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Tag Archives: Judy Garland

Girl Crazy (1943)

Songs by George and Ira Gershwin, a dance choreographed by Busby Berkeley, an appearance by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, an early appearance from June Allyson, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland doing what they do best? Who could ask for anything more!

George and Ira Gershwin’s 1931 musical “Girl Crazy” is transformed plot-wise, but many of the songs are kept, most notably “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” Fascinating Rhythm,” and “But Not For Me,” all songs that have become standards.

Danny Churchill (Mickey Rooney) is the playboy son of a wealthy publisher who is sent out west to an all boys agricultural and mining school (not that we see much agriculture, mining, or school…just horse-riding and singing). There is, however, one girl present. The granddaughter of the dean (Guy Kibbee). She is Ginger Gray (Judy Garland), who is in charge of the school’s mail and drives the rickety car.

She is not, however, impressed by the east coast playboy, though he is more than impressed with her. He has to prove his love and prove that he’s not a quitter at the school and save the school from closing down by attracting applicants…by staging a musical rodeo. They thus manage to get the “let’s-put-on-a-show” plot line into the story.

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were amazing and seem to be able to do pretty much anything. Mickey Rooney sings and dances and plays the piano with Tommy Dorsey and does physical comedy and is a wonder to behold. He also has a sweet chemistry with Judy Garland. It seems like in so many of Judy Garland’s movies, she is pining away for her wayward man, it is nice to see things reversed with Rooney trying to win her.

Judy Garland was twenty-one in Girl Crazy and she looks fresh, alive and lovely. She had a hard life and in many of her later movies you can see it on her face, but in Girl Crazy she still looks as if she has the whole world before her as she enters womanhood. She just about glows.

She also could seemingly do anything: comedy, drama, sing, dance, etc. She always had a good sense of comedic timing, but could then turn around and rip your heart out with a song. In Girl Crazy, the song is “But Not For Me.”

The musical “Girl Crazy” in 1931 is the musical that made Ethel Merman a Broadway star. Judy Garland’s role was played by Ginger Rogers, but Ethel Merman introduced “I Got Rhythm”and blew everyone away. In the movie, the song becomes a Busby Berkeley choreographed western extravaganza with Garland, Rooney, Tommy Dorsey and many others. It’s a rousing way to end a film.

I’m always rather in awe of Judy Garland’s dancing. It’s not that she’s Cyd Charisse or even Eleanor Powell, but she always gives the appearance of total ease and rightness. It’s a joy to watch her dance and she always makes it look good. So often, now, I feel like singing and dancing is all about making it look like the performer is working hard, but Judy Garland looked as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

My sister and I have often talked about how comedians and people with good physical comedic timing often seem to be able to dance. It’s not that they are the most technically proficient, but that they have a physical lightness and adroitness that translates well to dance. Judy Garland has that same ability. For me, not only could she never sing too many songs, but she could never dance to much.

This is my contribution to “The Judy Garland Blogathon,” hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. To see all the posts for this blogathon, click here.

Judy Garland breaks one’s heart.

Mickey Rooney fails to make an impression on Judy Garland.

 
21 Comments

Posted by on June 10, 2017 in Movies

 

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Easter Parade (1948)

Easter_Parade_posterPeriodically, I need to watch a musical, especially one with dance in it. Listening to those taps, feeling the thrill of movement and rhythm, walking around the house singing loudly – it like coming awake after hibernation. And although we’ve already passed Easter, it still seems appropriate to review Easter Parade. It always represented to me not only Easter, but spring, as well.

Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) and Nadine Hale (Ann Miller) are a successful ballroom dance team in 1912. However, just before Easter, Nadine tells Don that she is breaking up the team. She is going to join the Ziegfeld Follies and become a star. He’s in love with her and utterly crushed, but she loves a friend of theirs, Jonathan Harrow III (Peter Lawford), a wealthy young man they call Professor because he’s currently in law school.

Hurt and angry, Don gets very drunk indeed and talks wildly of how he doesn’t need Nadine. He made Nadine who she is, he asserts. He made her and he could train another person to take her place as easy as that. To prove his point, he grabs a random chorus girl in a cafe show and tells her to meet him the following morning. She’s going to be his new dance partner.

The random girl is Hannah Browne (Judy Garland), who initially doesn’t take him seriously until she realizes that he is Don Hewes. Awed and a bit star struck, she quits her job and shows up the next morning, much to the disappointment of Don, who immediately regretted his rash invitation after he had recovered from his hang-over. But he’s too proud to admit it and he sets out to remake Hannah Brown in the image of Nadine. He renames her Jaunita (“Well, if you wanted a Jaunita, why did you pick me? Hannah asks him) and chooses the clothes she will wear and generally treats her as if she is not really a person.

