There's No Business Like Show Business
Featuring songs by Irving Berlin, a Vaudeville family performs musical shows. One son decides to become a priest, and the other son has romantic problems with a beautiful singer.
In 1919 Vaudevile stars Molly Donahue (Ethel Merman) and Terence Donahue (Dan Dailey) sing “When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam’.” In 1923 they sing “Simple Melody” and are the Five Donahues. While waiting for a train, Molly says their kids should go to school. They put them in a Catholic school, and they add eight blondes to their act. Molly sings “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” and Terence dances. Father Dineen (Rhys Williams) catches the boys trying to escape, and he tells Molly and Terence they are not happy away from their parents. The family moves into a house in Jersey.
During the Depression they have to split up. Terence sings “You’d Be Surprised.” On radio Molly sings “Let’s Have Another Cup o’ Coffee.” The children grow up and join the act. The Five Donahues sing “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Tim Donahue (Donald O’Connor) sings and dances an Irish jig. Katy Donahue (Mitzi Gaynor) sings with a French accent and dances. Steve Donahue (Johnnie Ray) plays piano and sings.
At a nightclub Tim meets the hat-check girl Vicki (Marilyn Monroe). Her agent Eddie Dugan (Frank McHugh) says that Lew Harris came to hear her. Katy sees Tim drinking, and her date spikes her ginger ale. She puts the glasses on the back of his hands and leaves. Vicki sings “After You Get What You Want You Don't Want It” and dances seductively. Tim tries to interview her in her dressing-room, and Eddie comes in with Lew Harris (Richard Eastham). Vicki tells Tim she does not want to join his act. Molly and Terence are worried, and Katy comes home. Steve says he was in church, and he wants to be a priest. Terence objects. Tim comes in drunk, and Molly soaks his head. He says he met another girl. Molly asks Steve why but says she is proud.
At a party for Steve people sing “Remember.” Tim and Katy sing “When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam’.” Then Steve sings “If You Believe.” Molly and Terence cry.
In Florida the four do two shows a night. At rehearsal Tim watches Vicki sing “Heat Wave,” and he says she can’t use it because they are singing it; but he changes his mind. Vicki performs the song, and the Donahues watch. Vicki tells Tim about her career, and he wants to get married. He manages to get a goodnight kiss. Alone he sings “A Man Chases a Girl (Until She Catches Him),” and he dances. Statues of women come alive and dance with him.
At breakfast Molly reads a letter from Steve. Tim gets a call from Vicki, and he goes in a closet. Molly thinks they are married. Katy says she and Tim have been invited by Harris to be in a show with Vicki.
In New York at rehearsal Tim and Katy dance, and Vicki sings “Lazy.” Lyricist Charles Biggs (Hugh O’Brian) tells Harris that he is going to marry Katy. Vicki goes to lunch with Harris, and Katy goes with Charles.
In church Steve is ordained a priest, and Charles asks him to perform a wedding ceremony for Katy and him. Vicki tells Tim to go ahead while she argues with Harris about her dress. Tim comes back drunk, and Vicki apologizes. They quarrel.
On opening night Terence and Molly get a call from Katy that Tim was hurt. Harris agrees to let Molly do Tim’s part with Katy. On stage they sing “A Sailor’s Not a Sailor (‘Til a Sailor’s Been Tattooed).” Terence goes to the hospital to see Tim, who admits he was drunk while driving. Terence lectures Tim and slaps him.
Molly and Terence learn that Tim left. They try to find him. Terence tells Molly he is staying home. She asks him to do a benefit show, but he refuses. Terence walks and remembers.
At the benefit show Katy asks Molly to apologize to Vicki, who says she loves Tim too. Steve comes in, and Molly admits to Vicki that she was stubborn. Steve asks if Pop is back, but Molly says no. Steve advises her not to lose faith. On stage Molly sings “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Tim comes in and is greeted by Katy and Steve. Molly sees him and embraces him. Terence is there too, and he embraces Tim and Molly. Terence goes on and says the Five Donahues have not played together since they played that old theater. They all sing “Alexander's Ragtime Band.” In the final number all the performers sing “There's No Business Like Show Business.”
This musical comedy is about a family that puts on shows, and it entertains very well at the same time. A young man disappointed in love learns that too much drinking can make things much worse. The shows also reflect how Vaudeville changed into more glamorous shows concentrated in New York.