baby June is a little bitch.
Next we get a painfully expositional scene wherein we learn that Rose has been married 3 times and now she spends her time criss-crossing the country, trying to get Baby June booked. Louise is basically there for backup until Rose can figure out what to do with her. In the meantime, they’re all headed towards Seattle, so they can live with Rose’s father for a while to regroup.No explanation is given as to how a clearly 55-year-old woman has two daughters under the age of ten.
She runs into Karl Malden outside some podunk theater where she’s trying to get a booking. He reveals that she was such an overbearing bitch of a stage mother that he wound up quitting his job as Uncle Jocko and now sells candy bars. For some reason, this causes sparks to fly between them.
Later, at a Chinese restaurant, they talk about their dreams and Rosalind lip-synchs a song that Johnny Mathis sang better. Karl dreams of marrying her and Roz dreams of stardom for her children. They reach a compromise: Karl will drive her the rest of the way to Seattle.
Yeah, that didn’t make sense to us either.
He drops the brood off in Seattle and is too polite to comment that Roz’s father must have been about 11 when he fathered her.
Later, she receives a telegram from Karl informing her that he got the kids booked in a show in Chicago. She steals some shit from her father and skips town with her kids.
Did we mention that she’s 55?
Baby June is still an obnoxious bitch.
Next, we get a montage sequence as the act takes on several male backup dancers, Morgan Brittany morphs into Ann Jillian (we kid you not), and the little lesbian morphs into a breast-bound Natalie Wood.
We get a glimpse at the shitty, flophouse lifestyle Roz is forcing these poor kids to live in during Natalie’s birthday party.
Depressed about the whole thing, Natalie climbs out on to the fire escape and looks for Tony. Haha. No. Instead she sings to a bunch of stuffed animals (and one real lamb – don’t ask) about …geez, what WAS that song about anyway?
Karl gets them an audition with a big time New York theater muckety-muck and Roz makes Natalie dress up like a cow. Christ, this is making Mommie Dearest look like a Hallmark Family Channel movie.
The muckety-muck says he’ll take June, but Natalie and Roz have got to go. Roz makes a big scene and turns him down. June hates her.
Later, June fails to show up at the rail station for the trip to their next gig, but leaves a note informing her mother that she ran off and married one of the dancers. She’s 13. Roz is shocked that her mothering techniques could produce such a piece of white trash.
But nothing stops Mama Rose!
Karl and Natalie fear for their lives at this point.
She kidnaps a bunch of little girls and drags them out to the desert to practice a new routine with talentless Louise as the star.
No one in this group seems to understand what a compromise is.
Karl gets the act booked in a theater in Wichita and Natalie takes on a big sister role to the starry-eyed girls.
Unfortunately, the act is in for a big shock…
Uncle Jocko is a lousy manager.
Rose flips out and wants to pack up and leave but Natalie’s all “Look, bitch, we’re broke. It’s only two weeks and we all get to keep our clothes on.” Rose finally admits defeat and decides to break up the act and send the girls home with the money they’ll make on this gig. She finally agrees to marry the long-suffering Karl when it’s all over.
Natalie agrees to take a gig as the straight women for one of the comics for an extra ten bucks. Rose’s ethics evaporate in front of our eyes.
The strippers give Natalie a little education on how to make it in this biz. Turn your speakers down because this one’s an ear-splitter.
We’re not entirely sure that some of those girls are girls, if you know what we mean.
On the last day of their booking, Rose overhears that the star stripper got arrested. Hearing the word “star” and not hearing the word “arrested,” she throws the last of her morals out the window and begs them to give her underage daughter the job.
Karl and Natalie react appropriately. Karl walks out, but Natalie agrees to give it her all because she’s never worn a dress before and figures being paid to take one off is better than nothing.
Sing out, Louise!
Even we have to say, Natalie had one hell of a figure. Although somewhere, Marni Nixon is sadly shaking her head.
After that little strip montage, we find out that Natalie is now a star and hates her mother. Yeah, you’re about 5 years late on that one, girl. They have a big fight and Natalie throws her out of her dressing room.
Now. One can certainly argue that Roz stole the role from its rightful owner, Ethel Merman, but even though Roz had to be mostly dubbed, she brought something to the role that Ethel simply couldn’t: depth.
Case in point:
Say what you will, Roz is a FORCE OF NATURE here.