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Entries in Judy Garland (61)

Wednesday
Jul062016

Judy by the Numbers: "Johnny One Note"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers... 

There's a musical number I should be showing you for this week's post. It's the last musical duet between Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland captured on film, as part of her guest appearance in the Rogers & Hart biopic Words and Music. It's a fun but slightly awkward number. Despite the joy of seeing Mickey & Judy reunited after half a decade apart, there's also a sense that they're almost too mature for their mugging. They're still sweet together, but the frenetic energy of youth has been replaced by practice. Contemporary audience must have agreed to some extent, since the Judy Garland number that made a hit off this movie was not her nostalgic reunion but rather a signature brassy belter.

The Movie: Words and Music (MGM, 1948)
The Songwriter: Richard Rogers (music) and Lorenz Hart (lyrics)
The Players: Mickey Rooney, Tom Drake, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Janet Leigh directed by Norman Taurog

The Story: Full confession: I have a selfish reason for choosing "Johnny One Note" this week. It has been (improbably) the most requested song outside of "Over The Rainbow." It even tops "The Man That Got Away"! The Rogers & Hart belter may have been cut from the movie verson of Babes in Arms, but nine years later it landed Judy another solid hit. And why not? It's Judy at her best - big presence, big joy, big voice!

Though Judy probably didn't know it at the time, 1948 was her zenith at MGM. Her relationship with MGM was souring rapidly. The story would become familiar too quickly: marriage on the rocks, trouble with pills, and too many missed shoot days. Over the next three years, she would make only three more films with MGM and the Freed Unit. Her talent was undeniable, but soon her problems were as well.

Wednesday
Jun292016

Judy by the Numbers: "I Love A Piano"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers... 

Easter Parade has becomea perrenial holiday favorite. Inevitably, the lighthearted musical appears on TCM Easter Sunday marathons, sandwiched between Ben Hur (1959) and King of Kings (1961). However, despite the annual dominance of this Judy Garland/Irving Berlin musical, the movie nearly stopped before it began. A combination of bad luck, souring relationships, and weak ankles nearly prevented the production from getting off the ground. Fans of the film have one person to thank for its resurrection: Fred Astaire.

The Movie: Easter Parade (1948)
The Songwriter: Irving Berlin (music & lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller, Peter Lawford, directed by Charles Walters

The Story: The production of Easter Parade was plagued from the start. Though Irving Berlin enthusiastically agreed to expand upon his hit Holiday Inn for a new Judy Garland vehicle, the rest of the cast and crew was harder to secure. Originally, MGM sought to replicate the Freed unit partnerships that had already been proven box office success: Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, directed by Vincente Minnelli. But Judy and Minnelli were fighting, so she demanded that he be replaced with Charles Walters, a choreographer-turned-director on his second feature film. Then, Kelly broke his ankle playing football. Then Cyd Charisse broke her ankle. With two of three stars out of commission and a neophyte director at the helm, Easter Parade needed a big win. Then out of retirement waltzed Fred Astaire.

While the replacement of Gene Kelly with Fred Astaire saved the film, it also provides a window into how well-tailored numbers were tailored to their musical stars. Though "I Love A Piano" starts with the now old familiar standby of Judy Garland standing by a piano and singing to her beaux, it also moves into the high-energy, bright dancing style of Gene Kelly. Adapted to Fred Astaire, this dancing style loses none of its energy, but shows hints of ballroom influence in the lifts and mirrored taps of two partners arm in arm. Astaire doesn't simply stand in for Kelly; he makes the film his own. As a result, Astaire's retirement would turn out to be temporary; he kept on dancing for another 20 years.

Wednesday
Jun222016

Judy by the Numbers: "Be A Clown"

Just as there are films that shine bright in a star's history, there are also films whose histories are controversial at best. The Pirate is an odd contradiction of a movie. As one of Judy Garland's most expensive films, it was also her first MGM bust. Released two years after childrearing had put Judy on hiatus, it was nonetheless stuck in preproduction for five years before that. While it landed Judy another hit song, the knockoff written four years later would become a classic. Though The Pirate was the loudest, brightest movie Judy had made to date, its most interesting sequences were left on the cutting room floor. What to do with The Pirate?

