Take 3: Little Nellie Kelly Review

I know that it’s been two weeks since I last wrote a movie review. Because I was out of town around that time, I chose to reschedule several of my planned blog posts to later dates. But, when it comes to posts relating to blogathons, I always try my best to be a blogger of my word and publish my lists, reviews, or editorials within the blogathon time-frame. When I signed up for the 2nd Annual Broadway Bound Blogathon, I knew, right away, that I would be reviewing the film, Little Nellie Kelly. Before this review, I had never seen or heard of this movie. Plus, the synopsis on Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM’s) website said that this film is about “the daughter of Irish immigrants patches up differences between her father and grandfather and rises to the top on Broadway”. Because I knew that Judy Garland was the star of this production, I figured that I would, at least, find some enjoyment in this movie. Was my prediction correct? Was there enjoyment to be found in Little Nellie Kelly? Please keep reading if you want to find the answer!

Little Nellie Kelly poster
Little Nellie Kelly poster created by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Image found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poster_-_Little_Nellie_Kelly_03.jpg

Things I liked about the film:

  • The acting: Something I’ve noticed about Judy’s films (specifically the ones that I’ve seen) is that she surrounds herself with a talented cast. This is no different for Little Nellie Kelly. Charles Winninger’s portrayal of Michael Noonan was such a pleasant surprise! He brought so much emotion to his performance that it ended up being effective. Judy’s performance was also great to watch! Her emotions and musicality helped her portrayal of Nellie Kelly be as strong as it was. I also liked George Murphy’s performance as Jerry Kelly! His acting talents helped carry this film alongside his co-stars.


  • The comedy: In Little Nellie Kelly, there were comedic moments that I truly found to be hilarious. One scene has Nellie telling her father that she’s going to get married to Jerry. As soon as her father hears this, he unexpectedly spits out his coffee and makes a big mess. This moment made me laugh out loud! As I watched the film, I noticed that the majority of these comedic moments were caused by Charles’ character, Michael. Because of this particular actor’s quality of talent, it made the film’s comedy stick the landing.


  • Some of the montages: There were two montages in Little Nellie Kelly that I really liked. The first one was when Jerry, Nellie, and Michael go through the process of becoming citizens of the United States. When it comes to cinematic stories about people immigrating to the United States, this aspect of the narrative is rarely explored. The second montage I liked showed the process of Jerry becoming a police officer. In film, when a character chooses to be a police officer, they are usually shown either before or after they accept the job. Like the first montage, this process is not always featured in cinematic narratives. Even though these montages didn’t last very long, I’m glad they were included in this story.
2nd Annual Broadway Bound Blogathon banner
The 2nd Annual Broadway Bound Blogathon banner created by Rebecca from Taking Up Room. Image found at https://takinguproom.wordpress.com/2019/03/07/announcing-the-second-annual-broadway-bound-blogathon/.

What I didn’t like about the film:

  • An inability to hold an accent: Because some of the characters are from Ireland, hearing accents from them is to be expected. While Charles Winninger did a good job when it came to carrying the accent, I felt that Judy and George’s ability to carry an Irish accent wasn’t as strong. When I watched Little Nellie Kelly, I never heard Jerry talk with an Irish accent. Meanwhile, the only time Nellie spoke with an Irish accent was when she sang “A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow”. Because of Judy and George’s inability to carry an accent, this prevented a sense of continuity to exist amongst the characters.


  • A limited amount of musical numbers and comedy: Even though I liked the comedy in this film, there were very few comedic moments to be found. Throughout this one hour and thirty-eight minute picture, there were more dramatic moments than comedic ones. In this movie, there were a total of about four to five musical numbers. That’s a lot less than I was expecting. The film’s opening credits said that Little Nellie Kelly was based on a “musical comedy”. But, if anything, this project felt more like a “dramedy” (a combination of comedy and drama), with an emphasis on drama.


