1940s Film, musicals

For Me and My Gal (1942)

“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.

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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.

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Gene Kelly and Judy Garland with director Busby Berkeley

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.”

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Jo, looking up at the sky/rolling her eyes

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“…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.

 

 

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1940s Film, Holidays in Film, musicals

“Easter Parade”

“Miss Brown, what idiot ever told you you were a dancer?”
“You did!”

In 1948, MGM released a vibrant Technicolor musical called Easter Parade. Originally, Gene Kelly had been cast as Don Hewes, Cyd Charisse was cast as Nadine Hale, and Frank Sinatra was cast as Jonathan Harrow III. Because of various circumstances, the cast was completely switched around. The finished product starred Fred Astaire as Don, Judy Garland as Hannah Brown (as planned), Ann Miller as Nadine, and Peter Lawford as Jonathan Harrow III.

The story, set in 1912 and 1913, begins as a Broadway star named Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) receives the crushing news that his partner Nadine (Ann Miller) is suddenly quitting the act. Nadine tells him that she’s received an offer to go solo and Don tries to persuade her to stay with him. They go into a lovely song and dance number (“It Only Happens When I Dance with You”) and she seems to be persuaded to stay…until Don’s charming and handsome friend, Jonathan Harrow III (Peter Lawford), walks in to the apartment. Nadine has obviously moved on from Don to Jonathan.

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(courtesy of doctormacro.com)

When it looks like Nadine can no longer be persuaded to stay, Don sets out to prove to her that he can find any ordinary chorus girl and turn her into a star. He wants to make her jealous. Enter Hannah Brown (Judy Garland). Hannah is a singer and dancer working at a local bar. She catches Don’s eye, so he grabs her off the stage, tells her to quit her job, and meet him for her first lesson the next day.

As Don tries to model Hannah after Nadine (Hannah has no idea about the scheme), he attempts to teach her how to dance exactly like Nadine, dress like her, and even have her name changed to something similar (Juanita). In one of the scenes, he even tries to teach Hannah how to be “exotic” and extra attractive to men. It really shows off Judy’s underrated comedic gift:

As the story progresses, love triangles unfold and cheery musical numbers ensue. This is one of the most memorable numbers in the film, sung and tapped wonderfully – as always – by Ann Miller:

Easter Parade is one of my personal favorite musicals. I think part of that is because it’s one of the movies I watched a lot when I was little. I often talk about movies that I watched as a child on here because many of them have made a huge impact on me. I love reminiscing about watching movies like this one with a different view of the world. Fortunately, I still watch Easter Parade with the same childlike amusement as I did when I was six. I’m really grateful for that.

However, I will say that as I’ve gotten older, I now think that Hannah should’ve chosen Jonathan instead of Don. As much as it pains me to say that Fred Astaire shouldn’t have been chosen, I’m one of those people that thinks she’d be so much happier with Jonathan. Maybe “Fella with an Umbrella” has something to do with it, but I mean it!

Having said that, I still think the ending is adorable. I can’t easily argue with a happy Judy and Fred. I hope you all have a happy Easter! Go drum crazy, shake the blues away, and sing to someone you love in the rain.

Before you go, here’s a bonus musical number that was cut from the final print of the film. Notice that Judy is wearing the same suit that she’d wear two years later in Summer Stock during the iconic “Get Happy” number.

1940s Film, musicals

 “Meet Me in St. Louis”: A Love Letter 15+ Years in the Making

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The VHS I used to watch had this cover. Nostalgia is on high level. Thanks, internet.

I don’t know how many times I’ve talked/made references about Meet Meet_Me_In_St_Louis_PosterMe in St. Louis (1944), but it’s a big, big, big number. I watched it a lot with my Grandma Riggs, who played a big part in introducing me to a handful of classic movies, especially of  the musical genre. It’s a film that, in my eyes, is pure magic–darn near perfect. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been a Missouri girl all my life, so maybe I’m a bit biased.