The Movie: The Pirate (1948, MGM) 
The Songwriter: Cole Porter
The Players: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, The Nicholas Brothers, directed by Vincente Minnelli

The Story: The Pirate must have seemed cursed from the start. By the time Vincente Minnelli started filming, it had already been stuck in pre-production hell since 1943. This meant that even though Minnelli tried to keep costs down, enough money had already been sunk into it that the budget ballooned to almost $5 million. Judy wasn't helping either - she reported sick to work 99 times. Then there was the issue of reshoots. The song "Voodoo" apparently enraged Mayer so much that he ordered the nitrate negative burned. The ending was a mess and had to be reshot. Then that ending got the boot in the South because it featured black men tapdancing

All of these production problems took their toll, and the resulting movie is a little bit of a beautiful mess. Nonetheless, there are three reasons to see this movie:

  1. It's the first A Movie appearance of the Nicholas Brothers
  2. Vincente Minnelli makes really beautiful color movies
  3. Judy Garland throws china like a red-haired Bucky Walters 

However, the scene that would make the film famous was "Be A Clown." As previously mentioned, it would become a modest hit for Judy, but the real hit came four years later when Judy's friend Donald O'Connor sang "Make 'Em Laugh" in Singin' in the Rain. Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed whipped up the song while trying to find a number for O'Connor. Luckily for them, Cole Porter was under MGM contract and wasn't feeling particularly litigious. While Judy would continue to sing the original throughout her career, ultimately Singin' in the Rain made Freed's version more popular. Even great talent couldn't keep The Pirate from sinking.

Wednesday
Jun152016

Judy by the Numbers: "Look For The Silver Lining"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

Believe it or not, 1946 actually represented a change of pace in Judy Garland's career. Judy only had three credits to her name that year: one starring role (The Harvey Girls), one cameo delayed by reshoots (Ziegfeld Follies), and one appearance in a biopic (Till The Clouds Roll By). In fact, this change of pace was a conscious choice on the part of Mr. & Mrs. Minnelli. If Judy looks like she's glowing a bit more than usual under those arclights, that's because Judy Garland was pregnant.

 
 
The Movie:
 Till The Clouds Roll By (1946)
The Songwriter: Jerome Kern (music), Buddy G. DeSylva (lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Robert Walker, Van Heflin, June Allyson, Lucille Bremer, directed by Richard Whorf & Vincente Minnelli 

The StoryTill The Clouds Roll By is a Jerome Kern biopic, which (in the true MGM style) fabricates or glosses over nearly all of the composer's life in favor of a Technicolor musical extravaganza. Judy plays Marilyn Miller, a megawatt Ziegfeld Follies star whose heyday was encompassed the 1920s. At her peak, Miller had had musicals and songs written for her on Broadway, including "Look For The Silver Lining," from Kern's musical Sally. Miller was even beginning to break into Hollywood when illness, substance abuse, and alcoholism forced her into retirement in the early 1930s. Marilyn Miller died in 1936 at age 37, another sad showbusiness story. None of this makes it into the movie, though. Besides, Judy was so focused on the upcoming birth that she may have missed the all-to-prescient warning of the woman she portrayed.

When Garland filmed her two songs for the Jerome Kern biopic, she was already four months pregnant. MGM covered up the pregnancy by fitting her clothes a little looser, and inserting a sink, some dishes (and some dancers' hands) between Judy and the camera. Five months later (nine months before the movie was released) Judy and Vincente welcomed into the world a bouncing baby talent: Liza May Minnelli.

 

Friday
Jun102016

Alexander the Great and Judy the Greatest

On this day in history as it relates to the movies...

323 BC Alexander the Great dies of an unknown illness. Colin Farrell plays him in a movie centuries and centuries later and it's suggested that it's a combo of Typhus, Bad Wigs, and Loving Jared Leto that does him in. Who could survive that combo? (Remember when Baz Luhrmann was going to make an Alexander movie, too, but Oliver Stone beat him to it? We wish it had been the other way around.)
38 AD Julia Drusilla dies in Rome. In the infamous Bob Guccione movie Caligula (1979) her brother Caligula (Malcom McDowell) is shown licking her corpse. Somehow that's not remotely the most perverted thing in the movie!
1692 Bridget Bishop is executed for "Detestable Arts called Witchcraft & Sorceries." She's the first victim of the notorious Salem Witch Trials that will claim many lives and inspire many works of art including The Crucible and The VVitch and so on. 

1889 Sessue Hayakawa is born in Japan, becomes an international silent screen superstar. Later Oscar nominated for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
1895 Hattie McDaniel is born. Becomes a major studio player in Hollywood, the first black actor to win an Oscar, and appears in many classic films albeit as The Help. We only wish Monique were ambitious about her film career and would work on that biopic that was suggested. It'd be so rich.
1901 Frederick Loewe is born. Meets Alan Jay Lerner 41 years later and the rest is movie and stage musical history: My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Gigi, Camelot, etcetera... 
1922  Frances Ethel Gumm is born. Becomes Judy Garland, "The World's Greatest Entertainer" and one of the greatest movie stars of all time. (Easy top ten for me. How about you?) We hope you're enjoying Anne-Marie's current series "Judy by the Numbers". 
1936 Soyuzmultfilm, influential animation studio of the former Soviet Union, is founded
1963 Sex god Tony Ward is born. Becomes super model, Madonna plaything ("Justify My Love" / "Sex"), and Bruce La Bruce's Hustler White (1996)
1974 Dustin Lance Black is born. Later wins the Oscar for writing Milk (2008) but, weirdly, no one threatens to take the statue back when he writes J Edgar (2011)

