Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Easter Parade (1948)

Happy Easter! Happy Easter! Happy Easter to you! We’re here now for the classic 1948 MGM musical Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire!

Right before Easter, vaudevillian dancer Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) goes on a shopping spree, getting gifts for his dance partner and girlfriend Nadine Hale (Ann Miller). When he stops at her apartment, they are joined by their friend, college student Jonathan “Johnny” Harrow III (Peter Lawford). In front of both of them, Nadine reveals that she has signed a contract to do a show by herself, upsetting Don. Don heads off to a nearby bar, followed by Johnny, who tries to convince him to go back to Nadine. In his drunken state, Don brags that he can teach any girl to dance as well as Nadine. After Johnny leaves, Don picks one of the girls from the floor show, Hannah Brown (Judy Garland), and tells her to meet him the next day. She has no idea who he is at first, so Hannah turns him down. After he leaves, she quickly realizes just who he is and quits her job. Sobered up, Don still keeps his word (even after learning that Hannah can’t tell her right side from her left), and tries to teach her to dance. He tries to give her a makeover (complete with a new, exotic name like “Juanita” and new dresses that don’t suit her style), but, in the process, he essentially turns her into an imitation of Nadine (which doesn’t go over well). After a lunch with Nadine (who points this fact out to him), Don decides to stop doing what they have been doing, and let Hannah be Hannah. Now that they’re doing things their own way, they start to enjoy some success, even auditioning for Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. Their new job is almost set. That is, until Don realizes that it was Ziegfeld who Nadine had signed with, and that she would be the star of the Ziegfeld Follies (so Don turns it down). Hannah, meanwhile, has met Johnny, who quickly falls for her and tries to go out with her. To his dismay, he learns that she has feelings for Don (which he isn’t reciprocating), but Johnny still tries to be her friend. The Follies turns out to be a hit, but Don meets with another Broadway impresario, Charles Dillingham, who plans to build a show around Don and Hannah! Don wants to celebrate with Hannah, but she balks when his “dinner plans” turn out to be nothing more than a discussion about plans for the show. However, Don softens up, and realizes that he does love Hannah. Their show turns out to be a big hit, but, when they celebrate at Ziegfeld’s roof garden restaurant, a jealous Nadine cajoles an almost too eager Don into dancing with her (much to Hannah’s dismay). Since she left partway through the dance, Don tries to explain everything later, but Hannah, fed up with being used by Don to get Nadine’s attention, refuses to listen to him. Will Don and Hannah get back together, or is their partnership fully dissolved?

As I mentioned in my review of Holiday Inn (1942), composer Irving Berlin wrote a song called “Smile And Show Your Dimple” in 1917, but he repurposed the melody with new lyrics (and the new song title of “Easter Parade”) for the 1933 Broadway revue As Thousands Cheer. In 1938, Twentieth Century Fox released Alexander’s Ragtime Band, a film which collected a number of tunes from composer Irving Berlin’s catalog (including “Easter Parade”) plus a few new songs written specifically for the film. The film proved to be a hit, and Irving Berlin returned several times more over the next decade or so with other film musicals featuring his songs (both old and new). After the success of Blue Skies (1946) over at Paramount Pictures, Irving Berlin went back to 20th Century Fox to pitch the idea of a film built around the tune “Easter Parade” (which had previously served as partial inspiration for the concept of the film Holiday Inn). His requested fee (and demanded share of the profits) was too much for Fox, but MGM was a lot more willing to accede to his demands. So, they took on the project, with Vincente Minelli set to direct it, and Judy Garland and Gene Kelly as the main cast. However, Judy was really having trouble behind-the-scenes doing The Pirate (1948). Her psychiatrist suggested that she associated her troubles at the studio with her husband, and so Vincente Minelli was removed from the picture (with Charles Walters taking over). Injuries plagued the cast, with Gene Kelly breaking his ankle and Cyd Charisse (who was to play Nadine) breaking her leg. Gene convinced Fred Astaire to come out of retirement for his role, and Ann Miller (having just signed with MGM) was cast as Nadine. Fred and Judy got along fine, and audiences liked it as well, making it the highest-grossing musical of the year.

Easter Parade is one of those movies that I’ve seen many, many times since I first discovered it back in the early aughts. For me, the combination of Blue Skies and this film cemented my interest in not only Fred Astaire, but also the music of Irving Berlin (also helped, in the case of Irving Berlin, by White Christmas). Quite frankly, I think this score is a lot of fun, and I could easily list most of the music from this film as songs that I like. For Fred himself, I really like the songs “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” and “Drum Crazy” (with Fred himself playing the drums!), whereas Judy has the wonderful “I Want To Go Back To Michigan.” Together, they have the whole “I Love A Piano” montage and the song “A Couple Of Swells,” both of which are so much fun to see every time I watch the movie (as is Peter Lawford’s “A Fella With An Umbrella”)!

This is a wonderful movie that I very much enjoy watching around Easter. I know the connection to the holiday is barely there (depending on your beliefs), with some references to the Easter Rabbit, and the old tradition of wearing special outfits for the day. But I like to think that the variety in color shown onscreen heralds the arrival of spring. Of course, in some respects, it’s just an excuse to watch a wonderful movie once a year, particularly at a time when it readily cheers you up! I will admit, the music doesn’t really serve the plot or characters, but I don’t think it needs to with this movie! So, yes, do yourself a favor and give this one a try!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Home Video.

“I’m just a fella. A fella with an umbrella…”

Film Length: 1 hour, 43 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #1 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2019

**ranked #1 in Top 10 Film Musicals

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Pirate (1948) – Judy Garland – In The Good Old Summertime (1949)

Blue Skies (1946)Fred AstaireThe Band Wagon (1953)

Good News (1947) – Peter Lawford – Never So Few (1959)

Ann Miller – On The Town (1949)

Jules Munshin – Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949)

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