Little Nellie Kelly

Little Nellie Kelly is a 1940 American musical comedy film based on the stage musical of the same title by George M. Cohan which was a hit on Broadway in 1922 and 1923.[2] The film was written by Jack McGowan and directed by Norman Taurog. Its cast included Judy Garland, George Murphy, Charles Winninger and Douglas McPhail.

Little Nellie Kelly
Theatrical poster
Directed byNorman Taurog
Produced byArthur Freed
Written byJack McGowan
Based on the play by George M. Cohan
StarringJudy Garland
George Murphy
Music byRoger Edens
William Axt
CinematographyRay June
Edited byFredrick Y. Smith
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • November 22, 1940 (1940-11-22)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,046,000[1]

The film is notable for containing Judy Garland's only on-screen death scene, although she re-appears in the film as the daughter of the character who died.


In Ireland, Jerry Kelly (George Murphy) marries his sweetheart, Nellie Noonan (Judy Garland) over the objections of her ne'er-do-well father, Michael Noonan (Charles Winninger), who swears never to speak to Jerry again, even though he reluctantly accompanies the newlyweds to America, where Jerry becomes a policeman, and all three become citizens. Michael continues to hold his grudge against Jerry, even when Nellie dies while giving birth to little Nellie.

Years later, Jerry is now a captain on the police force, and little Nellie (also played by Judy Garland) has grown up as the spitting image of her mother. When Nellie becomes enamored of Dennis Fogarty (Douglas McPhail), the son of Michael's old friend Timothy Fogarty (Arthur Shields), the squabbling between Nellie's father and grandfather intensifies, as Michael objects to the romance, and finally leaves home because of it.

Eventually, the three generations are reconciled, and Nellie and Dennis remain a couple.[3][4][5]



Little Nellie Kelly offers Judy Garland the opportunity to sing a swing version of "Singin' in the Rain", more than 10 years before Gene Kelly more famously sang it in his film Singin' in the Rain (1952), as well as several newer songs, including the traditional "A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow" sung partly in Irish-Gaelic. There are also two entertaining production numbers, one set at the New York City Policeman's Ball, which showcases Garland at her most attractive, and the other written by Roger Edens so that Garland can belt out "It's A Great Day for the Irish" while marching up New York's famed 5th Avenue during the St. Patrick's Day Parade. This song became one of Garland's biggest hits.

Songs cut from the film include: "Rings on Your Fingers and Bells on Your Toes" (used in Garland's later film Babes on Broadway, 1941), "Danny Boy" and "How Can You Buy Killarney".


After the success of The Wizard of Oz (1939), the film was a "test" by MGM to evaluate both Garland's audience appeal and her physical image. It was rumoured at the time that George M Cohan sold the rights expressly as a vehicle for the young Garland. The film gave 18-year-old Garland the opportunity to grow up as she is in the first half of the picture set in Ireland, in which she plays Nellie Noonan, the mother of Little Nellie Kelly. Although called 'a bit of Blarney', overall the film was well received and has become a classic St Patrick's Day film. Critics noted "she (Judy Garland) gets prettier with each picture".[6]

Box office

According to MGM records the film earned USD$968,000 in the US and Canada and $1,078,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $680,000.[1]

Home media

The film was released on DVD on March 15, 2011.

See also


  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. Little Nelly Kelly at the Internet Broadway Database
  3. TCM Full synopsis
  4. Erickson, Hal Plot synopsis (Allmovie)
  5. Bubbeo, Daniel Plot summary (IMDB)
  6. Little Nellie Kelly Archived 2006-06-18 at the Wayback Machine at the Judy Garland Database
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