‘Little Nellie Kelly’ (Film)


Please feel free to comment on my review.

Nellie Kelly and Little Nellie

This review is for my Dad who is a Judy Garland fan.

‘Little Nellie Kelly’ is my Dad’s favourite Judy Garland film. It stars Judy Garland with co-stars George Murphy, Charles Winninger and Douglas McPhail. I’ve seen plenty of films starring this amazing singer and actress from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Judy is well-known as Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

Judy has also starred alongside Mickey Rooney in many musical movies including ‘Babes in Arms’, ‘Strike Up the Band’, ‘Babes on Broadway’ and ‘Girl Crazy’. But ‘Little Nellie Kelly’ is my Dad’s absolute favourite Judy Garland film and it’s so different to any other Judy Garland film that I’ve seen.

Judy Garland started out as a young actress and performer. She has come a long way in bringing happiness and delight to millions of people around the world as well as in America. Judy was 18 when she made this film in 1940 and it was at the height of her singing/acting career after doing ‘Oz’.

This film features more of Judy than any other actor, since she gets to play two characters. She plays Nellie Kelly the mother in the first half of the film and eventually her daughter Little Nellie Kelly in the second half. It is probably one of the most sophisticated films Judy has ever done in her career.

‘Little Nellie Kelly’ doesn’t contain a lot of comedic moments, but focuses on a story about family and living life. The story takes place in Ireland and New York, America. It starts in Ireland first where we meet Judy as the grown-up Nellie who lives with her father Charles Winniger as Michael Noonan.

Nellie meets her sweetheart Jerry Kelly, who wishes to emigrate to New York and become a police officer. They soon marry, much to Nellie’s father’s disapproval and travel aboard to live in New York where Jerry trains to become a police officer. Whilst in New York, Nellie has one child but sadly dies.

Both upset after her death, Jerry Kelly and Nellie’s father raise Nellie’s daughter together through bitter rivalry. They name her Little Nellie and she gets to be a happy, cheerful teenager in later life. Little Nellie tries to get her father and grandfather to reconcile their differences after so many years.

Watching Judy playing two parts in the film is pretty impressive, amazing and unusual. Little Nellie is the spitting image of her mother, but both have differences. The older Nellie has had to put up with her father in Ireland and being hampered by him to sympathise his needs before meeting Jerry Kelly.

Older Nelly has had to referee between her husband and her father when they both go aboard to New York. I found it funny and convincing when hearing Judy as the older Nellie doing an Irish accent. It was very sad when the older Nellie died in a hospital bed with her husband Jerry saying goodbye to her.

When we see Judy as Little Nellie for the second half of the film, she’s more like the cheerful Judy from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and the Mickey and Judy films she’s done. Little Nellie is a happy, go-lucky, giddy girl who wants her father and grandfather to be friends and like each other after so many years.

Little Nellie gets upset when her grandfather becomes difficult and she also gets hampered by him to sympathise his needs. But her father manages to intervene and give her daughter the happiness she deserves. Little Nellie also gets to go to a ball with her potential boyfriend Dennis Fogarty.

George Murphy stars as Jerry Kelly, Nellie Kelly’s husband and Little Nellie’s father. Jerry is a loving devoted husband to older Nellie as well as a devoted father to his daughter Little Nellie. There’s a rivalry between him and Michael Noonan as they try to gain older Nellie and little Nellie’s affections.

Jerry is more understanding and loving as he’s the one tries to befriend the father/grandfather, even though he’s rejected. He becomes a young police officer winning his uniform before he eventually becomes captain after raising his daughter. He’s happy to have his daughter who he loves so much.

Charles Winninger stars as the father/grandfather of Nellie/Little Nellie throughout this film. I’ve seen Charles Winninger before in the film ‘State Fair’ as well as working with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in ‘Babes in Arms’. The father/grandfather Michael Noonan is a dysfunctional Irishman.

Noonan has old-fashioned ideals and doesn’t want to work. He’s strict in his ways and disapproves of his daughter Nellie marrying some fresh-faced Jerry Kelly, even though he accompanies them to America. He tries to win her daughter’s affections and gets very annoyed when Jerry gets in the way.

I found it funny when father/grandfather Noonan makes out he has a heart problem in order to win her daughter/granddaughter’s affections. He takes medication which is alcohol and fakes it out. He’s the sort of character you can love and loathe at the same time and Winninger plays both sides well.

And there’s Douglas McPhail as Dennis Fogarty, the son of Arthur Shields as Timothy Fogarty. Dennis has a romantic interest in Little Nellie when she’s grown up. I like this young man, as he and Little Nellie become good friends earlier on. Dennis wishes her a happy birthday with a bunch of flowers.

Dennis invites Little Nellie to a ball to which she happily and giddily accepts. He tries to make love to her, but jumps the gun a bit as she doesn’t seem to notice and he gets upset when his efforts aren’t working. But the two develop a good relationship with each other and do enjoy dancing as a couple.

Judy gets to sing in the film. She performs four songs throughout including ‘It’s A Great Day For The Irish’. This is when she; her grandfather and Dennis march in the parade for St Patrick’s Day on 5th Avenue, New York. The song, according to my Dad, was written for Judy by songwriter Roger Edens.

The other songs Judy sings are ‘A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow’; ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (before it became famous in the Gene Kelly classic 1952 film ‘Singin’ in the Rain’) and ‘Nellie Kelly, I Love You’. The last song gets a reprise at the end by Little Nellie, her father Jerry, Dennis and grandfather Noonan.

The film was released on DVD in 2011. It’s a basic DVD with not so many special features on it, apart from a theatrical trailer that was shown in the theatres/cinemas prior to the film’s release in 1940.

‘Little Nellie Kelly’ is a pretty good film with Judy Garland as two characters. It has a story focused on a plot about a dysfunctional family and is told in a charming and pleasant way. My Dad has seen it more times than any other Judy Garland film. I enjoyed it as it has one of Judy’s finest performances.

‘Little Nellie Kelly’ rating – 8/10

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