1985 Claus von Bulow is acquitted on attempted murder charges of his heiress wife. Jeremy Irons wins an Oscar playing him in Reversal of Fortune just five years later while the heiress wife (Glenn Close) narrates the morbid proceedings. Quibblers, including me, suggest that the Oscar was in part for that awful Dead Ringers (1988) snub two years prior.
1988 Big Business opens starring two Lily Tomlins and two Bette Midlers. Double the pleasure
2003 Wicked opens on Broadway. It goes on to gross billions. Still no movie in sight and it'll already be old hat by the time we get one. (sigh)
2007 The final episode of The Sopranos cuts to black. Do you ever think about that show now? 

Wednesday
Jun082016

Judy by the Numbers: "A Great Lady Has An Interview"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

Our time travelling comes to an end this week with a movie that was filmed before The Harvey Girls but, due to expensive reshoots, wasn't released until months later. Ziegfeld Follies (not to be confused with Ziegfeld Girl) is a plotless series of excuses for MGM to throw its considerable stable of talent into a series of comic and musical sketches tailor made to show off the stars - and the studio - at their finest.
 
The Movie:
 Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
The Songwriters: Kay Thompson (lyrics), Roger Edens (music)
The Players: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, William Powell, Esther Williams, directed by Vincente Minnelli 

The Story: According to rumor, originally this enjoyable little slip of a number was designed for Greer Garson. However, when Garson backed out, it became a number about Garson, lampooning her accent, image, and Oscar-bait dramatic roles. However, the satire was all in good fun, in large part due to the lyrics by Kay Thompson.

Though this was Thompson's first credit on a Judy Garland performance, she had been working with Garland since befriending the young starlet on a radio show in 1939. On top of a successful nightclub career, Thompson would become MGM's top vocal arranger and vocal coach, working with Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, June Allyson, and more. But more than Thompson's vocal control rubbed off on Judy. Watch this clip with Audrey Hepburn, and compare the physicality - from poses to gestures, between Kay and Judy.

While Kay Thompson would remain close friends with Judy Garland, eventually even lending Liza a hand, her own movie career never took off. Instead, Thompson would become world famous for another career: as the creator and writer of the children's series Eloise.

Wednesday
Jun012016

Judy by the Numbers: "On The Atchison Topeka And The Santa Fe"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

Though we last left Judy Garland in 1944 crooning from a trolley and cementing a (troubled) place in Hollywood history, this week we must catapult two years into the future to rejoin our musical heroine. The reason has to do with the odd nature of the Studio System in general and this series in specific. Judy Garland actually shot two movies between 1944 and 1945, but because one was delayed due to reshoots (therefore getting bumped to next week) and the other was a straight drama (therefore not fitting a series focused on musical numbers), we must travel through the end of WW2 and the beginning of Judy Garland's marriage to Vincente Minnelli. Thus, in 1946 we arrive in... the Old West? 
 
The Movie:
 The Harvey Girls (1946)
The Songwriters: Johnny Mercer (lyrics), Harry Warren (music)
The Players: Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury, Ray Bolger, Cyd Charisse, & John Hodiak, directed by George Sidney 

The Story: In 1946, Judy Garland hopped off the trolley and onto a train for a Western-style musical entitled The Harvey Girls. I have to admit, while this is by no means Judy Garland's best musical, it remains a personal favorite for three reasons:

1) Judy Garland sings on a train. 
2) It's a musical western genre mashup that misses Oklahoma! by three years and and one saloon fight.
3) Angela Lansbury plays a chorus girl/prostitute named Em. In fact, the movie is a veritable Who's Who of MGM & the Freed Unit, since it also stars baby Cyd Charisse, the return of former Scarecrow Ray Bolger, deadpan alto Virginia O'Brien, and the delightful dulcet tones of Marjorie Main and Chill Wills!

More importantly for Judy, though, this movie shows the Freed Unit's ability to find a winning formula for its tiny Technicolor titan and stick to it. Like Meet Me in St. Louis before it (and many Freed films after it), The Harvey Girls was a musical that leaned heavily on nostalgia; a period piece mixing authentic songs - conveniently taken from the MGM catalogue - with new insta-classics provided by a rotating stable of songwriters. The plots of each of these movies revolves around Judy meeting, loathing, then learning to love a confounded-but-charismatic man; providing ample opportunity for musical numbers, slapstick, and a brightly-colored battle of the sexes. Though this decision may seem limiting, it also further defined Judy Garland at MGM: Judy's image would embrace the tension between modern stardom and nostalgic Americana, a potent symbol of post-war America.