“Nobody puts Marjorie in the corner…”
The movie Dirty Dancing has been back in the news recently for its 20th anniversary, and also for being compared to High School Musical 2. But for a true comparison, has anyone else realized that it’s a happier, more lighthearted, more musical version of Gene Kelly’s Marjorie Morningstar? If you’ve never thought about it before, consider the following:
- The main character for both movies is a naïve, good Jewish girl (Natalie Wood as Marjorie in MM and Jennifer Grey as Baby in DD).
- Marjorie works at a camp in the Catskills. Baby visits a camp in the Catskills.
- Marjorie falls for the cocky bad-boy entertainment director, Noel (Gene Kelly). Baby falls for the cocky bad-boy dance instructor, Johnny (Patrick Swayze).
- Marjorie’s parents disapprove of the relationship because he’s not Jewish and he has no ambition. Baby’s parents disapprove of the relationship because he’s not Jewish and he’s the hired help.
- Noel teaches Marjorie how to perform. Johnny teaches Baby how to dance. Side note: DD’s choreographer, Kenny Ortega, is a huge Gene Kelly fan and worked with him on “Xanadu”.
This is where the two stories begin to differ drastically. Unfortunately for Marjorie, MM is the more serious and dramatic movie that focuses on the relationship of Noel and Marjorie. Simply, Noel is a loser. He can’t handle the stability that Marjorie offers and he can’t handle not being successful in the “real world”. In the end, Marjorie winds up with Wally, Noel’s assistant who is now a successful Broadway playwright. Is it me, or does anyone else think that if Marjorie didn’t listen to Wally in the end that maybe, just maybe, she and Noel would have worked things out? Anyway, DD has a much happier ending for Baby and Johnny. Of course, don’t forget that MM was a dramatic adaptation of an award-winning novel. DD was merely a happy musical that skirted some serious social issues. Any attempt at drama didn’t work because of the now-infamous pitiful dialogue that will induce laughter in all but pre-teens who think it’s the best movie ever.
But, let’s continue with our comparison with the differences…
- The “good guy” assistant Wally is the … well, the good guy in the end (except he convinces Marjorie to stay away from Noel…hmm, maybe he is the bad guy after all). The “good guy” waiter Robbie is the bad guy all along, but he’s revealed at the end.
- MM’s “A Very Precious Love” was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Song” in 1958. DD’s “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” actually won the Academy Award for “Best Song” in 1987.
- MM’s happy couple end happily separated, never to reunite because Noel’s a jerk. DD’s happy couple ends happily together – and Baby’s father might actually be warming up to him.
- Dare we compare the stars of the two films? Let’s face it, MM may not have been Gene’s best dramatic role, but he handled it well. What would be truly refreshing? Gene Kelly starring in Dirty Dancing! Or would it be funnier to see Patrick Swayze in Marjorie Morningstar?
Trivia Challenge: Gene Kelly and Patrick Swayze were co-stars in --------?