Today, we’ve got a Judy Garland double-feature! Ok, so it’s like last week’s Bob Hope double-feature, where I have one new review, and updated comments on the other due to a recent Blu-ray release (in this case, it’s her 1948 film The Pirate). So, for today’s new review, we have her classic 1946 musical The Harvey Girls! Of course, we’ll throw in a fun theatrical short to start us off, and then it’s on with the movie!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Magical Maestro (1952)
(Available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 2 from Warner Archive Collection)
(Length: 6 minutes, 31 seconds)
After a magician is thrown out by opera singer Spike (also known as “The Great Poochini”), he gets his revenge by taking the place of the conductor and using his magic wand to wreak havoc on Spike’s performance. This was a another fun cartoon, with all the gags and costume changes (and song changes) that the magician forces Spike to go through! And it even throws in a gag with a hair on the screen (so, yes, it belongs there, even with the wonderful restoration this short underwent)! Sure, there are a couple of dated moments that won’t go over well, such as Spike being turned into a Chinese character at one point and wearing blackface at another. Still, those moments go by in a flash, and this cartoon is otherwise a lot fun, full of laughs from start to finish!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Civilization (and femininity) are coming to the Wild West! All along the Santa Fe railroad, Harvey House restaurants have been popping up, taming down the unruly towns. Now, their next destination is the town of Sandrock, Arizona, and the women that will be waitresses are taking the train to get there. Also on that train is Susan Bradley (Judy Garland), who is answering a matrimonial ad from H. H. Hartsey (Chill Wills). However, when she arrives, she doesn’t find him to be what she expected (and vice versa), and they agree not to get married. She learns that he is not the person that she had corresponded with, but that it was Ned Trent (John Hodiak), the owner of the local Alhambra saloon. She goes there to tell him off (and gains his interest) before she goes to join the rest of the Harvey girls. Of course, they’re not without their troubles, too. The local judge, Sam Purvis (Preston Foster), doesn’t want the Harvey House restaurant there, as he is opposed to the threats of the town becoming more civilized (not to mention he also gets a cut from the Alhambra, which he fears will decrease with the competition). Susan helps the girls to keep the Harvey House going, in spite of their troubles, and finds herself falling for Ned, much to the dismay of dance hall girl (and Ned’s girlfriend) Em (Angela Lansbury). Ned wants to keep things honest in his dealings with the Harvey House, and tries to get the judge to stop (but, obviously, he doesn’t). Will the Harvey girls win out (and will Susan and Ned get together)? Or will the judge and his ilk be victorious?
The Harvey Girls is based on the 1942 novel of the same name by Samuel Hopkins Adams. MGM bought the film rights, intending it as a vehicle for Lana Turner. Associate producer Roger Edens saw a production of the stage show Oklahoma!, and the plans were changed. Judy Garland was approached for the film, but she wasn’t interested, as she really wanted to work with Fred Astaire (for what would turn out to be Yolanda And The Thief at the time). Still, they were able to convince her to do The Harvey Girls instead, and it worked out well for her! The film was a hit, and the song “On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe” became a big hit for her (not to mention winning the Best Song Oscar that year)!
I’ve only had the chance to see this movie a handful of times over the years (mostly because I never quite got around to getting it on home video until now), but it’s one I’ve always enjoyed! Judy Garland is her usual fantastic self here! As a character that didn’t start out wanting to be a Harvey Girl, she sure did her best at it (and tried to be tough enough to get the town to come around)! The music (by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer) is a lot of fun, with “On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe” a particularly catchy earworm of a tune! But I also enjoy “Swing Your Partner Round And Round” and a few others! And while he only gets one solo dance, Ray Bolger is still fun here, with his own inimitable style of dancing!
Now, I will admit the movie isn’t perfect. As a whole, I’m not really fond of John Hodiak as the leading man, as his performance just doesn’t work for me. I’m also not thrilled with the disappearance of Virginia O’Brien’s character partway through the movie. I understand it from the perspective that, offscreen, this movie took a long time to film and she was pregnant at the time (and it became too difficult to hide it). However, the movie itself doesn’t explain her complete disappearance after the song “The Wild, Wild West” (which seems strange, considering her character and Judy Garland’s were supposed to be friends). Still, these are minor quibbles for me, and they’re not enough to keep me away from this film! It’s a wonderful, well-known musical (and for good reason), and it’s one I have no trouble whatsoever giving some of my highest recommendations!
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection. This release utilizes a restoration from a 4K scan of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives, and it shows! The transfer just pops with color, looking just like one would hope it should! The detail is amazing here, and there’s no dirt or specks or anything else to mar the picture! A wonderful release that includes some deleted scenes from the movie, as well as some audio scoring stage sessions for most of the music, plus “On The Atchison, Topeka And the Santa Fe” in stereo, for those that want to hear it that way! A highly recommended release, and one of the best-looking of the year!
Film Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
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