This 1958 film has both the wholesomeness of an earlier era in the American film industry and hints of the sexual rebellion and the flourishing youth culture to come in the 1960s. The luminous Natalie Wood (at just 20 years old) plays the title role, a naive Jewish teenager in New York City who falls in love with the older Noel Airman (Gene Kelly), a charming songwriter who lives in Greenwich Village and directs shows at a resort during the summer. Marjorie Morningstar traverses the usual melodramatic elements of first love and the coming-of-age narrative, as well as explores the tensions between tradition (the screen time allotted to Jewish holidays and rituals was considered daring at the time) and the emerging youth generation. The story also foregrounds the age-old contradictions between an artist’s bohemian lifestyle and conventional professionalism. As Airman, Kelly successfully fuses the bitterness of a disappointing life and career with glimpses of hope and genuine love. Based on the 1955 novel with the same name by Herman Wouk, the film also stars Ed Wynn, who adds a humorous sweetness as Natalie’s Uncle Sampson.

Print courtesy of Academy Film Archive.