The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCharles Walters
Screenplay byHelen Deutsch
Based onThe Unsinkable Molly Brown
by Meredith Willson
Richard Morris
Produced byLawrence Weingarten
StarringDebbie Reynolds
Harve Presnell
Ed Begley
CinematographyDaniel L. Fapp
Edited byFrederic Steinkamp
Music byMeredith Willson
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • June 11, 1964 (1964-06-11)
Running time
128 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$11 million[1]

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a 1964 American Western musical comedy film directed by Charles Walters and starring Debbie Reynolds, filmed in Panavision. The screenplay by Helen Deutsch is based on the book of the 1960 musical of the same name by Richard Morris. The song score was composed by Meredith Willson. The plot is a fictionalized account of the life of Margaret Brown, who survived the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic. Reynolds was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Brown.


Rescued from the Colorado River as an infant and raised by Seamus Tobin, tomboy Molly Tobin is determined to find a wealthy man to marry. She journeys to Leadville, Colorado and is hired as a saloon singer by Christmas Morgan. After miner Johnny Brown renovates his cabin, the two wed, and he sells his claim in a silver mine for $300,000.

The Browns and Seamus move into a Denver mansion, and Molly sets out to improve her social status by trying to ingratiate herself with the city's elite, all of whom snub her and her nouveau riche ways. She and Johnny go to Europe, where they are embraced by royalty, and the couple return to Denver with their new friends. Molly's plan to introduce them to the people who formerly rejected her is derailed by Johnny's rough-and-tumble friends, whose unexpected and boisterous arrival ruins the gala party Molly is hosting.

Molly decides to return to Europe, leaving Johnny behind. She falls for the charms of Prince Louis de Lanière, but eventually decides she prefers to live with Johnny in Leadville. For the first time in her life, she realizes that someone else's feelings and priorities need to be considered. Setting sail for home aboard the RMS Titanic, she becomes a heroine when the ship sinks and she helps rescue many of her fellow passengers. When her deed makes international headlines, Molly is welcomed home by Johnny and the people of Denver.



Harve Presnell was the sole member of the original Broadway cast who was invited to reprise his stage role in the film. Although Tammy Grimes had originated the title role and had won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance, MGM executives wanted Shirley MacLaine for the film. After she signed, producer Hal Wallis claimed she was under contract to him, and MacLaine was forced to withdraw from the project. After this, many people wanted Judy Garland. Garland was reported to be the star of the film in 1961. When Debbie Reynolds was cast instead, MacLaine publicly accused her of agreeing to accept a lower salary in order to land the role, and director Charles Walters, who preferred MacLaine, tried to persuade Reynolds to turn down the part.[2]

Exteriors were filmed in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado. Some brief black-and-white footage from the 1953 movie Titanic and 1958 movie A Night to Remember, portraying the ill-fated ocean liner's collision with an iceberg and sinking, was interspersed with scenes of Molly Brown aboard the ship and later in a lifeboat.

Only five of the 17 musical numbers from the stage musical were used in the film, and Meredith Willson wrote "He's My Friend" to extend the song score.[3] Peter Gennaro, who had choreographed the original Broadway production, staged the musical sequences.

During production, MGM was putting all its resources into its forthcoming Doctor Zhivago (1965), and at least $1 million was cut from the budget of Molly Brown. Running out of money to complete the film, director Charles Walters proposed cutting the rousing dance number "He's My Friend". To save the number, cast and crew ultimately decided to film it in one rigorous day using multiple cameras to reduce shooting time.[4]

The film grossed $11,070,559 at the domestic box office.[1] It earned $7.5 million in U.S. theatrical rentals.[5][6]

Musical numbers


Critical reception

A.H. Weiler of The New York Times called the film "big, brassy, bold and freewheeling" but added, "The tones are ringing, but often hollow. Molly is a colorful character all right, and the screen, which is as wide as can be, is filled with vivid colors that help project the fact that this is merely a satisfying musical comedy and not an inspired subject." He continued, "This is not to say that Meredith Willson's score is not tuneful and lilting but to this listener it is good, sweet corn that is more palatable than memorable. Mr. Gennaro, on the other hand, has devised dances that more than complement Mr. Willson's music. They may seem to be improvised but they have the true marks of professionalism in their carefully plotted verve, bounce and exuberance." He concluded, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown, in the person of Miss Reynolds, and the other principals, often mistakes vigor for art. But Metro's lavish and attractive production numbers make up for this basic superficiality. For all of its shallowness, Molly is a cheerful and entertaining addition to the local screen scene."[7]

