CAPSULE: Basing the film on Sophie Tucker's autobiography and her encyclopedic private scrapbooks, writer/director William Gazecki has pieced together Tucker's life from her 1887 birth on a boat headed for America to her death in 1966. The filmmaking style is not tremendously innovative, but we do get to hear a lot of Tucker's music and hear anecdotes, some amazing, from the people who knew her. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
"I've been rich and I've been poor; rich is better." That slightly unsurprising bit of philosophy was the observation of Sophie Tucker.
When I was growing up I knew the name Sophie Tucker, but beyond that I knew little about the woman except that she sang jazz. And I was familiar with her humorous title, "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas". I thought that meant she was supposed to be mock-sexy and mock-wicked in the way that Mae West was. When I saw her it was hard to think of her as anybody's dream girl. She was a short rotund blond. Tucker had Mae West's risque sense of humor and she belted a song like Kate Smith. But she was a long way from the general ideal of attractive as she pushed her way into the spotlight.
Writer/director William Gazecki--previously nominated for an Academy Award for his documentary WACO: THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (1997)--has put together this film based on Tucker's autobiography, SOME OF THESE DAYS, and on Tucker's incredibly complete scrapbooks of which there were more than four hundred. Virtually every piece of paper that somehow mattered to Tucker she had put in her scrapbooks. And she was a major entertainment attraction for more than half a century. Gazecki had access to these scrapbooks and could piece together a detailed mosaic of Tucker's life. Gazecki traces Tucker's life from being born on a boat to America and playing piano to accompany her sister at the family restaurant. Gazecki traces Tucker through burlesque to the Ziegfeld Follies. Rather than avoid the subject she worked jokes about her weight into her act. She looked like somebody's grandmother, but she had a talent for putting over risque double-entendre songs. By 1929 she was the best-known female entertainer in the world.
It is difficult to characterize Tucker. Perhaps she is best known as a singer, but she was in movies and on television. She had an enormous number of friends in and out of show business. At different periods of time she played cards with Al Capone and J. Edgar Hoover considered her a personal friend. She was friends with seven different Presidents. The film is full of celebrities and relatives of celebrities who know her and have stories of her many foibles, such as cheating her friends at cards. She needed a new and frequently strange hair style for each new act she created.
We hear about her from people like Tony Bennett, Carol Channing, Mickey Rooney, and Joe Franklin. We see archive footage of her career. We hear about the various men in her life and the problems they brought, her short marriages to some, and especially her troubled relationship with her son Bert. THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER is an account of Tucker's years of performance and a portrait of an indomitable woman, punctuated with her songs and her monologues. The film is a full portrait of an entertainer from a different age. I rate THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2825768/combined
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Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper