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Entries in Mickey Rooney (12)

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 They're still sweet together, but the frenetic energy of youth has been replaced by practice.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
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
Apr202016

Judy by the Numbers: "Chin Up! Cheerio! Carry On!"

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

1941 was a year of beginnings and endings for Judy Garland. It was the year of Judy's last Andy Hardy film (Life Begins for Andy Hardy, wherein nobody sang). And she wasn't just growing up on film - 1941 was also the year of Judy's first marriage: to David Rose, the musical director of the Tony Martin Radio Show. At only 19, Judy Garland was transitioning from child sensation to full fledged star.

 

The Movie: Babes on Broadway (1941)
The Songwriters: E.Y. Harburg (lyrics) and Burton Lane (music)
The Players: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Virginia Weidler, Fay Bainter, Margaret O'Sullivan, directed by Busby Berkeley.

 

The Story: As the country entered World War II, the Freed Unit was lining up a series of nostalgia-inflected new hits starring Judy Garland for MGM. While Babes on Broadway looks at first glance like the typical "let's put on a show" backyard musical of 30's Mickey and Judy, some palpable differences manifest. First, there's the emphasis on Americana and patriotism, from Judy urging young British youths on in "Chin Up Cheerio!" to the (racist blackface) closing number, "Robert E Lee." This was the influence of World War II. Though Pearl Harbor happened mere days before Babes on Broadway was released, national sentiment was already turning towards the patriotic messages that would define wartime Hollywood. However, the movie's bigger hit was a more conventional Judy Garland number "How About You?"

In many ways, Babes on Broadway looks and sounds like the old Judy and Mickey - the two doe-eyed lovebirds sing to each other at a piano or on a stage while Mickey pulls faces. However, there are two marked differences: First, Mickey is no longer the focus of the movie - the two actors share camera equally. Second, Garland has graduated from the giant lace sleeves and tulle-lined skirts of "in-between" childish Judy, instead dressed fashionably in the latest style. Ziegfeld Girl and Little Nellie Kelly had proven Judy's talent was mature. Now it was time for her star image to reflect that transition, too.

Wednesday
Mar302016

Judy by the Numbers: "Our Love Affair"

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

By 1940 it was undeniable: Mickey and Judy were a success. Even more, Mickey and Judy with the Freed Unit behind them were a bona fide hit machine. Babes in Arms, the first Freed Unit collaboration, earned over $2 million domestically and $1 million abroad. With the promise of another blockbuster and the rise of patriotic sentiment on the verge of WWII, Louis B. Mayer dusted off an old, patriotic-sounding title and set his hitmakers on a new project: Strike Up The Band.
 
The Movie: Strike Up The Band (MGM, 1940)

The Songwriters: Arthur Freed & Roger Edens
The Players: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, directed by Busby Berkeley 

The Story: The original Strike Up The Band was a George & Ira Gershwin political musical satire from the early half of the 1930s. However, the new patriotic musical produced by Arthur Freed & company bore no resemblance to the show from which they took their title. With Mickey Rooney now the confirmed box office champion - unseating Shirley Temple at last - the majority of the movie was geared towards his talents. Rooney sings, dances, acts, plays piano, and even plays the drums. However, Freed and Edens didn't overlook young Judy. They wrote "Our Love Affair" especially for the 18 year old singer. Though Mickey introduces the song, it doesn't come alive until Judy sings it, and her song is the musical theme used throughout the movie. 

Ultimately, the movie was another smash success for MGM. It garnered another $2 million domestically and $1 million abroad, as well as 3 Oscar nominations (including one for "Our Love Affair" and rave reviews from critics. Mickey, Judy and the Freed Unit were an undoubted blockbuster force. But how would Judy Garland do on her own?

Wednesday
Mar232016

Judy by the Numbers: "I'm Nobody's Baby"

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

Today's clip is a plea for the importance of audio preservation. Unlike last week's short, which survives as only 3 minutes of grainy footage of Judy Garland singing to a statue, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante has been remastered and restored several times since its 1940 release. However, Judy completists who watch the movie may be surprised at what a musical it's not. That's because two songs are missing from the film.
 
