1955’s My Sister Eileen stars Jack Lemmon, Janet Leigh and Betty Garrett and is the musical adaptation of the 1942 film of the same name.
It follows, again, two sisters named Eileen and Ruth. Ruth is an aspiring writer, while Eileen is an aspiring stage actress. The two move to New York City in hopes of achieving their wildest dreams, but whether or not that will happen is questionable as the girls encounter a number of obstacles, including the hectic nature of their basement apartment.
This adaptation both stays very true to the 1942 film and, at the same time, seems entirely different.
The sisters encounter the same kooky cast of characters here, from street drunks to an angry cop to a somewhat sneaky landlord. The supporting actors aren’t quite as striking or believable here as they are in the 1942 film, but the characters still add a lot of comedic value and fun to the film.
As for the lead performances, this 1955 version absolutely matches with 1942 film in terms of quality. Jack Lemmon co-stars here as Ruth’s editor, formerly played by Brian Aherne, and is absolutely on-point (as usual) in his role. His character comes off quite a bit differently than Aherne did in the 1942 film – more of a snarky editor, somewhat of a womanizer and more of an obstacle to the girls than a man who wants to help.
While it’s hard for anyone to come close to the Roz Russell level of comedic brilliance, Betty Garrett does a fantastic job of filling the character of Ruth, especially with the charisma that she gives to Ruth’s musical numbers.
Janet Leigh is also great here as Eileen, bringing the character to life much more than Janet Blair did. With Leigh at the helm, the film seems more evenly split between the two sisters, with a fairly balanced focus on both of them. In the earlier film version, Roz Russell completely stole the show, putting most of the focus on Ruth and making Eileen seem more like a supporting character than one of three leads.
Through these two performances and through the added musical numbers, the viewer gets a much better sense of the relationship between the two sisters, from the edge of jealousy to the deep-seated concern and care that they have for each other.
This version of My Sister Eileen also benefits from looking very much like a typical 1950s technicolor musical. It’s bright, fluffy and fun and reads much less like a stage production than the 1942 film does, which is refreshing seeing as both are based off of a non-musical stage production. The addition of musical numbers to the film is absolutely delightful for fans of the genre, especially with the legendary Bob Fosse’s choreography.
Both of these films are great in their own ways — one being a hilarious 1940s black and white comedy, the other being an exciting and flashy 1950s musical. It’s rare for an adaptation to match an earlier version and even more rare for a remake to surpass the original in some ways, but 1955’s My Sister Eileen easily succeeds. The score: 5/5!