The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Based on the play by Richard Morris with songs by Meredith Willson, a Colorado tomboy marries a man with a gold mine and lives flamboyantly in this musical biography.
A baby in a cradle floats down the rapids of a river in the Rocky Mountains. The cradle overturns, and the baby manages to crawl out of the river and on to a sandy shore.
Molly Brown (Debbie Reynolds) is fishing in the river. She takes her four fish and catches up to a wagon in which Shamus Tobin (Ed Begley) and Murphy are singing. A boy shoots Molly with a slingshot, and she fights him and another boy. They chase her and get her down. She refuses to holler uncle and give in. She bites and gets loose. She stands up and says she is important to her. She chases a chiggerbug with them. She looks up and believes in hope. She dreams of having nice things like a red silk dress. She sings “I’m Going to Learn to Read and Write.”
In their cabin Shamus sews up a hole in her pants. Murphy tells Shamus it is time to marry off his daughter. Shamus tells how she rejected Johnson. Shamus asks Murphy about his boys, and they laugh.
Later Molly tells Shamus that she is leaving home. She wants to see and do things, and she hopes to marry a rich man. She intends to go to Denver to find a man who will give her a nice house. Shamus says he will miss her, and she says she will miss him too. She says he did a good job of raising her, and she promises that she will send for him. He advises her to serve God and warns her about men who make promises without marrying. He advises her to find a good Irish Catholic. She wants more than that.
In the Rocky Mountains by himself Johnny J. Brown (Harve Presnell) sings “Colorado My Home.”
Molly bathes in a river, comes out, and gets dressed. She sees Johnny sitting there and asks how long he has been there. He says long enough. He says this is his land and that she is trespassing. She asks how far it is to Leadville. He asks where she slept last night and invites her to spend the night in his cabin. She says he is no prize. He asks when she ate last, and she says yesterday morning. He offers some stew. She accepts, and he tells her his name.
They go into his cabin. She says she is heading for Denver where rich people are. She wants to find a millionaire. She wants to learn to read and write and asks if he can. He says sure. She asks him to read a postcard, and she asks what “regards” means. He reads another card from Katie Spinner. He notes that the address is Pennsylvania Avenue in Denver. He says that is where the rich live. He says she has a nice face. He serves her some stew, and he says Leadville is just over the hill. She remembers that he told her it was a long way, and he could stay under her roof. She calls him a polecat and leaves.
Molly walks into Leadville. Christmas Morgan (Jack Kruschen) has a saloon and tells a friend that his business is slow because people are over at the Nugget. He says he needs help, and Molly asks for the job. Christmas says he has no money but says he will give her a try. She likes the smell of ham. He asks if she can sing, and she says sure. She is weak from hunger, and he asks if she can play piano. She says sure and collapses.
At night Molly is trying to play the piano. She discovers how to play a chord and another note an octave higher.
Molly is playing the piano as men clap hands and dance. Christmas is smiling. Molly sings “Belly Up to the Bar, Boys” and dances. Three sluttish women come in and shake their hips. Molly tries it and falls on the floor. Men dance with the women. The four women dance. Finally the men dance, and Molly dances on the bar. She sees Johnny at the door. She goes to him, and he hands her a bag, saying she left it in his cabin. She says he is going to teach her to read.
Johnny helps Molly learn to read, and he reads something that she wrote and says it is good. He asks if she is leaving soon. She says she has $50, but it is not enough. He asks her how much is enough. She wants to have her own brass bed and enough so that folks will call her a lady. She hopes to find a man with a claim. He says he has a claim, and a man is trying to buy it. He does not care about money and takes what he needs from it. He says he has a cabin that needs a woman. He says a gal could be happy there. He asks her to settle for happiness. He sings “I’ll Never Say No.” He says she can ask him for anything she wants. She asks for a red silk dress and to go see Denver. She tells him to jump in the lake but stops him. She tells him to stay away from her. She still wants a rich husband in Denver. He asks why he is not the right man, and she says he does not care about his mine. She admits she has a feeling for him, and he sings tenderly. She jumps out of the tree and wrestles with him on the grass. She gets up and says no one is going to stop her or get her down. She runs off.