The results are disappointing to Don. Hannah is not Nadine. Meanwhile, Hannah falls in love with Don while the Professor falls in love with Hannah. We end up with a love square. Don loves Nadine, Nadine loves the Professor, the Professor loves Hannah, and Hannah loves Don. Fortunately, they are pretty civilized about it, all things considered. They mostly wait patiently and suffer silently (and maybe sing a song about it, if you’re Judy Garland) until they get who they want (in the case of the women) or realize who they really want (in the case of the men).

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The movie is actually in color

In Easter Parade, Nadine is portrayed as the unsympathetic one, but I realized that she actually has some very good reasons to break up her act with Don. She was undoubtedly the junior partner, he is the one who imposed his image on her (the clothes, the graceful dancer), but perhaps she really just wants to break loose. She’s like a red hot mama incognito (as evidenced by her tap dance, “Shakin’ the Blues Away”). He could have been smothering her personality. Also, since Don is in love with her and she doesn’t love him back, a separation seems eminently sensible.

Don obviously has a tendency to impose on his partners some inner image he has. He finally learns his lesson with Hannah. He has to let her be herself and when he does, their act comes together brilliantly.

I love Judy Garland as Hannah Brown. It’s not talked about as often, but she was a fine comedian – her facial expressions, reactions to people, the way she delivers her lines, the general awkwardness of her persona, only to start singing and become perfectly self-assured in her movements. When Judy Garland is on the screen, you can’t help watching her. In some ways, she overwhelms Fred Astaire rather than complements him because she has such a strong presence (which is interesting, because she’s also fragile). But I think Astaire is deferring to her, as well, while they dance, letting her…well, do what she does best. She’s not his most skillful dance partner, but she is more than skillful enough and they are a joy to watch. Judy Garland could be hard to work with, but apparently the two of them got along very well.

Originally, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse were to be in the film as Don and Nadine, but both were injured prior to filming and had to be replaced. The idea of Cyd Charisse as Nadine actually makes a lot of sense, considering how much emphasis is placed on Nadine’s grace and elegance. Ann Miller, as I noted, has a more red hot mama persona. But in a weird way, it adds to the sense that Don is shaping his dance partners in an inner image of his own.

I have much more trouble seeing Gene Kelly as Don. It’s difficult to imagine him as the kind of guy who would transform a woman into a graceful fashion icon of grace and sophistication. He seems more like the kind of guy who would be trying to reach the top himself then trying to train people to join him at the top. But perhaps things were rewritten slightly to accommodate the casting change.

Dance, songs by Irving Berlin (the film features a menagerie of his songs written previously for other musicals and revues – like Harry Warren, I can never get his songs out of my head!), it’s one of my favorite musicals by Fred Astaire (though I admittedly have an awful lot of Fred Astaire favorites – I think half his films are my favorite). It’s not to everyone’s tastes.It is considered a slightly weaker MGM musical, but I’ve always had a great weakness for this one.

The red hot mama incognito is incognito no longer.

I love how the mother of the boy is smiling while Fred Astaire cons her son out of a stuffed bunny – of course if someone paid me to stand in a room were Fred Astaire was dancing I’d be smiling, too

Hannah Brown finally being allowed to be herself and do what she does best.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 13, 2016 in Movies

 

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“Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead!”

Margaret-hamilton-the-wicked-witch-in-the-wizard-of-oz_editMost people have a passing familiarity with the name of George Gershwin, even if they can’t name a song that he wrote. The same is true with Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hammerstein (actually most people can name a song by the duo, even if they aren’t sure which part of “Rodgers and Hammerstein” wrote the music and which part wrote the words – took me years to figure it out). But most people have never heard of Harold Arlen, even though he wrote the music for one of the most famous songs ever written, found in one of the most beloved movies ever made: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. The same is true of E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, the lyricist.

As JazzStandards notes, not many other songs are routinely recorded from The Wizard of Oz, apart from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (which more than makes up for it by its total ubiquity). “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” did have a strange and brief resurgence after the death of Margaret Thatcher in 2013 (which was made worse when the BBC refused to play the song – sung by Ella Fitzgerald – in full and was then accused of censorship). But apart from that, the song appears to have enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1960s, when a whole spate of recordings were made, most prominently by Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis, Jr., and The Fifth Estate. Glee also recorded a version in 2009.

My favorite version, by far, is Ella Fitzgerald’s jazzy recording from 1961, which is just plain fun. You can’t help wanting to dance a little.

In 1966, the composer himself recorded an album called Harold Sings Arlen (with a Friend). The friend, in this case, is Barbra Streisand.

I was not previously familiar with The Fifth Estate, a band formed in the 1960s, but one of their biggest hits (so big it was released around the world in 5 different languages) was “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” in 1967.

I did find one relatively recent recording. Here is Harry Connick Jr. from his album released in 2001, Songs I Heard.

And if you can handle the overwhelming static, here is a radio clip of Judy Garland singing the song. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the voice speaking at the end is Bob Hope’s.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 30, 2015 in Music

 

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