Meet Me in St. Louis, a story based on writer Sally Benson’s childhood experiences in turn-of-the-century St. Louis, is divided into four vignettes: Summer 1903, Autumn 1903, Winter 1903, and Spring 1904. It follows the Smiths, an upper-middle class family whose members each looking forward to something in the year of 1903:

The film opens:

Lon (Henry H. Daniels, Jr.), the oldest sibling and only son, is looking forward to attending college at Princeton. The two oldest sisters, Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) are giddily looking forward to the World’s Fair which is to take place in Spring of 1904. The two younger sisters Tootie (brilliant Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes (Joan Carroll) are up to their own shenanigans. Tootie, the youngest of the family, is hilariously morbid. She’s five years old and owns a doll that has “four fatal diseases”.

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Esther (Judy Garland) wears a beautiful tennis dress in the first scene of the film. I’ve always loved it.

The second oldest daughter, Esther, is introduced as she arrives home one lovely summer afternoon after finishing a match of tennis with her friends. She runs up the porch steps, enters the house, and promptly tells Rose to accompany her to sit on the porch, as she has sighted the boy next door — AKA the boy of her dreams. Here’s the catch: Esther has never even spoken to John Truett (Tom Drake), the neighbor in question.

The scene in which Esther and Rose glide onto the porch is, for some reason, one that I really adore. And this brings me to one aspect of the film which enriches it so much: the rich, vibrant Technicolor.

In this scene, John is standing casually in his front yard smoking a pipe. Esther and Rose sit down on the edge of the porch and pretend not to notice John, but at the same time get him to notice them. The camera does a sudden close-up on Esther’s face in one brief shot, showing her beaming face set against the blooming flowers on the porch, a soft-shot focus, and swelling music. It’s absolutely lovely. Vincente Minnelli–who directed this film–really was creating his own art.

After they return indoors, Rose brushes off Esther’s crush on her way upstairs and reassures her that “…When you get to be my age, you’ll find out there are more important things in life than boys.”

Esther responds accordingly:


I love every little detail in this film: how the four season title cards begin with a beautiful photo, pretty music, and goes right into motion; the absolutely gorgeous use of Technicolor and the costuming/sets which amplified the color; the occasional off-color/morbid humor exhibited by little Tootie…

OH. Tootie, oh, Tootie. Where do I begin with her?

In the Halloween scene, Tootie becomes the heralded daredevil of the neighborhood when she single-handedly marches to the door of “the meanest” man on the block, rings his door bell, and lobs a clump of flour in his face. The hit signifies a “kill”, the object of the game played on Halloween. Very Tootie. She is praised as the bravest of the group.

After that, a group – including Tootie and Agnes – (off camera at this point) stage a prank on the trolley car. They dress up a doll that looks like a person and place it on the tracks hoping that the trolley will derail. Fortunately, the trolley is kept safe and Tootie escapes the law after John Truett pulls her away from the scene and hides her in a shed. Well, Tootie – being Tootie – decides to glitz the story up to something that it’s not:

And who could forget the cakewalk number at Lon’s going away party?

I love how many classic film fans enjoy watching Meet Me in St. Louis during the holidays. I never thought of it as a Christmas movie until seeing people talk about it online over the past few years.

Probably because of the fact that I watched it all the time when I was kid, it never dawned on me that it worked really well as a Christmas movie. Now I can’t resist curling up late at night in late December to watch this and all of the other amazing classic films that pop up during the season.

One of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time was created specifically for this film and one of the best snowman-decapitating scenes follows (but for real, this scene…): 


When it was released in 1944, the majority of the public and critics sang praises. TIME Magazine called it “one of the year’s prettiest pictures” and gave little Margaret O’Brien a rave review: “[Her] song and her cakewalk done in a nightgown at a grown-up party are entrancing acts. Her self-terrified Halloween adventures richly set against firelight, dark streets, and the rusty confabulations of fallen leaves, bring this section of the film very near the first-rate.”


As a bonus, here’s a deleted song that was written not by the film’s musical composer Hugh Martin but Rodgers & Hammerstein. It’s really lovely and it was meant to be sung in a scene between Esther and John when they visit the fairground construction site. Better yet, this is a raw recording, so you can hear Judy talk a little bit in between recording. Producer Arthur Freed said that the musical number slowed down the movie too much. I’ll let you decide for yourselves:

The musical number you can’t miss: “The Trolley Song

Do you have any special memories of watching Meet Me in St. Louis? Please share them with me!