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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Easter Parade"

If you have yet to join in the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series we urge you to participate next week on April 11th when we look at a movie you've surely seen: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937). Last time we did an animated film we had a super turnout. All you have to do is 1) choose your favorite shot 2) post it on your blog, tumblr, site or pinterest page before next Wednesday night and 3) let me know. Presto, The Film Experience links up. The first step, choosing your best shot, is the only hard part.

This week's film is EASTER PARADE (1948).  

I love a perfect title. Easter Parade promises exactly what it delivers. The Judy Garland / Fred Astaire musical features two actual easter parades which form a through line on which the film can hang its gowns and musical numbers. In the first Nadine (Ann Miller), Don Hewes' (Fred Astaire) ex-girlfriend and ex-dance partner, stops traffic with a smashing gown and the chic accessories that are her show dogs.  Hewes, still hurt over the breakup promises his new partner Hannah (the immortal Judy Garland) that a year from then she'll be the one that no one can take their eyes off of. But the title offers more than just these two holidays. The movie is an easter parade all by itself. The whole movie doubles as one big lavish procession of color. It's got all the yellows, greens, whites, blues, pinks and purples you could possibly expect from an easter movie and every other color in the rainbow, too. Like many real parades it's alternately amazing and garish but there's always something to gawk at for better and worse.

The "worse" would be a hateful brown and pink gown (gag) that may well be the ugliest thing I've ever seen on Judy Garland. The "best" might be the white into hot pink gown that Nadine just floats in near the climax when she attempts to take Don back from Hannah.

The two shots that thrilled me the most both exploded by focusing on only one particularly saturated color. The first of these was Ann Miller's bright yellow gloves and bright yellow tear away skirt in her jaw-dropping toe-tapping solo "Shakin' the Blues Away". 

Keep dancing (and reading)

The camera rarely stops moving in this thrilling number but -- the best part -- the editor almost never cuts away either creating what amounts to a world class highwire dance act in only two or three shots. The camera tracks Miller's every sideways shimmy, spinning top madness and hand flare. Miller is always so fun to watch. My favorite quirk of hers in film after film is the way her head or shoulders or hands often jerk subtly or violently just a millisecond after final musical beats as if her body is its own Red Shoes; she just can't stop dancing.

The most impressive shot that I'd name "best" uses another Easter color in a surprising comic way. In this relatively simple plot scene early in the film, Don tells his friend Johnny (gorgeous Peter Lawford) that Nadine wasn't so special and any woman will do. Out of focus in the background comes an awkward pink parade of ladies practically tripping over each other onto the small stage behind them for a gangly crowded "dance." The craziest thing about the shot is that the background is so vivid, bright and fun that it becomes the focus of the scene without requiring actual focus.

The most unbelievable thing about the shot is that it's Judy Garland's entrance. 

You don't even realize it's Judy on the stage until you do which is the perfect punchline to the sight gag. Judy's entrances are usually so much grander than this, entire movies halting to welcome her into the spotlight (The Harvey Girls is a perfect example). It's a great joke on stardom and a fine thematic point within the movie, too. Any woman will not do. There is only one Judy Garland and, by extension, only one Hannah Brown. As soon as Don gives up trying to mold Hannah into the next Nadine... as soon as he let's her be herself, their act takes off. 

Eight blogs with holiday spirit
Movies Kick Ass that fella with the umbrella
The Film's The Thing a tragically funny lady
Encore Entertainment anonymity and living pictures
Antagony & Ecstasy cavalcades of color
Film Actually Fred Astaire is unreal
Dial P For Popcorn a pairing that almost didn't happen
Okinawa Assault on the avenue, fifth avenue...
Pussy Goes Grrrr "better luck next time"

Next on "Hit Me..."
April 11th - Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

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Reader Comments (15)

Here's mine (I thought I sent it to you Nathaniel last night by e-mail but anyway here it goes:

I also could not resist to picking a Judy Garland moment of comedic awesomeness as my best shot ;)

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

i can't provide my favorite shot because my dvd is at home! =(
but i can contribute the fact that the small town where i go to school is having an easter bonnet parade, and i'm considering going just so i can have a Judy moment.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

In reference to your first shot, it's interesting how the camera is stationary for such long moments in scenes that I'm sure most directors would have gone a bit wild. and I like that your actual best shot is on par with Tim's. On level it reminds me of the way Kelly obscures Barbra so that we don't see her completely until she starts singing in HELLO, DOLLY but still it's still so different here because Judy's all huddled together with those girls so we're not even moved to be excited upon her interest....of course, she more than makes up for that.

