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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.

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