The Movie: Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (MGM, 1940)

The Songwriters: Benny Davis, Milton Ager, and Lester Stanley
The Players: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Lewis Stone, Ann Rutherford, directed by George B. Seitz

The Story: Judy Garland only sings two songs in the entirety of her second Andy Hardy film. Unlike most Mickey/Judy pairings, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante does not follow the "let's put on a show" plotline. Instead, the film follows Andy as he goes further and further into debt trying to woo the heart of a New York debutante. This means two terrible things for Judy Garland fans: less Judy, and less singing. In fact, the movie was originally supposed to have four songs by Little Iron Lungs. Unfortunately, "Buds Won't Bud" and "All I Do Is Dream Of You" were recorded, but cut before being filmed. (Both were eventually reused in later films: "Buds Won't Bud" was sung by Ethel Waters in Cairo, while "All I Do Is Dream Of You" used as Debbie Reynold's excuse to pop out of a cake in Singin in the Rain.) Here's the good news: both Judy versions were saved as studio recordings, and have since been remastered and released. Sometimes even restoration stories get a happy ending.

Wednesday
Mar092016

Judy by the Numbers: "Good Morning!"

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

Freed, Garland, & Edens c. 1930s

After the whirlwind that was The Wizard of Oz, it may seem like a letdown for Judy to return to the Mickey & Judy musicals of before. However, she returned with two things she hadn’t had before: A-level star status, and the Freed Unit. The former made her a major box office draw, which meant that her movies had bigger budgets and better material. The latter meant that Arthur Freed - a writer turned producer who’d flitted in and out of Judy’s career since she started at MGM - could use those budgets and material to put on shows unlike any MGM had produced.

The Movie: Babes in Arms (MGM, 1939)

The Songwriters: Nacio Herb Brown (Music), Arthur Freed (Lyrics)

The Players: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Charles Winninger, Guy Kibbee, directed by Busby Berkley

The Story: At its inception, The Freed Unit consisted of 8 men: Arthur Freed, director Busby Berkley, Roger Edens, dance director Chuck Walters, music director Georgie Stoll, art director Cedric Gibbons, writer Fred Finklehoffe, and cameraman Ray June. These eight (minus Finklehoffe) created the four biggest Rooney/Garland musicals by ingeniously recycling popular material (like the Rogers & Hart musical Babes in Arms) with new material (written or borrowed from elsewhere), lavish musical numbers, and a fairly conventional backstage musical plot. Berkley and June added a visual element that hadn’t been seen in teen musicals before. But despite this increased complexity, at their heart the movies still relied on the unbeatable chemistry of Mickey & Judy.

previously: "The Land of Let's Pretend" (1930), "The Texas Tornado" (1936), "Americana" (1936), "Dear Mr Gable" (1937), "Got a New Pair of Shoes" (1937), "Why? Because!" (1938), "Inbetween" (1938), “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (1938), "Over the Rainbow" (1939)

 

Wednesday
Feb172016

Judy by the Numbers: "In Between"

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


At age 16, Judy Garland already had six pictures and three years as a studio contract player under her belt. Judy's seventh picture would reteam her with Mickey Rooney for her first in many guest appearances in the wildly popular Andy Hardy series. Judy was worked hard - rumors of how hard include studio "medication" and rigid diets - and over the course of her MGM career she would average 3 pictures per year. The result was studio stardom at the expense of self. But incredibly, she never showed it when she sang.

The Movie: Love Finds Andy Hardy (MGM 1938)
The Songwriter: Roger Edens
The Players: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Lana Turner, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden directed by George B. Seitz

The Story: Young Judy was on a roll, but her biggest smashes were still to come. After the success of Thoroughbreds Don't Cry, it became clear to the studio that Judy and Mickey had something together--at least onscreen. Their lifelong friendship translated to innocent romance on celluloid, though offscreen Rooney was busy chasing the newly-minted "Sweater Girl" Lana Turner, who was only a year older than Judy. Turner plays a naive proto-vamp in Love Finds Andy Hardy too. It's telling that even though there's only a small difference between their ages, Turner was an overnight sex symbol while Judy was dressed in frills and sang about being "too young for boys." It was a false formula, but it worked. Judy would continue to play young and naive for the next 8 years.