Johnny chops down a tree and saws wood. He constructs a building and paints a fine door with glass windows. He gets into his wagon and drives off.
Johnny picks up Molly in town and takes her to show her what he has been working on. She says he is taking her to his little old cabin, but he shows her his big new cabin. They go inside, and he shows her stoves for heating and cooking. He has dishes. He shows her a room for her pa with a jug on the table. Then he shows her a big brass bed. He asks if she likes it, and she says it is the most beautiful thing she ever saw. He shows her an indoor bathtub. He says the bed came from Denver. She realizes he did this all for her and says no one ever did that before. He says they are getting married today. She says it is against what she dreamed of, but it would be against nature for her to say no. He asks if she is ready and kisses her.
Outside Christmas and others have come. Johnny uses a cigar paper for a ring, and they go inside for the wedding.
Later at night drunk people are leaving the house. Johnny comes back and sees Molly crying about a paper ring and no wedding dress. She says he is drunk too. She frets over what she has done. She says she was bamboozled. She cries, and he starts crying too. She looks around and calls for Johnny.
Later at night Johnny comes in quietly and lights the lamp. He goes in the bedroom and kisses sleeping Molly. She wakes up and asks if he is all right. He says sure, and she gets up. She says he left her for three days. He shows her that he brought back $300,000. She says she was afraid that he did not want her. He says he has been traveling and needs to wash up. He asks what she is going to buy with the money. She says she will get him a watch. He goes out, and she holds the pile of money and wonders what to do with it. She puts it in an urn but takes it out. She puts it under the mattress and pretends to be a robber. She takes the cash in her nightgown and puts it in the heating stove under a large piece of paper. She laughs and goes to bed.
Johnny comes in his nightshirt and feels cold. He puts paper and wood in the heating stove and lights it. He stands by it to get warm. Molly calls to him, and he says he is having a drink and warming himself. He comes into the bedroom and says the water was icy. He gets in bed with her and says he warmed himself by the fire in the stove. She runs out and tries to open the stove. She says the money is in the stove. He calls for water and pulls her away so that she won’t get hurt. She screams and tries to run away from him. He stops her by the door, and she asks if he is going to wallop her. He says of course not. He asks why she was running, and she says she was scared. He says he will wallop her if she does not come back to bed. She cries, and they embrace. He does not want her to cry over the money. She cries and says they will never get to Denver. He decides to go out and find himself another mine. She runs out after him and agrees to stop crying. He asks if she loves him, and she says she does. He kisses her, and she sees gold coming out of rocks.
A tour guide on a wagon tells people about the Brown mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue in Denver. He says the Brown mine is the richest in Colorado’s history and has produced $10 million in gold already. Shamus calls out from a window that it is now $14 million.
In the house Molly tells her pa that is not elegant. He asks for another jug, and she orders Hotchkiss to bring pa another jug. Johnny gives Molly a present, another wedding ring. He tells her to never take it off unless he tells her to. She promises. She sees it looks like a cigar band, but it has diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. She kisses him and thanks him. She asks what he wants to do today. Hotchkiss tells them that Cartwright from the bank is there. Molly says she will be down and looks for her shoes.
She goes downstairs, and Mr. Cartwright (Vaughn Taylor) sits on their plush furniture. He hands them a pile of money and says he has to get back to the bank. Pa calls from the balcony. Cartwright hands her the money and walks toward the door. He notices a large plaque of solid gold. At the door she asks what is going on across the street. Cartwright says Mrs. McGraw gives a party every year when her roses bloom.
