MerryPickford

The Top Ten Films of Debbie Reynolds

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       Just a little context, I only recently started studying Debbie Reynolds shortly after she passed away in 2016. I had only seen one of her films before that, Singin' in the Rain, because she always seemed too perky and annoyingly hammy for my tastes. Luckily, TCM provided us with a whole day tribute that following January and I was able to record all of those films that I still have on my DVR. After reading her autobiographies, watching her interviews, and seeing every single one of her films(even the obscure one with Bing Crosby and Robert Wagner) I've meticulously compiled a list of what I believe were her top ten films she made. If there any other hardcore fans of her that would like to challenge me on why I included a certain film or excluded one, I'd be more than happy to share my opinion. 

       Obviously the list is very subjective, and I based it on mainly the strengths of the her performance individually as an actress/singer/dancer/comedian and the enjoyment the film brought for me as a fan of classic movies in general. As a fan of classic film and someone who studied cinema during my time as an undergraduate, these films were surprisingly refreshing on their own, regardless of my silly crush on Reynolds. 

        The ranking is indeed from best to great. There are no bad movies on this list because it is a top ten out of her whole filmography. I had a hard time deciding between "It Started with A Kiss" and "The Mating Game", both films feature Reynolds probably at her most charming self, total peak level of comedy, physicality, and beauty. It's astounding these were produced during a most embarrassing time in her life, but that's probably why there's such an investment on her part with these characters and it definitely shows. I also had a hard time deciding between "What's the Matter with Helen?" and "Mother"(1996) where she arguably should have been nominated for Best Actress. I decided on the former due to the fact that subjectively, I really loved her in Grande Dame Guignol sub-genre alongside Shelly Winters and the campiness and pretty disturbing portrayal of characters these women provided for us. For someone who has never seen it, it's definitely a different movie than what you would imagine Reynolds being in. The backstory of the film production makes for an interesting layer for the film analysis itself. 

        Anyway I hope you enjoy my opinion, these films do regularly circulate every year on TCM with the exception of "The Rat Race" which I believe is because it's not part of their library. The good news is if you have Amazon Prime, "The Rat Race" is available to watch for free with the only issue being that I believe the aspect ratio might be incorrect. 

 

1.    Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

2.    The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) 

3.    The Catered Affair (1956) 

4.    How the West Was Won (1962)

5.    Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)

6.    The Rat Race (1960)

7.    Susan Slept Here (1954)

8.    It Started with A Kiss (1959)

9.    Divorce, American Style (1967)

10.  What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971)

whatsthematterwithhelen.jpg

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I'm not "hardcore", but I also have a "silly crush" on Debbie Reynolds. I'm glad you said your list was subjective and that you based it on what you considered her strengths as an actress, singer, dancer and comedian, because that leaves room for differences of opinion with no hard feelings, something which some makers of lists here don't allow for. I liked that you had a hard time choosing between It Started with a Kiss and The Mating Game because, given the same choice I probably would have picked The Mating Game; Glenn Ford did a nice job, but I liked her chemistry with Tony Randall more and Una Merkel and Paul Douglas as her parents were a hoot. 

There were a couple of movies not mentioned in which Debbie ticked all four of those boxes: Give a Girl a Break (1954) and I Love Melvin (1953). Both were probably "minor" musicals in the vast MGM canon, but both have a lot going for them. Give a Girl a Break reunited Debbie with director Stanley Donen and she costarred with Bob Fosse and Marge and Gower Champion, one of the great dance teams. The jewel of those two, in my opinion, is I Love Melvin; it's slight and silly, but the teaming of Debbie with Donald O'Connor as leads was genius. Debbie got some good alone time onscreen too in a series of fantasy musical skits which cleverly parodied typical movie musical numbers. 

I'm also a fan of "the obscure one with Bing Crosby and Robert Wagner", Say One for Me (1959), directed by Frank Tashlin. He also directed Susan Slept Here and both show his slick, lavish visual style. Something about Susan bothers me, the much older man/teenage girl angle mostly, so I would probably have put the Crosby movie in its place on your list.

I share your suspicion that the aspect ratio for The Rat Race might be incorrect, but I've only ever seen it (including on TCM) in the 4:3 ratio. It was a Paramount release so I'd assume it would have been shot in VistaVision, but maybe because it was such a "downbeat" film they cut corners. (No pun intended.)

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Nice to see a thread like this. Articulate and cheerful. We should all add some pictures.

Wish I had more familiarity with her; late to the game on this one. I only know her from Singin' in the Rain but she's certainly charming and fascinating. Very like another dancing blond pixie, Jane Powell.

I've seen Reynolds in interviews where she downplays her entire career --in an almost disingenuous way--so I'm not sure what to make of that.

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1 hour ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Nice to see a thread like this. Articulate and cheerful. We should all add some pictures.

Wish I had more familiarity with her; late to the game on this one. I only know her from Singin' in the Rain but she's certainly charming and fascinating. Very like another dancing blond pixie, Jane Powell.

I've seen Reynolds in interviews where she downplays her entire career --in an almost disingenuous way--so I'm not sure what to make of that.

I think she carried over her modest onscreen image into her private life, especially after being so publicly roughed up by all the media attention around the divorce from Eddie Fisher after Liz Taylor entered the picture. There was apparently more going on beneath the modest image, judging from what her daughter Carrie Fisher had to say about it. The Shirley MacLaine character in Carrie's Postcards From the Edge was basically Debbie in all her insane (not literally) glory. Carrie also did a one-woman show (Wishful Drinking, still on HBO) in which she chronicled her lovingly combative life with her mother. And there's also a documentary on HBO, done in the last years of both their lives, in which their interdependent day-to-day lives are chronicled. Debbie was proud of her achievements and loved the adulation, but I think she always kept in mind how unlikely it was that a gangly kid from Burbank made it to the top. That may be why it could seem disingenuous, her own amazement that it had happened at all.

She was also a fan, at one point amassing a huge collection of wardrobe and props from classic films, with the object of creating a museum on the order of the former Liberace museum in Vegas. I think financial considerations eventually worked against her and she had to part with a lot of it, but her son Todd still has (or had) some of that stuff. She loved movie history and her place in it.

I wish she had gotten to do more drama. Her performances in both The Catered Affair and The Rat Race were genuinely moving, but I don't think the public really wanted to see her that way. 

By the way, MerryPickford, if you haven't seen it, there's a fun Debbie Reynolds musical and dance number in Pepe (1961), which featured cameos by many top stars of that time.

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I haven't seen all of Debbie's films, but these are my favorites:

1) Singin' in the Rain

2) Susan Slept Here

3) The Tender Trap

4) The Catered Affair

5) The Gazebo

6) The Mating Game

7) Two Weeks With Love

8 ) Tammy and the Bachelor

9) Charlotte's Web

10) Kiki's Delivery Service

The latter two films she just provided a voice, but I liked them nonethless.  

I also enjoyed her in It Started With a Kiss, I Love Melvin and What's the Matter With Helen?

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