Silly me. I had the greatest time at the Judy Garland festival at Lincoln Center this week and the movie I didn't write about Presenting Lily Mars was probably my favorite viewing experience. Rent it! Judy was just so funny in it, it was really charming and I liked her chemistry with Van Heflin (I confess I had to look him up since Shane had slipped my mind and I'd never seen his Best Supporting Actor Oscar performance for Johnny Eager (1941). Have any of you seen that one? Is it worth checking out?
But enough about Lily Mars... on to Judy in another incarnation. The Lincoln Center portion of the festival ends tomorrow though the celebration continues at the Paley Center for Television (since Judy did a lot of variety work on TV in the 50s). The last two films I caught were period musicals and here's the first of them.
The Harvey Girls (1946)
I always forget that Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury were contemporaries. They were just three years apart in age (Angela is younger) though in this western musical, Lansbury is clearly meant to be the older woman. Or at least the more experienced one, if you know what I'm saying. Angela is a hardened showgirl (i.e. prostitute) at a rowdy saloon (i.e. casino/brothel) and she's just about the only person in the frontier town who isn't thrilled when Judy Garland arrives "On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe".
In fact, that first big ensemble musical number hilarious stops halfway through just so everyone can gawk at Judy as she steps off the train, like she's the most famous beloved celebrity in the world. The showstopping entrance makes no narrative sense whatsoever -- Judy's "Susan Bradley" being a nobody who is about to start work at Harvey's restaurant -- but it makes perfect movie-movie sense because Judy Garland IS famous and beloved. And if there's a musical number already in progress when Garland arrives at the scene it's basically the Red Sea to her Moses.
The town is divided too, right down the middle, between the wild saloon and the proper restaurant. It's basically a battle for both the soul of the town and the town's most powerful man (John Hodiak) with Lansbury and Garland representing for either side. Guess who wins: The good girl or the bad one? The headliner or the newbie (this was only Lansbury's fourth picture)? I'll give you one guess.
The Harvey Girls hasn't aged as well as some of Garland's output. It's pretty creaky and I don't think it's only due to the print we saw that badly needed some restoration and color correction. Part of the problem is that the film grinds to a halt whenever the typically able Garland isn't front and center. Plus, the songs aren't as memorable as those from her other films. Though the young Cyd Charisse is all porcelain loveliness and Angela Lansbury's perma-scowl is amusing the plot points connecting their numbers and several other characters feel insufficiently developed to hold interest in The Harvey Girls as an ensemble piece. It's always "Can we please get back to Garland?" Still, you can't beat that rare opportunity to see Dorothy dance with her Scarecrow again (Ray Bolger). I think she had missed him most of all. B-