At the party Mrs. Gladys McGraw (Audrey Christie) and her guests talk about the Browns’ peculiar behavior. Johnny and Molly arrive through a hedge to the garden party. Molly introduces them and shakes hands with Mrs. McGraw. Molly says they were out for a walk and dropped in. They meet Monsignor Ryan (George Mitchell), and Molly and Johnny give him $15,000. Molly says they want to keep up with Mrs. McGraw, and Molly asks how much she has contributed. Mrs. McGraw says she has not made her donation yet, and she calls the people in to dinner. A servant tells the Browns that there is not enough room at the table for them. Ryan says goodnight and goes in. Molly wants to see how they eat, and they look in. Johnny says there is enough room. Molly tells them to eat hearty, and the servant closes the door. Johnny tells her to go. She says that was fine with beautiful people. Johnny says they had more fun in Leadville by far.
At home a woman talks to Shamus through a window, and he lets her in. She asks for a beer and introduces herself as Mrs. McGraw’s ma Buttercup Grogan (Hermione Baddeley). She says Gladys keeps her hid upstairs. She asks them what they are going to do. Johnny admits they are not doing fine. Molly says they could give a party with invitations printed in gold. They all laugh and drink.
Molly with elegant jewelry and a red dress waits with Johnny for more people to come to the their party. Buttercup leaves, and Molly apologizes to the Monsignor who says that Denver society is only in its second generation. He says they are unschooled, and Denver does not appreciate them. He suggests they take a trip to Europe to acquire polish. He tells them to learn about art, music, manners, and languages. Molly says she is learning, and he says she understands. The Monsignor leaves, and Molly talks to Pennsylvania Avenue. Johnny says they are going back to Leadville. She does not want to go back but ahead to something new. He says they don’t belong in Europe. She sings “I’ll Never Say No” so that he will agree to go with her. He says he will go anywhere with her. She sings “We’re Going to Learn and Write in French,” and they dance.
Johnny and Molly dance in various capitals of Europe. In an art museum they look at painting and sculptures. A French teacher gives them lessons. A music teacher helps Molly play piano better. Molly and a lady look at dresses being modeled. Johnny tries on a red coat, and he brings Prince Louis de Laniere (Vassili Lambrinos) back to meet Molly who introduces them to Grand Duchess Elise Lupavinova (Martita Hunt). They attend an opera.
At a dinner Molly makes jokes about eating snails, and Johnny is bored. At another dinner Molly sits at the head of the table, and a cake is wheeled in. She thanks them and blows out the candles. She says the French like to kiss. The Grand Duchess says she is interested in everyone and everything. Molly serves the cake and says things she can do. She is asked what Johnny gave her for her birthday. She says he gave her $300,000 and a box of matches. The French sing “Belly Up to the Bar, Boys” and toast her.
Molly tells Johnny he should not have missed her birthday party. He says the prince is gone on her. She says that is the way of Europe. She says Johnny is in a mood. He says he has had culture up to here and is homesick. She says she thinks it is time to go home, and he is glad. She asks him to get ten tickets because she invited the crown heads of Europe to Denver. He asks if she is trying to impress Mrs. McGraw. He tells her to stop trying to be like her. He likes the old Molly best, but she says she does not exist anymore. He says he will go on paying the bills. He sings “Colorado Our Home” and picks her up.
In their home an orchestra plays for many guests, and Molly comes downstairs. Mrs. McGraw and Malcolm Broderick (Hayden Rorke) come in and are shocked by the red wallpaper, curtains, carpet, and furniture. Molly is glad to meet him and says she reads his society column every day. He asks how she finds Denver after Europe. She says they are “second generation” now, and he asks if he can quote her. Prince Louis de Laniere is announced and comes downstairs, followed by a count and countess, Baron Karl Ludwig von Ettenburg, and the Grand Duchess Elise Lupavinova. Molly speaks to them in their languages, and they notice a painting she did. Elise asks her to play Chopin for them. Mrs. McGraw says she does not paint or play piano. Mrs. Buttercup Grogan comes next. Shamus brings in the Leadville band and men as a surprise. Molly calls them amis, and Johnny says they are friends. Johnny sings “He’s My Friend” with Shamus and Christmas,” and they dance. They include Buttercup as their friend too, and she sings including the Duchess who commends Molly Brown. Maids dance with Leadville men. Molly dances with two men. Mrs. McGraw tells Broderick that it is shocking, and he says that is how she earned her living in Leadville. A fight breaks out. Molly tries to stop them, and Broderick is hit by fruit. Pa throws a pie.
