Cast & Crew
Irishman Michael Noonan does his best to avoid work of any kind, even though his beloved daughter Nellie tries her best to convince him to do some. When Nellie and her sweetheart, Jerry Kelly, marry over Michael's petty objections, he vows never to speak to Jerry, even though he reluctantly agrees to accompany the pair to America. After several years in New York, the three become citizens and Jerry becomes a policeman, but Michael still will not speak to him. When Nellie dies giving birth to a baby daughter, Michael again refuses to make peace with Jerry, even though he continues to live with him and take care of the baby. Many years later, Jerry has risen to the rank of police captain, and the baby, also named Nellie, has grown into a young woman who is the image of her mother, and like her mother is torn by her love for both Michael and Jerry. Their daily squabbling becomes more serious when Nellie takes an interest in young Dennis Fogarty, the son of Michael's old friend Timothy. Michael makes unreasonably objections against Dennis, while Jerry tries to make Nellie realize that Michael is using her devotion to him for selfish reasons. She continues to see Dennis, but is heartbroken when Michael leaves home after a fight over Dennis. Some time later, at the Policeman's Ball, Nellie and Dennis decide to take a walk in the park, and discover that Michael has finally gotten a job as a handsome cab driver. Despite his inability to control the horse, he seems to be suited for the job and all ends happily as the three generations are reconciled.
Thomas P. Dillon
Robert Emmett Keane
Nacio Herb Brown
George M. Cohan
Fredrick Y. Smith
Edwin B. Willis
Little Nellie Kelly
Thinking ahead, Freed was looking for the right vehicle to move Garland into adult parts. In Little Nellie Kelly, she would play a dual role, an Irishwoman who travels to the U.S. with her feuding husband and father only to die in childbirth, and the daughter raised by the two men even though they're not speaking to each other. Garland had just scored a triumph and a special Oscar® for The Wizard of Oz (1939), but nobody at the studio could deny that she was growing up quickly. Nobody except studio head Louis B. Mayer, that is. When he heard of Freed's plans to star her in the film, he protested, "We simply can't have that baby have a child." Of course, that child was already 18, was firmly entrenched in the prescription-drug regimen that would ultimately destroy her career, was smoking four packs a day to keep her weight down and was running around in secret with a series of older men. In fact, during the filming of Little Nellie Kelly, she started dating the man who would become her first husband, composer David Rose, even though he was still married to Martha Raye at the time.
But Hollywood is a city of illusions, and nobody created the illusion of youthful joy and innocence better than Garland. She dazzled audiences with upbeat performances of musical mentor Roger Eden's "It's a Great Day for the Irish" and a swing version of the MGM standard, "Singin' in the Rain." Ironically, only one Cohan song remained from the original score, "Nellie Kelly, I Love You," and Garland didn't even sing it. It was performed by Douglas McPhail as the man the younger Nellie falls for. Another Cohan song, "You Remind Me of My Mother," was cut from the film, as was Garland's rendition of "Danny Boy."
Little Nellie Kelly was important for more than its score, however. This was the film in which Garland not only grew up on screen -- bearing a child, playing a death scene and receiving her first adult kiss (from McPhail) -- but it was also the first film to showcase her impressive dramatic abilities. When she completed her death scene, costar George Murphy reports that there was no crew left on the set. All the hardened movie veterans had snuck off so their sobs wouldn't ruin the take. Sadly, MGM would do little to build on her dramatic impact in the film, confining her to musicals for all but one feature (The Clock, 1945) during her time there.
Although the film received mixed reviews, Garland was the critics' darling, earning raves for her singing and acting. In addition, Little Nellie Kelly turned a tidy profit, earning over $2 million on an investment of just over $650,000. Co-star Murphy -- who played first her husband, then her father -- would hail it as his favorite film, largely because of his work with Garland. Decades later, her performance of "Singin' in the Rain" would resurface in the studio's tribute to its musical past, That's Entertainment! (1974). The film even got a backhanded compliment from Cohan himself. Shortly before its release, he ran into Freed again and asked, "I hope you didn't keep any of that terrible play?" Freed responded, "No, I just kept the title and little Nellie Kelly being a policeman's daughter." In Cohan's opinion, that would guarantee the picture's success.
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: Jack McGowan
Based on the Musical Comedy by George M. Cohan
Cinematography: Ray June
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Roger Edens, George Stoll
Principal Cast: Judy Garland (Nellie Kelly/Little Nellie Kelly), George Murphy (Jerry Kelly), Charles Winninger (Michael Noonan), Douglas McPhail (Dennis Fogarty), Arthur Shields (Timothy Fogarty), John Raitt (Intern).
BW-99m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
Little Nellie Kelly
The musical play opened in New York City, New York, USA on 13 November 1922 and had 248 performances. Most of the plot was replaced for the movie, and only two of the songs were used.
Frederick Worlock is credited in studio records for the role of "Lord Cavelstoke." Although the character is mentioned in the movie, he never is seen onscreen.
This movie contains the only dying scene 'Judy Garland' ever did onscreen.
Although the film was based on George M. Cohan's musical comedy of the same name, little of the original plot was transferred to the screen. Judy Garland's "swing" rendition of "Singin' in the Rain" was among the musical numbers featured in the 1974 M-G-M compilation picture, That's Entertainment. "Nellie Kelly" was the first adult role played by Garland and the first feature film of actor-singer John Raitt (1917-2005), who appeared in a small role as an "Intern." After appearing in small roles in several films, Raitt went to Broadway and became a star, playing the lead in such popular musicals as Carousel and The Pajama Game. He also starred in the film version of The Pajama Game (see below), among other films, and was the father of country-Western singer Bonnie Raitt.