Welcome to Tait College circa 1927, where football rules and romance is aplenty. This is Good News.
This film is a remake of the 1930 film musical, which was based on the 1927 play. (The 1930 version was a full-out Pre-Code production filled with sexual innuendos. By the 1940s, it was no longer screened in the US because of cinema censorship.) The 1947 version of the film, of course, is a lot more innocent.
The hottest man on campus (on the field and off) is Tommy Marlowe (Peter Lawford). Taking the opposite approach of the female classmates who are interested in him, Tommy decides that acting disinterested is the only good way to win a girl over.
Tommy’s plan is tested when he meets the new girl on campus, Pat McClellan (Patricia Marshall). Pat is a recent finishing school graduate who likes to show off her sophistication, especially to the opposite sex. She pledges at the Phi Gamma Gamma sorority and wins over the attention of the entire football team.
When Tommy shows interest in her, Pat immediately rejects his romantic advances and, with it, piques his interest even more.
Because Pat rejects him using a French term, Tommy decides that the way to make her fall in love with him is by enlisting the librarian on campus to teach him French. The librarian just so happens to be Connie Lane, portrayed by June Allyson.
Connie is secretly in love with Tommy and is naturally upset that he is pursuing Pat, but she consents to his request and begins French lessons with him.
Tommy eventually falls in love with Connie as the lessons continue. Of course, that just makes everything complicated, as Tommy began taking French lessons in order to pass his class, which would ensure him a spot on the field at the big football game…which would ultimately lead him straight into the arms of Pat. So…yeah.
One of my favorite parts of the film is when Tommy and Connie sing “The Best Things in Life Are Free”. It’s sweet, reassuring and, well, innocent.
Tommy goes back and forth with his feelings toward Connie and Pat, which upsets Connie a great deal.
Finally, Tommy comes to his senses and realizes that Connie is the girl for him. By that point, Connie realizes that he really loves her and they get together.
Seeing as Good News is a 1940s MGM musical production, no real blossoming romance can be verified until a big song and dance number is presented to celebrate it.
As seen in Good News, June Allyson thrived at the girl-next-door roles she was often given during her time acting in Hollywood films. With her distinct husky voice, cheerful attitude, and wholesome looks, she became a huge star at MGM in the 1940s.
Bonus video: The Varsity Drag number from the 1930 film version of Good News – It’s even more fun than the ’47 version, honestly. It’s crazy.
“Miss Brown, what idiot ever told you you were a dancer?”
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.
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.
Christmas is over and the new year is here. So, you know what that means: Summer is right around the corner. Well, practically. What better way to celebrate than by talking about Esther Williams?
Okay, so it took me twenty years to watch an Esther Williams film.
It took a girl who spent many hours of her childhood watching old musicals and classic romance films that long to watch one of those movies. How? Well, I don’t know. I just never really got around to watching her movies until just after she passed away in the summer of 2013.
I remember sitting down one night right in front of the TV (I think I had actually just discovered Seven Brides for Seven Brothers that night. I watched it for the first time on an old VHS given to me. Edgy.)
“America’s Mermaid” passed away on June 6th of that year. TCM (Turner Classic Movies) was running a marathon of her swimming films as tribute to her life and legacy. I remember learning of her death on that June day. I first heard about it through social media, where I follow a lot of other film fans and often find the news first. It was shocking, but I realized that I hadn’t seen any of her films before. I knew, however, that she was a unique talent. I just didn’t know how unique.
As I began to discover her films, I learned that both of my Grandmas were really familiar with her films. I guess that’s not surprising, as she was huge in the 1940s and ’50s. My Grandma Riggs was an especially big fan of Esther’s. She’s told me about the wonderful memories she has of going to the local movie theater to watch her musicals. I hope I’m lucky enough to watch at least one Esther Williams musical on the big screen someday. I can’t imagine how vibrant they must look full-scale.
The first Esther movie I watched was Million Dollar Mermaid (1952). I watched and I was entranced by everything Esther. She was this magical, beautiful mermaid…but in human form. No fins, no tail, but a mermaid in every other possible way.
Here’s one of her musical/synchronized swimming numbers from the film – choreographed by the one and only Busby Berkeley:
And can we talk about her film fashion for a moment? She wore the most beautiful bathing suits in her movies and her non-bathing attire was always gorgeous, too.
Although the plots in a typical Esther Williams movie are not filled with much complexity, their escapist plots -and, of course, the water ballets- are really what drew people in to to watch her. The idea of movies built around synchronized swimming may sound really cheesy to anyone not familiar with her films. But they were marvelous. MGM made each of her swimming numbers extravagant. (Side note: did MGM ever not do extravagant in the ’40s and ’50s?)
Oh, and how can I forget about the romantic plots/subplots? Esther Williams’s musicals were always filled with romance. She was often paired with dreamboats Van Johnson (check out Thrill of a Romance if you’re in the mood for a cute movie), Ricardo Montalbán (my personal pick is Neptune’s Daughter), and Howard Keel.
Esther was still active in her later years, despite suffering from a stroke in 2007. Among other achievements, a swimming pool company named itself after her, she created her own line of bathing suits (over at esther-williams.com, a number of bathing suits inspired by Esther are still being sold), and she appeared at the 1984 Olympics as a synchronized swimming commentator.
Today, many people remember her as one of the most effervescent stars of her time. The world really loved her.
I don’t know how many times I’ve talked/made references about Meet Me 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”.
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!