Rosalind Russell stars as Ruth Sherwood, an aspiring writer who moves from Ohio to New York with her sister, Eileen (Janet Blair). Eileen dreams of becoming a big star on the stage.
Not realizing that New York will be so expensive to live in, the girls only bring $100 with them, vowing to never borrow money from their father again.
They move into a less-than-luxurious basement apartment, with a promise from the landlord that they can have their money back at the end of the month if they don’t like the place. The window has no shade, and when left open provides the apartment with a less-than-charming level of noise, complete with the ability of strangers to peek into the apartment from the sidewalk and converse with the girls.
Things are looking pretty bad for the two, until they meet magazine editor Robert Baker (Brian Aherne), a man who seems willing to help both of them achieve their big city goals.
My Sister Eileen is based on a broadway play, which was based on a series of short stories. Three more screen versions have been made of this story (1955’s My Sister Eileen starring Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett and Janet Leigh*; 1958’s Wonderful Town; and a television series in 1960) as well as a musical stage version in 1953. A story worthy of so many incarnations must make a fantastic film, right?
In this case, it is certainly true. The 1942 version of My Sister Eileen is a fantastic comedy.
The supporting cast of odd ducks that the sisters meet during their time in New York provide for some absolutely hilarious scenarios. Drunkards on the street and a very disgruntled cop are among the earliest encounters, which literally leave the viewer laughing out loud. These silly supporting roles are filled perfectly by actors who seem not like actors, but like actual strange people that you would be prone to meet on the streets of such a large city.
The more prominent cast is just as phenomenal. Roz Russell shines in most of her films, but this is one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen from her, still. Her delivery is fantastic, her facial expressions perfectly on-point. Her role is a bit of a strange one. Ultra-witty, with dozens of zingers in her dialogue and an attitude that ensures you she can’t be pushed around, Roz was no stranger to this type of role.
But the kicker here is that she isn’t the support this time around, like she was in her similarly strong role in The Women, for example; in My Sister Eileen, the wise-cracking Ruth is treated as the lead character. This further heightens the comedy of the film, since Ruth is the funniest character and she is also the focus. Roz does a great job of endearing the audience to her character as well.
Fun, pretty fast-paced, and consistently hilarious, My Sister Eileen is a quintessential example of classic screwball comedy. The score: 5/5!
*I was also able to get my hands on a copy of the 1955 musical comedy version. As you all probably know by now, Jack Lemmon is a favorite of mine. Keep an eye out for a review of that version, including comparison between the two versions, tomorrow!