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The Turning Point (1977)

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Entries in Judy Garland (57)

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.

Wednesday
May252016

Judy by the Numbers: "The Trolley Song"

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

It's difficult to overstate the importance of Meet Me in St. Louis to the myth that is Judy Garland. The Wizard of Oz guaranteed Judy immortality at age 17, but the 1944 Freed musical would be the first Garland product to assemble the pieces of her myth beyond her larger-than-life talent. Though Meet Me in St. Louis is usually known as arguably the best "adult" performance by Judy Garland in an MGM musical, this time the alternately exciting and exhausting events offscreen would be as important to her image as her sparkling turn in Technicolor as Esther Smith.
 
The Movie:
 Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
The Songwriters: Hugh Martin (lyrics), Ralph Blane (music)
The Players: Judy Garland, Mary Astor, Margaret O'Brien, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, directed by Vincente Minnelli

 

The Story: Long after the completion of Meet Me In St. Louis, Judy Garland would state that she never felt more beautiful than when she was on that film. Look closely during the number and you'll see why. Look past her inner glow and you'll notice some small cosmetic changes: her teeth are crooked and her nose isn't. Though MGM had capped Judy's teeth during The Wizard of Oz and put her through dozens of makeup and wardrobe changes in order to make Garland a more typical MGM girl, director Vincente Minnelli and makeup designer Dorothy Ponedel hit on the truth: Judy Garland wasn't a typical MGM girl. Ponedel and Minnelli's secrets were well-placed blush, an appreciation for color design, and the knowledge that Judy's imperfections were as winning as her talents.

Of course, Judy's inner glow could have been from the other big news in her life: she was in love with Vincente Minnelli. The 21-year-old was working on her first divorce (from musician David Rose), and found Minnelli's mind, and the way he made her feel she looked, absolutely glamorous. For many reasons - his sexuality, her increasing problems, their incredible daughter - this is Garland's most famous marriage. However, the relationship is also famous for the problems it created.

One problem Minnelli couldn't create but did witness onset was the beginning of Judy's difficulties. Though it was originally scheduled for 58 days, Meet Me In St. Louis didn't wrap for 70 days. This was blamed, in part, on Judy's tardiness. Exhausted from a mandatory war bonds tour and initially dissatisfied with playing another teenager, Judy snuck out of rehearsals, began showing up late, and outright skipped 13 days of shooting. At the time, it may have seemed like petulant childishness or diva-like drama. Unfortunately, it would become a pattern that would eventually kill her career. In some ways, Meet Me In St. Louis was Judy Garland's peak at MGM. From 1945 onward, she would never make the studio as much money - or be as carefree - as she had while singing on that trolley.

Wednesday
May182016

Judy by the Numbers: "Embraceable You"

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

Throughout the 1930s, Mickey and Judy had been one of America's favorite musical duos. With Mickey in the lead and Judy providing musical support, the two young teenagers - with the help of the Freed Unit - dominated the box office, regularly grossing $1 million even during the Depression. However, by the beginning of the 1940s, both 21-year-old Judy and 23-year-old Mickey had grown past the simple comedies in which they'd made their names. While both continued to pull in the same amount at the box office, Mickey was moving into more serious roles - though he still had a few more Andy Hardy movies in his contract - and Judy was dropping her hems and trading in her hair ribbons for hats. So, at the end of 1943, Mickey and Judy starred in their last musical together.

The Movie: Girl Crazy (1943)
The Songwriters: George Gershwin (music) & Ira Gershwin (lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, June Allyson, directed by Busby Berkeley and Norman Taurog

The Story:  This transition affected their partnership in Girl Crazy as well. While before, Judy had been Mickey's sidekick, now she was her own force to be reckoned with. Director Busby Berkeley gave 3 musical numbers to Judy alone, while Mickey appeared with her in 2 more (and also was dubbed on piano for one number). While the plot still mostly fell on Mickey's shoulders, the musical was entirely Judy's. In fact, she got two more iconic hits from it: "Embraceable You," and "But Not For Me."