  • Judy Garland portraying Nellie Kelly Sr. and Jr.: In the movie, Judy portrays two characters; Nellie Kelly and her daughter. While different hairstyles helped, a little bit, to differentiate between the two characters, this creative decision still baffled me. I understand that MGM wanted to utilize Judy’s talent as much as possible. However, I still think that Judy should have portrayed only one character. Because this movie is called Little Nellie Kelly, Judy could have portrayed the daughter, while another, slightly older actress could have portrayed Nellie Kelly Sr. That way, Judy could have still been the leading star of the movie, while the other actress could also receive a significant amount of recognition.
St. Patrick’s Day image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/st-patrick-s-day-background_1640464.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com. 

My overall impression:

I like Little Nellie Kelly for what it is. There are elements to the film that make it enjoyable, such as the musical numbers and the acting. However, I found this movie to be somewhat misleading. As I said in the introduction, this synopsis said that the protagonist “rises to the top on Broadway”. Not only was this location never mentioned in the film, but Nellie never aspired to be an entertainer. What makes this even more frustrating is how few musical numbers there were and how little comedy there was in the film despite it being called a “musical comedy” in the opening credits. From what I’ve heard, this movie is based on a pre-existing Broadway musical. Because I have never seen the stage version of this story, it’s difficult for me to say if the movie was anything like the play. This kind of reminds me of how I felt about Edward, My Son. Both of these films were based on plays and made me felt like I was misled. I can’t fault the creative teams behind these movies too much, since their job was to adapt their respective plays to the screen. However, a good amount of honesty should have been included into each film’s synopsis.


Overall score: 7.2 out of 10


Have you seen any of Judy Garland’s movies? If so, which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comment section!


Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

14 thoughts on “Take 3: Little Nellie Kelly Review

  1. Paddy Lee

    George M. Cohan’s Little Nellie Kelly was a very popular musical-comedy play. While it appears MGM kept a lot of the songs, they seem to have jettisoned some of the Roaring Twenties fun in favour of typical studio schmaltz of the era. Judy, of course, could do anything and I think MGM counted on that with some of her projects. They knew the audience was ready and waiting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for visiting 18 Cinema Lane, Paddy! You provided some really good insight about movie! Since Little Nellie Kelly was released in 1940, the film itself does feel different from other musical films of that cinematic era. However, because of TCM’s synopsis and the film’s opening credits, I was expecting the movie to be more of a “musical comedy” than it ended up being.


  2. Dear Sally,

    This is a great article! I enjoyed reading it. I have heard this film’s title, but I haven’t read much about it before. It sounds very interesting! I can understand how you would find it irritating that they don’t sustain Irish accents throughout the film. I am writing about another movie with Judy Garland and George Murphy for this blogathon, “For Me and My Gal.”

    By the way, I just wanted to remind you that you signed up to participate in “What the Code Means to Me” (https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/what-the-code-means-to-me/) in June. I wanted to let you know that you may publish your article in this series any time during this month, including a poster and the link to my original article in your post. I will include links to your article on my website and will republish your article. Also, you get to choose a film which I will breen on the first Breening Thursday after your article is published. Please make two suggestions, and I will choose one. There are instructions on which films are eligible for breening in the following article: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/suggestions-for-future-breening-thursday-topics/. You can give me your suggestions when you send me the link to your article.

    Thank you for signing up for this, Sally! Have a nice Sunday.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading my review, Tiffany! I can’t wait to read your review of “For Me and My Gal”. I also still plan on writing and publishing my article for the “What the Code Means to Me” series. I will admit that I don’t know much about the Code itself, so I will definitely read as much as I can about it before I write my article.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Sally,

        That sounds great! I know that whatever you write will be wonderful. You can read a few of the previous articles in the series to see what other people have written. Even if you don’t know a lot about the Code, it’s great to hear your thoughts on what was good about the movies it influences.

        Yours Hopefully,

        Tiffany Brannan

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Broadway Bound 2019: Day Two – Taking Up Room

    1. Thanks for visiting 18 Cinema Lane, Eric! I understand that the creative team behind this movie wanted to utilize Judy’s talent. However, having Judy portray Nellie Kelly Sr. and Jr. was, in my opinion, a very interesting choice. By the way, I’m hosting a blogathon in September! If you’re interested in joining, you can sign up at this link:


      Liked by 1 person

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