The Outrageous Sophie Tucker

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One rarely hears Sophie Tucker’s name mentioned any more. Which is odd, considering that for most of the twentieth century she was one of the most popular entertainers in the US. She was known for her powerful voice and bawdy sense of humor. She projected an image of a strong, independent woman; long before it became fashionable to do so. She influenced such singers as Judy Garland and Bette Midler. Her friends included Al Capone and J.Edgar Hoover. (Members of Tucker’s family claim that Hoover would ask to borrow her dresses.)

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker is directed by William Gazecki, and produced by Lloyd and Susan Ecker. It is a documentary about Tucker that draws heavily on Tucker’s private scrapbooks and letters, supplemented by interviews with people who knew her. The producers, however, find various ways to insert themselves into the story, in such a way that the film ends up being partly about them. This might have been unobjectionable if it were not for their self-important attitudes. For example, Lloyd Ecker tells a story about US GI’s playing a recording of Tucker’s “My Yiddische Mama” on the streets of Berlin at the end of World War II. This could have been an interesting side-note to Tucker’s life, but Ecker’s telling of the story is so long-winded and bombastic that you can’t wait for him to move on to something else. Even worse, Ecker later pretends to get choked up when he tells the story of Tucker’s last public appearance. This sort of thing is just insulting to people’s intelligence, and it actually does a disservice to Tucker’s memory.

On the bright side, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker will perhaps lead to a renewed interest in Tucker’s music and life. I just wish it could have been a better film.

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