Though Mickey and Judy would continue to be friends (and perform together - once more in a movie and again later on her TV show), their onscreen partnership had run its course. And though Judy couldn't have anticipated it, right around the corner was another movie that would change her life forever.

Previous Related Highlights:
"Our Love Affair," "Good Morning," "Got a New Pair of Shoes"

Wednesday
May112016

Judy by the Numbers: "The Joint Is Really Jumpin' in Carnegie Hall"

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

Judy Garland was wrapping production on one movie and starting production on another when she filmed a cameo for the WWII wartime musical, Thousands Cheer. Despite the fact that Garland was one of MGM's biggest stars, this cameo with José Iturbi was the first Technicolor movie she had made since The Wizard of Oz four years previous. The films between Oz and Thousands Cheer, though large in spirit, were small in budget due to Great Depression constraints. However, the onset of World War II brought about an audience boom - everyone was going to the movies to catch a newsreel and escape the fears of the war. As a result, budgets were about to skyrocket as MGM began to give Judy Garland big and colorful sets, costumes, and scenery to match her big and colorful voice.

The Movie: Thousands Cheer (1943)
The Songwriters: Roger Edens, Ralph Blane, and Hugh Martin
The Players: Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Mary Astor, Jon Boles, directed by George Sidney

The Story: The man playing both jazz and classical music as Judy swings is (as previously mentioned) José Iturbi, a Spanish conductor and pianist. Surprisingly for a classical musician, Iturbi also started an improbably successful parallel career as a character actor in MGM movies of the 1940s. While composers and musicians would show up periodically in films to "class it up" (or "brass it up," depending on whether it was Bob Crosby or Oscar Levant), none was quite so prolific onscreen as Iturbi. From 1943 to 1949, Iturbi appeared in about a picture a year, with small but noticeable parts. After all, it's hard to find a pianist with enough personality to pleasantly play for a put out Judy Garland.

Select Previous Highlights:  "Dear Mr Gable" (1937), “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (1938), "Over the Rainbow" (1939), "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (1941), "For Me and My Gal" (1942)

Wednesday
May042016

Judy by the Numbers: "Caro Nome/When I Look At You"

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

With Judy Garland now such an established hit, MGM worked overtime to make the most of its musical star. This meant that while Arthur Freed and the Freed Unit "made" her by crafting her star image (and arguably used her to her best advantage), Judy couldn't work with them exclusively. She was too valuable a commodity for that. So, MGM also put her under the watchful tutelage of another producer well-known for his musical mojo: Joe Pasternak. 

The Movie: Presenting Lily Mars (1942)
The Songwriters: Walter Jurmann (music) and Paul Francis Webster (lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Van Heflin, Fay Bainter, Spring Byington, directed by Norman Taurog

The Story: Had Judy's fateful short with Deanna Durbin turned out differently only six years previous, she might have met Joe Pasternak earlier. For most of the 1930s, Pasternak was a top producer at Universal Studios, with major Marlene Dietrich titles such as Destry Rides Again to his credit. However, where Pasternak really made his name was in his big "get" for Universal; he was the man responsible for bringing Durbin to the studio after MGM rejected her. Under his production and guidance, Deanna Durbin became one of the biggest singing stars of the 1930s.

However, the fact remained that Universal was small potatoes next to MGM, so when Pasternak became a major musical producer it was only logical that MGM should hire him. Presenting Lily Mars was his second film for the studio. It was originally bought as a dramatic script for Lana Turner, but Pasternak convinced the studio to recycle some songs and turn it into a Judy Garland musical. Unsurprisingly, it was another hit, grossing over $3.5 million at the box office. What is surprising is that Pasternak and Garland only worked together one more time. After the near-miss six years before, it would take another six years for Judy to work with the high-spirited Hungarian again. And much would change for Judy in that six year period.