The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Unsinkable Molly Brown Movie Poster Image
Debbie Reynolds is center stage in spirited 1964 musical.
  • NR
  • 1964
  • 128 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There's no stopping a person of great determination, enthusiasm, self-confidence, and honesty as she (he) fights to make dreams come true. Molly strives for a rich husband and money to make her happy. Later, film cautions that those dreams come with a price; one must reevaluate goals, tempered by maturity and changing values. Molly has new understanding of what "being happy" is by film's end.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Molly, a feisty, strong-willed girl, uses force and a combative attitude to assert her independence. As she matures, she learns to channel her energies in a positive way. Comic stereotypes of wealthy people and rural "rubes."

Violence

Heroine, a young tomboy, scuffles with two young men; she's always ready for a fight. Husband slaps wife. Some alcohol-fueled brawling in various settings. In a comically suspenseful scene with upbeat music, an always-happy infant floats down a river in a cradle and encounters turbulent waters. Archival film footage of the Titanic sinking is intercut with close shots of frightened victims in a lifeboat.

Sex

Married couple kisses, is shown in bed together. Comically painted "prostitutes" dance and engage in barroom antics. Heroine is seen from back of shoulders bathing nude in a river. Implied extramarital relationship.

Language

An occasional mild epithet (i.e., "hell," "damn"). 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several scenes take place in old-fashioned Western saloons, where beer and whiskey flow; brawls occur (some to facilitate exuberant dance numbers). Country folks drink in numerous scenes, some resulting in drunkenness. Drinking occurs in several parties in stately homes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with its vibrant singing and dancing, was the crowning achievement in Debbie Reynold's onscreen musical career as a leading lady. The story is "based upon" the true rags-to-riches story of America's Molly Brown, raised in a two-room, backwoods hovel in 1867, who became a wealthy socialite and philanthropist. In 1912, Molly survived the sinking of the Titanic, behaving heroically, as legend has it, in the process. In this version of the tale, Molly as a very young woman is surrounded by an assortment of exaggerated country "yokels," both hard-drinking and quick-to-fight. Several brawls and scuffles, some of them fueled by alcohol, are played comically, often turning into lively dance numbers. In only one instance is there a physical assault that is to be taken seriously (Spoiler Alert: a forceful slap). A few mild swear words ("damn," "hell") are heard. Several romantic scenes include: kissing, a married couple beginning to undress, and some brief, veiled references to infidelity. In one scene, Molly is shown bathing in a river -- no nudity, but it's clear that she's been observed by a stranger with a sense of humor. Several painted-up prostitutes appear in barroom scenes and are stand-out members of the dancing team. Later scenes involve typically snooty upper-class stereotypes, who are the film's main antagonists. Overall, however, the movie is a lighthearted, music-filled, coming-of-age story with a heroine who learns important lessons about being herself, finding true happiness, and standing up for what she believes is right. 

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What's the story?

Found as an infant floating down a raging river in a cradle, THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (Debbie Reynolds at her most enchanting) is raised in a down-and-out, backwoods Colorado town by a down-and-out, backwoods pa, with no schooling, and certainly no chances for success. But Molly will have none of that. Sharp-tongued, eager for a fight, and decidedly tomboyish, Molly will soon be on her way to Denver to meet a rich man, marry him, and become a millionaire. To her dismay, she meets and falls in love with the handsome, sweet, but lazy John J. Brown (singer/actor Harve Presnell in his first movie role). Johnny, an indifferent mine holder, is not quite as down-and-out as Molly's pa, but he's definitely not what she had in mind. Until... the now-married Browns find that they're sitting upon the biggest gold mine in America. Rich? They couldn't be any richer. But Molly, determined to be a classy society gal, has a lot to learn. And the people they meet when they move to the elite section of Denver have a lot to teach her, not just about class, but about snobbery, phoniness, and false values. Still sharp-tongued, eager for a fight, but now dressed almost like the lady she wants to be, Molly takes on these new obstructions in the way of her happiness, but not without jeopardizing what she learns she loves most of all.

Is it any good?

With a score by Meredith Willson (The Music Man), this film is filled with memorable singing and dancing. It's the only movie for which the irrepressible Debbie Reynolds earned an Oscar acting nomination. Her multiple talents are showcased from top to bottom. Right beside her is 1964 newcomer, Harve Presnell, a handsome romantic lead with a powerful voice. The majestic rural settings in The Unsinkable Molly Brown -- towering forests, rushing rivers, picturesque mountains -- are perfect matches for the melodies, some of which are delightfully recognizable. Costumes, sets, and comic performances are all top-notch; the musical numbers are inventive and dynamic. It's not a perfect film. There are few surprises, and the "true" story is a familiar one -- dirt-poor but ambitious wannabe goes after riches and happiness, and will stop at nothing to get them. And, the last third of this two-hour-plus movie relies on some cornball dialogue and hyper emotionality. Still, the movie is great fun and an even greater testament to the talents of Reynolds, who was America's sweetheart of that era. Okay for mature middle-graders and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Unsinkable Molly Brown as an old-fashioned, good-time musical. What characteristics, besides the fact that it's set more than a century ago, make it feel old-fashioned? Do you think that a relatively unsophisticated movie like this one could be successful today? Why or why not? What other films do you like that belong in this genre?

  • How does the production design of this film -- sets, scenery, costumes -- contribute to the vibrancy of the film? Think about how the colors, lighting, and music make you feel while you are watching. Did you know that the director works with the art director, costumers, hair and makeup artists, and many other members of the team to choose these elements together?

  • What did Molly learn about happiness in this movie that Johnny already knew? Why do you think so many movies present the commonly-held notion that happiness is incompatible with wealth? Do you agree with that idea? 

Movie details

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