(I find it so weird that you talk about names because I almost mentioned that I find the title so bizarre. Your explanation sort of makes it on the level for me, but I sort of think the name Easter Parade is akin to naming, for example, SHAMPOO.)

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Above and beyond the fact that we picked the same shot for very nearly the same reason, the really ironic part is that my runner-up was Ann Miler in "Shakin' the Blues Away". Because oh my God, love the yellow..

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Tim -- I KNOW. great minds think alike. I don't read the articles before I've written mine (i'm the same way with reviews) but I did notice you had picked it from the image and I'm like ... oh well, it is a super shot. Most of the time I find it interesting that people rarely cross over in this series but this movie was different as you and I weren't the only mirrors. Judy's head turning comic bit also did double duty.

Andrew K -- oh but Shampoo is a great title too :) I hear you though.

Olivia -- do it! report back.

April 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@Andrew - I hear you too; but the parade is also "the goal" or represents the goal of having arrived, so it makes sense in that way (and I'm sure it probably had something to do with promoting the song, or using the song to promote the movie? It seems pop music and film industries were more closely intertwined then, though I may be simply nostalgic?)

One of the interesting things about that number with Ann (and I loved it too when I saw the film years ago on TV), is that she was performing it while wearing a back brace; her ex-husband had pushed her down a set of stairs while she was pregnant (or she "fell" - Ann said in an interview I saw once that she was pushed) and broke her back, forcing her to wear a steel brace for months. (the baby died shortly after being born.)

In the interview I saw with her some years ago, she said she was really proud of that number and it meant a lot to her because for her it represented a declaration of survival and independence, that she was literally "shaking the blues away".

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

//Last time we did an animated film we had a super turnout.//

@Nat - when I read that I immediately remembered that I still have not seen Snow White in it's entirety (it's probably one of those films I think I've seen but really haven't); but also, that the turnout for Beauty and the Beast was similar to that of Moulin Rouge - that is, it's not the fact that it's an animated film but that it's a well-loved film, that entered the consciousness of a lot of TFE readers at the perfect moment.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Here's some more trivia(according to wikipedia): Ann Miller's dad John Alfred Collier represented the real life Barrow Gang. Interesting since we just covered Bonnie and Clyde last week!

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

Ann Miller's little shimmy looks like something out of Beyonce video.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBia

What a great pick for a film! It's so full of color and dance and fun.

Two bits if trivia: in the magazine covers sequence, one of the models of the month us Lucille Ball, in her pre-comedienne chorus girl days.

The comic expression that Judy Garland makes as she walks down the street is her take on a famous Harpo Marx face that he'd used since the Marx brothers were in vaudeville. The brothers named that face "the Gookie". We had a Marx brothers book and we used to try to make this face. It's hard, and Judy does a great job!

@Janice - I'm always awed by Ann Miller's dancing in this movie. I had no idea she had such a struggle, which makes me respect her even more.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Favorite scene: "A Couple of Swells" -- Judy and Fred doing comedy brilliantly, and a clever setpiece in the background. Favorite line: Peter Lawford offering to go Easter-parading with finally-rejected-by-Fred- Ann-Miller: "Nadine, get out all the hounds."
-- Chuck

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Knapp

I always feel like Ms. Miller's head doesn't fit her body. Like she was made out of different people, hthe top of her body reminds me of a clever, sassy "His Girl Friday" kind of actress, her lower body reminds me of Cyd Charisse with Madonna's trainer. I too love that jerk thing you mention Nat! It reminds me a bit of what Kristen Wiig does in those sketches where she spoofs Ann Margret and Liza.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJose

Kristen Wiig spoofs Ann Margaret? I need to see this.

Anyway, Ann Miller is breathtaking in that dance scene, the way she makes her heels click without looking like she's moving. I can't take my eyes away from her in that scene because of what I was hearing. Nonetheless I'm still Team Judy not despite but because she sings more than she dances. Even Astaire is humble enough to tailor himself to her talents and be her arm candy. Who wouldn't?

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

@Paulo - I needed to see that one too:

She does a great job, but like most SNL bits these days, it goes on far too long IMO - it's essentially a 15-second joke stretched out to a minute and a half.

Her "Liza" is not nearly as successful IMO (or just a lot more damned annoying): the only thing about that skit that makes me laugh is Jonah Hill, actually.

April 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Don't forget mine for Snow White!

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnimation Revelation
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