Review: Alexander Hall’s “My Sister Eileen,” Starring Rosalind Russell

Rosalind Russell, George Tobias, and Janet Blair in
Rosalind Russell, George Tobias, and Janet Blair in "My Sister Eileen"

Two years after His Girl Friday, Rosalind Russell played another ambitious newspaperwoman in Columbia’s adaptation of the Broadway hit My Sister Eileen. Alexander Hall’s film could almost function as a prequel to that 1940 Howard Hawks classic—here Russell plays aspiring journalist Ruth Sherwood, who leaves her small Ohio town for New York along with her alluring actress sister Eileen (Janet Blair). They rent a cheap basement apartment from a kooky painter (George Tobias) and engage in episodic misadventures to find jobs and fend off various men. Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov (who wrote the adaptation of their play for the screen) took their story from a series of popular columns written by Ruth McKenney in The New Yorker, charting the real misadventures of her and her sister Eileen.

Unfortunately on screen the stories plays out unevenly, with a mostly weak cast—aside from Russell, who scored her first Oscar nomination for her work. Blair does little to stand out in this early role; Russell found herself forced to work as an acting coach. When Blair thanked her for the help Russell responded, “I’m not doing it because I like you, I don’t know anything about you. I’m doing it to get a good picture.”1 Her efforts were mostly in vain though—Hall does little to stop My Sister Eileen from feeling stagebound, and there are endless supporting characters that fail to make any impact in this limp comedy.

Where to Watch

Buy it on DVD as part of the “Icons of Screwball Comedy” Set

For More on My Sister Eileen

Read the review in The New York Times

Watch the Trailer

References   [ + ]

1. Eleanor Quin, “My Sister Eileen,” Turner Classic Movies, accessed July 6, 2017.