As servants clean up the mess, Pa says the place finally looks lived in.
In her bedroom the Duchess and the prince comment on the newspaper article, and she complains it was on the sports page. The Duchess says it was uncivilized behavior. They are going home and urge Molly to go with them. They hear a tour guide outside talking about the rowdy party at the Brown mansion. He says Molly was a bargirl in a mining-town saloon. Molly shoots a shotgun and threatens him. Johnny reprimands her, and she replies about him and his Leadville friends. She says she is going to Europe, but he says they are going to Leadville. He says she is his wife and will obey him. She says if he is too lazy or stupid to learn, then he may go to the devil. He slaps her, and she says they may be mismatched because they have different goals in life. He asks her if she is coming with him, and she says nothing. He says he is saying no to her at last, and he goes out.
Johnny is in the mountains of Colorado while Molly is in Paris. She sits on a French couch and thinks. On a mountain Johnny asks what happened to them and sings “I’ll Never Say No.” He curses Molly and asks her a favor. He asks her to stay away and never come back. He walked away from Leadville once because he loved her. He asks her to stay away because he could never say goodbye to her again.
In Paris people are dancing. At a table Molly says she is glad he is a prince because she could not afford a king. The prince says she is a queen, and they toast her as queen of the world. She stands up and uses a lampshade as a crown. She says she is queen of the lard-pail. She sees Mrs. McGraw and asks her to curtsy. Molly admits that she is an extravagant and ignorant ex-patriot, clowning for people she does not know or care about, a figure of fun. She says it is nice to see Gladys and walks out.
In her room Molly considers what she has become. She realizes she has to live with herself. Johnny used to ask her to settle for happiness. She thought happiness was what she wanted, but now she does not know. The prince is listening to her. She sees a letter from Johnny that says she can take the ring off now. She cries uncle, and the prince asks what she means. She says it is an American expression for when you are down, and she admits she is down very low. She tells the prince they are fooling themselves. She tried, but it is against her nature. She says she had a rich claim and was not working it and so lost it. The prince asks if he no longer means what he wrote inside the ring. She did not know it had an inscription because she had never taken it off before. She reads it, that he asked her to always remember that he loves her.
Molly walks on the deck of the Titanic as it hits an iceberg. Later as it is sinking, she is in one of the lifeboats. She tells the women to sit down and stop rocking the boat. She tells them they are not going to die. She shares her fur coat with a woman. She hugs a woman who is afraid of dying. She says she will teach them a song and says she is unsinkable.
At the Brown mansion people are ready to welcome Molly home after her triumphant visit in New York. She was decorated by the British and said a girl can always use another piece of jewelry. Molly arrives and greets Christmas, Buttercup, the Monsignor, Shamus, and Mrs. McGraw. Gladys and Buttercup tell her that they are throwing her a party for her homecoming. The sacred 36 are ready for her. Molly tells Gladys that she is a good sport, and they shake hands. Molly asks her pa if there is a letter from Johnny, and he says no.
Molly goes inside her house alone and walks up the stairs. In the bedroom she sees the first brass bed they had in Leadville. She remembers her days with Johnny. Behind the door she sees Johnny waiting. He reaches out. She jumps into his arms, and they kiss.
This musical biopic celebrates the indomitable spirit of Molly Brown who with the help of a wealthy husband who loves her tries to become cultured and friends with people of the upper class as well as with her poor friends from Leadville.