Tag Archives: Judy Garland

Top Ten: Judy Garland Films

When I was younger, I went through a phase of wanting to celebrate my favorite stars’ birthdays by watching their movies. The only one I managed to very successfully was Judy Garland, whose birthday on June 10th I celebrated with marathon viewings several years in a row. To this day, June 10th never comes around with me thinking of Judy, one of the greatest entertainers of all time. At this point, I’ve seen all but a handful of her films, so let’s use Flickchart to see what my favorites are.

Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.

10 – Ziegfeld Follies (1946)

In the 1940s, several of the studios had such impressive arrays of talent under contract that they liked to do films that basically just showcased them all. Musicals were great ways to do this, since they could just cram in musical numbers featuring different people. Ostensibly a recreation of the Follies of Broadway fame, and starring William Powell reprising his role as Ziegfeld from 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld in a very thin frame device, this is really just a series of sketches and musical numbers with no connecting material whatsoever. It’s a revue, pure and simple, something that never really caught on in film, despite a few attempts in the late 1920s. So calling this “a Judy Garland film” is a bit of a stretch, since she appears in one sketch and that’s it. But she’s pretty hilarious in it, and I do enjoy the movie as a whole, which is a pretty great excuse for a lot of solid singing and dancing, and some fair to middling comedy. Garland’s bit is “A Great Lady Gives an Interview,” a pastiche on an actress who thinks she’s all that (the role was apparently supposed to go to Greer Garson in a bit of self-parody, but I guess it hit a little too close to home and she refused to do it). It’s over the top, but Garland seems to be having a ball with it.

9 – Presenting Lily Mars (1943)

I have this much higher on my list than it appears on Flickchart’s global list (where it’s near the bottom of Garland’s filmography), partially because it’s not that well known and I doubt many Flickcharters have seen it, but it also seems to be relatively maligned even among classic movie fans. I remember looking it up in Leonard Maltin’s guide (I did that for almost everything I watched back then), and being severely disappointed that he gave it ** stars, or maybe even *1/2. I even remember the gist of the one-line review: “Well, there she is, and there the movie festers.” Okay, so it ain’t a masterpiece. But it’s one of Garland’s first adult roles, and she’s fresh-faced and delightful as the title character dogging Van Heflin’s producer to try to get a job on Broadway. Along the way are numbers like “Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son” showcase not only Judy’s magnificent pipes, but her burgeoning talent as a comedienne as well.

8 – The Pirate (1948)

This highly underrated movie was something of a flop when first released; you can kind of see why, as its story of a young girl infatuated with tales of the pirate Mack the Black and a circus performer who gets mistaken for said pirate is a bit all over the place, and the musical numbers fall toward the overly frenzied. This is a fever dream of a movie in a time period that was used to far less outre entertainment. Today parts of the film might fall under the classification of camp, as in Judy’s wild performance of “Mack the Black” (in the film, she’s under the power of hypnosis and revealing her innermost passions), while others are simply fantastically silly, like Gene Kelly being outdanced by the Nicholas Brothers in Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown.” Supporting turns from the always dependable Mildred Natwick and Walter Slezak don’t hurt, either.

Continue reading Top Ten: Judy Garland Films

Happy Birthday, Judy Garland

Back when I was a Hollywood musicals-obsessed kid, Judy Garland was understandably one of my favorite performers. By the time I was 15, I could count the number of her films I HADN’T seen on one hand. As a youngster with lots of time and parents who encouraged my classic film obsession, I made many attempts to form marathons to watch favorite stars’ films on their birthdays, but the Judy Garland one is the only one I stuck with for years in a row – even today, when I see June 10th looming on a calendar, her name immediately springs to my lips, as if an old childhood friend’s birthday was once again right around the corner.

As I grew older, my appreciation for her bigger-than-life talent and her courage in the face of personal hardship only grew as well, along with an unshakeable sense that not only was she a great singer (undeniable by anyone who’s ever heard her sing), but she was also an underrated actress, as evidenced not only by her perfect control of emotion while singing, but also in her few purely dramatic roles like The Clock and Judgement at Nuremberg, and a gifted comedienne, as evidenced by her comic timing in most every film, and her satirical performance in numbers like “A Great Lady Has an Interview” in Ziegfeld Follies (watch). In short, Judy was the consummate performer, managing to be relatable and awe-inspiring at the same time, and we haven’t seen anyone to match her since.

In fact, if she has any faults as an actress, it’s that she comes across as a bit too excited, too eager to do whatever the current film role calls for – put on a show, win the man that probably doesn’t deserve her, civilize the old west with the Harvey company, go to the World’s Fair. Her eagerness belies the tragedy of her real life, yet that shone through as well, in flashes of very real melancholy – just watch the Christmas sequence of Meet Me in St. Louis and listen to the way her throat catches when singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (see below). From her fresh-faced youth in the string of “let’s put on a show” movies with Mickey Rooney through her banner years as one of MGM’s top leading ladies and into her later years as a concert star, Judy never failed to entertain and move her audience, and never failed to show inspiring courage no matter how difficult her personal circumstances might be.

The culmination of her career is undoubtably 1954’s A Star is Born, not only her finest performance ever, but also being something of a comeback, a triumphant return after four years off-screen following Summer Stock and MGM’s termination of her long-term contract (she’d been with them since 1936). In a way, the film parallels her own life, with its story of a young singer “born in a trunk” and in show business from an early age, then discovered (undergoing a name change from Esther Blodgett to Vicki Lester; Judy’s real name was Frances Gumm) and put in movies, hitting success almost immediately but also finding great tragedy in her personal life. Of course, in the film, that tragedy is the decline of her husband, has-been actor Norman Maine (James Mason), and in real life it was her own struggle with addiction and self-image. Thus the film also contains an ironic edge as it actually marks Judy’s last great film musical, whereas in the film, Vicki Lester’s career is only beginning.

Though Judy has several lifetimes worth of great performances during her 47 years, her rendition of “The Man that Got Away” in A Star is Born is possibly her best, going from an impromptu casual performance to a full-on, all-out performance by the end. It’s heartbreaking and breathtaking, and never fails to remind me why I will always be a big fan of Judy Garland, and why I will always want to celebrate her birthday every June 10th. She is and always will be a legend, and today she would be 90 years old. Happy birthday, Judy.

And here’s a few bonus tracks, largely from a simply fantastic 2-disc set called “Judy Garland: Collector’s Gems from the MGM Films,” which has a ton of content from her tenure at MGM (1936-1949), including a bunch of alternate versions and outtakes, INCLUDING most of the soundtrack she recorded for Annie Get Your Gun before her health forced her off the project. One of those songs, “Let’s Go West Again,” was never included in the final film with Betty Hutton.

Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (outtake) from Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)

Tom, Tom, The Piper’s Son from Presenting Lily Mars (1943)

Have Yourself a Merry Christmas from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

I’ve Got The Sun In The Morning (outtake) from Annie Get Your Gun (1949)

Let’s Go West, Again (outtake) from Annie Get Your Gun (1949)

And then a couple from the essential “Judy at Carnegie Hall” 2-disc set. I don’t usually like live albums that much, but this one is absolutely incredible. I particularly like her take on “San Francisco” because not only is it a great vocal performance, but it shows, even in just the audio, Judy’s indomitable sense of humor as she gently digs at Jeanette MacDonald (who I also like very much, but whose light operetta voice is pretty much the opposite of Judy’s, and was totally wrong for the song “San Francisco,” even though it did become an inexplicable trademark for her).

San Francisco

Come Rain or Come Shine