Variety observed, "In essence, it's a pretty shallow story since the title character, when you get right down to it, is obsessed with a very superficial, egotistical problem beneath her generous, razzmatazz facade. On top of that, Willson's score is rather undistinguished. Debbie Reynolds thrusts herself into the role with an enormous amount of verve and vigor. At times her approach to the character seems more athletic than artful. Harve Presnell ... makes a generally auspicious screen debut as the patient Johnny. His fine, booming voice and physical stature make him a valuable commodity for Hollywood."[8]

Channel 4 called it an "amiable comedy with a handful of good tunes" that "lacks the satirical bite which its story may suggest. Sometimes the director seems to feel more at ease with the melodramatic moments than the comedy ones."[9]

Time Out London noted, "As ebulliently energetic as ever, Reynolds makes the brash social climbing both funny and touching, but the film itself gets trapped in two minds between satire and sentimentality. The score ... though pleasant, is rather thinly spread; but the sets are a delight in the best traditions of the MGM musical, and Walters does a wonderfully graceful job of direction".[10]

TV Guide rated the film three out of four stars and commented, "A rambunctious and spirited effort from Reynolds ... saves this otherwise weakly scripted, familiar musical from the long list of forgotten pictures."[6]

Box office

The film set an opening week record at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, grossing $222,000 and became the number one film in the US that week.[11][12] It went on to be the highest grossing film at the theater, with a 10-week gross of $2 million.[13]

Awards and honors

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[14] Best Actress Debbie Reynolds Nominated
Best Art Direction – Color George Davis, E. Preston Ames, Henry Grace and Hugh Hunt Nominated
Best Cinematography – Color Daniel L. Fapp Nominated
Best Costume Design – Color Morton Haack Nominated
Best Scoring of Music – Adaptation or Treatment Robert Armbruster, Leo Arnaud, Jack Elliott, Jack Hayes, Calvin Jackson and Leo Shuken Nominated
Best Sound Franklin Milton Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Fredric Steinkamp Nominated
American Film Institute[15] AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominated
Boxoffice Magazine Awards Best Picture of the Month for the Whole Family (July) Charles Walters Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical Debbie Reynolds Nominated
New Star of the Year – Actor Harve Presnell Won
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing – Dialogue Won[a]
Laurel Awards Top Musical Won
Top Male Musical Performance Harve Presnell Nominated
Top Female Musical Performance Debbie Reynolds Nominated
Top Male Supporting Performance Ed Begley Nominated
Photoplay Awards Gold Medal Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Musical Helen Deutsch Nominated

Home media

Warner Home Video released the Region 1 DVD on September 19, 2000. The film is in anamorphic widescreen format with an audio track in English and subtitles in English and French. In 2016, Warner Archive released the film on Blu Ray.


  1. ^ Tied with Fate Is the Hunter.


  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Unsinkable Molly Brown The Numbers. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
  2. ^ The Unsinkable Molly Brown at Turner Classic Movies
  3. ^ Green, Stanley, and Schmidt, Elaine, Hollywood Musicals Year By Year. Hal Leonard Corporation 1999. ISBN 0-634-00765-3, p. 229
  4. ^ Reynolds, Debbie (2013). Unsinkable: A Memoir. HarperCollins Publishers. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-06-221365-5.
  5. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 6 January 1963 p 39.
  6. ^ a b TV Guide review
  7. ^ Weiler, A.H. (July 17, 1964). "Screen: Exploits of 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown':Debbie Reynolds Stars in M-G-M Musical". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 7, 2020. Retrieved September 17, 2021.
  8. ^ "Film reviews: The Unsinkable Molly Brown". Variety. May 27, 1964. p. 6.
  9. ^ Channel 4 review
  10. ^ Time Out London review
  11. ^ "National Boxoffice Survey". Variety. July 22, 1964. p. 3.
  12. ^ "How Weather Bops B'way But 'Molly' Record 1st Week's $222,000, 'Seduced' New High 25G; 'Shot' Boffo $38,000". Variety. July 22, 1964. p. 37.
  13. ^ "New Pix Boost B'way;'Topkapi' Giant 77G; 'Molly' New Music Hall Record of $2,000,000; 'Invasion' Fast 35G". Variety. September 23, 1964. p. 18.
  14. ^ "The 37th Academy Awards (1965) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-24.
  15. ^ "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-13.