“You think anything’s going to stand in the way of us playing the Palace this time? Oh no, not even a war.”
For Me and My Gal was released in theaters in late 1942, when America was fully emerged in World War II. After the US entered the War in December 1941, Hollywood joined in on the war effort in its own ways. One of these efforts was making movies in support of America and its men and women who were serving overseas.
The film was directed by Busby Berkeley, who is probably best known today for the distinctive musical numbers he choreographed in several highly successful Depression-era musicals at Warner Brothers, including 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933.
For Me and My Gal is actually set during WWI, but its patriotic themes were easily translated to the then present-day situation.
The film opens as vaudeville singer and dancer Harry Palmer (Gene Kelly) meets fellow vaudeville performers Jo Hayden (Judy Garland) and Jimmy Metcalfe (George Murphy). Hayden and Matcalfe are partners in an act who happen to be performing at the same small-time venue as Harry.
Upon stepping off the train into the new town, Harry gives Jo the once-over, catcall whistles at her, and their exchange goes like this:
Harry: “Hello, Springtime.”
Jo, looking up at the sky/rolling her eyes
“…Aren’t you a little out of season?”
This is the first exchange ever shared by Judy and Gene onscreen and you can already sense that red-hot chemistry between them. For the first half of this film, it also begins a rocky relationship between the two characters.
There’s a scene in which Jo and Jimmy’s act does a song-and-dance number early on in the film (this video includes some unused audio, as well):
This number doesn’t resemble the style typically seen in Busby Berkeley musicals. In fact, nearly every musical number in the film is shot in a rather straightforward fashion in order to illustrate his vision of what a vaudeville performance looked like from the perspective of an audience member.
One evening, Harry invites Jo out for coffee and she accepts. Harry, who is far too cocky for his own good, realizes how great they would be together and decides he’s going to do everything in his power to snatch Jo up for himself. He shows her what they could be when he sits down at the piano in the cafe and begins to play the tune “For Me and My Gal”, which was first recorded in 1917.
Once they begin singing and dancing together, there’s no going back.
After Harry offers Jo a chance to team up with him and hit the big time, Jo also realizes that they would make a terrific pair but dreads the idea of hurting Jimmy by breaking up their act. After Jo and Harry discuss the idea, Jo returns to her hotel and Jimmy asks her if Harry offered her a chance to join him in an act. Jimmy, who is secretly in love with Jo, sees how interested she is and graciously tells her that he was thinking of breaking up the act anyway and that she should join Harry.
Harry and Jo officially team up as “Palmer and Hayden” and aim to make the big-time together. They begin performing together in other small towns, trying their best to work their way up to the New York stage.
Their relationship becomes complicated when Harry meets vaudeville sensation Eve Minard (Marta Eggerth). He becomes starry-eyed and begins to spend a lot of time with her, hoping to join her act. Jo, who is secretly in love with Harry, becomes upset and confides in Jimmy, who obviously understands what it’s like to be in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate.
Their relationship becomes even more complicated when Harry receives a draft notice. He makes a terrible decision in hopes of furthering his career and afterward finally realizes how much of a jerk and opportunist he’s been.
So, what’s to come of Harry’s future in vaudeville and with Jo…?
The second half of the film includes several popular World War I-era songs, including “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag”, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”.
For Me and My Gal was one of the biggest cinematic hits of 1942, grossing over $4,000,000 worldwide. It was later released on VHS in 1988 and DVD in 2004.
Although it’s not one of Berkeley, Garland, or Kelly’s best films, musical film fans (especially those who enjoy Judy Garland and Gene Kelly) may appreciate its nostalgic numbers and fluffy plot. If anything, it’s cool to see where Gene Kelly started in Hollywood and how far Garland’s star had risen (and would continue to rise) in one of her first “adult” roles.
This post is part of the Busby Berkeley Blogathon hosted by Annette at Hometowns to Hollywood.