An Old-Fashioned Christmas Movie On The Farm (2021) with… In The Good Old Summertime (1949)

We’re back for one final post in the “What’s Old Is A New Release Again” series to finish out 2021.  This one is on the 1949 Christmas musical In The Good Old Summertime starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Chicago, The Beautiful (1948)

(Available as an extra on the In The Good Old Summertime Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 10 minutes, 15 seconds)

This short from MGM’s series of TravelTalk shorts (narrated by James A. FitzPatrick) focuses on the American city of Chicago.  We get to see some of the city and its landmarks (particularly from the era of the late 1940s).  Those include several of the city’s big hotels, the old Watertower, Buckingham’s Fountain and Lorado Taft’s Fountain of Time, among others.  Seeing what the city looked like at that time is interesting, but this short probably has greater significance for those who consider the city home or have a great interest in the city and its history.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Night Life In Chicago (1948)

(Available as an extra on the In The Good Old Summertime Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 8 minutes, 53 seconds)

This is another TravelTalk short on the city of Chicago.  This time, the focus is on the various hotels and other places that offer entertainment at night.  Place shown include the Walnut Room of the Bismarck Hotel, the Ambassador Hotel’s Pump Room, and the boardwalk at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, with some of the performers shown doing their various acts.  It’s an interesting idea (and, to a degree, you can’t help but wish they could have shown a lot more of the entertainment), but when all is said and done, most of the performers are quite unfamiliar to the average person, which takes away from the fun (especially when you do see some more famous names on the marquees that don’t make an appearance in this short).

And Now For The Main Feature…

Andrew “Andy” Larkin (Van Johnson) is the top salesman at Oberkugen’s Music Company in Chicago.  He has recently begun corresponding with a lady when he answered a personal ad in the paper (but neither pen pal knows who the other is).  Andy runs into trouble at work when his boss, Mr. Otto Oberkugen (S. Z. Sakall), orders one hundred harps, as Andy believes that they won’t sell due to the lack of market (which, of course, angers Mr. Oberkugen, since he likes them).  In comes Veronica Fisher (Judy Garland), who is looking for a job.  Andy and Mr. Oberkugen try to tell her that there isn’t any opening at the store currently, but Mr. Oberkugen hires her when she manages to sell one of the harps successfully (which, of course, gets her on the wrong side of Andy).  Andy continues to write to his pen pal (with the two of them slowly falling for each other), but doesn’t get along with Veronica at work.  The remaining ninety-nine harps continue to stay on the shelves (even with Mr. Oberkugen frequently trying to discount them), which causes friction between him and his bookkeeper/longtime girlfriend, Nellie Burke (Spring Byington).  One day, when she is so frustrated that she decides not to go out with him that evening (claiming she has a date with another man), Mr. Oberkugen’s jealousy gets the better of him, and he orders all his employees to stay after work for inventory (which really bothers everybody).  When Nellie decides to apologize to Mr. Oberkugen, he realizes how unjust he was being, and lets everyone go.  Andy had arranged to meet his pen pal at a restaurant that night, but when he and his co-worker/friend Rudy Hansen (Clinton Sundberg) arrive at the restaurant, they find out that his pen pal is none other than Veronica!  Disappointed, Andy leaves, but comes back later and tries to talk with Veronica (who gets very annoyed with him for disturbing her while she waits for her friend).  When she finally gives up and leaves, she finds a carnation outside (which Andy was supposed to wear to help identify himself as her friend). She believes that her friend had seen the two of them together and left, which depresses her enough that she calls in sick the next day.  Andy comes to visit her on his lunch break, and sees how much she perks up when she receives her next letter from her friend.  The next day, Mr. Oberkugen and Nellie have a party to celebrate their engagement, but, much to Andy’s chagrin, Mr. Oberkugen asks him to sneak in his prized Stradivarius violin (which he plays at work when he is low, except he does it poorly, much to the dismay of his employees).  Unsure what to do, Andy ends up loaning it to his friend Louise Parkson (Marcia Van Dyke) for an audition that night.  When he arrives at the party, Andy is unable to tell Mr. Oberkugen that he loaned it out, pretending that he just couldn’t bear to bring it and left it at home. When Mr. Oberkugen vehemently insists that Andy bring the violin, Andy borrows Louise’s violin, which Hickey (Buster Keaton), Mr. Oberkugen’s nephew (and one of his employees), accidentally breaks when he goes to give it to his uncle.  Andy is fired, but he gets the Stradivarius back after Louise’s audition goes well.  With him out of a job now, will he reveal himself as Veronica’s pen pal, or will they continue to stay apart?

This film, a remake of The Shop Around The Corner, was being considered as early as 1944, with the likes of Frank Sinatra and June Allyson attached to the film at one point or another.  By the time they got around to filming, Judy Garland was struggling a great deal at MGM, having been suspended (due to her addictions and illness causing her to miss shooting) from The Barkleys Of Broadway (originally intended as a follow-up to her successful teaming with Fred Astaire in Easter Parade), with her later filming two songs for Words And Music.  She had recovered her strength enough to do In The Good Old Summertime, and she was able to get through filming fairly easily (compared to some of her recent films), which some attributed to the cast and crew helping make sure that she felt needed, wanted, and happy.  Buster Keaton, who had been fired as a star by MGM in 1933 (but kept on as gag writer), was asked to help come up with a plausible (yet still funny) way to break a violin, and was cast when the director, Robert Leonard, realized that he was the only one who could do it (and Buster also came up with the comic bit when Van Johnson and Judy Garland’s characters first met at the post office).  It turned out to be his last film at the studio (and the introduction of Judy Garland’s young daughter, Liza Minelli), but the movie proved to be a hit at the box office.

I had originally seen this movie prior to The Shop Around The Corner (but we’ll get around to comparing them later), and it’s one that I’ve seen many times.  Of course, with a title like In The Good Old Summertime, you’d think that this was more of a summer movie, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, as all but about thirty minutes (give or take) takes place during the Yuletide season!    With Judy Garland taking pretty much all the musical chores, that of course means that we get her singing a holiday song, in the form of “Merry Christmas.”  To be fair, the song pales in comparison to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” from Meet Me In St. Louis, but it certainly has its charm.  The real musical highlight of the film is Judy singing the song “I Don’t Care,” which is a lot of fun (and, quite frankly, Judy also looks like she’s having fun doing it)!  And while she doesn’t sing it, the title tune is also quite catchy (and prone to getting stuck in my head whenever I watch this movie)!  The rest of the cast makes this one enjoyable, too, especially S. Z. Sakall, who first made a big impression on me with this movie (and has been a fun character actor in every other film that I’ve seen him in since).  I do admit, the film’s biggest weakness is how underutilized Buster Keaton is, given that him breaking the violin is the only physical comedy bit that he does.   Still, this has always been a very entertaining movie for me to watch (at any time of the year, but especially around Christmas), and therefore, I have no qualms whatsoever in giving this film some of my highest recommendations!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… In The Good Old Summertime (1949)

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection.  The Blu-ray makes use of a 4K scan of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives and preservation separations, and the results are typical of Warner Archive.  In short, it’s a great transfer, which allows the color to pop, and improves the detail over the earlier DVD.  Plain and simple, it’s a great release that treats this wonderful holiday classic right!

Film Length: 1 hour, 43 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #6 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Easter Parade (1948) – Judy Garland – Summer Stock (1950)

Van Johnson – The Caine Mutiny (1954)

My Dream Is Yours (1949) – S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall – The Daughter Of Rosie O’Grady (1950)

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) – Buster Keaton

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