TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS DAY 4 - JUDY GARLAND
Today’s Summer Under the Stars Pick is SUMMER STOCK (1950), Judy Garland’s Technicolor swan song at MGM after 15 years, 27 features, and the lead role in perhaps the most beloved film of all time.
Directed by Charles Walters, SUMMER STOCK is no WIZARD OF OZ, but it’s still a fun, standard-issue movie musical. Eleven years after her trip over the rainbow, Garland once again plays a lonely farm girl yearning for something more. And she gets it when her actress sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven) shows up unannounced with plans to stage a show in the family barn. Jane (Garland) agrees on one condition: the cast must help her with farm work. Animal-related hilarity ensues.
Things get complicated when Jane falls for her sister’s boyfriend Joe (Gene Kelly). And when Abigail leaves in a fit of pique, true love takes its course in the form of the most absurdly elaborate production numbers even staged in a barn.
5 Reasons to Watch:
1. Like many films of the Studio Era, the supporting cast is as much of a draw as the leads. When Eddie Bracken, Marjorie Main, Phil Silvers, Ray Collins, Hans Conreid, and Carleton Carpenter are on your team, you’ve got a killer bench. Bracken is particularly hilarious doing his nervous nebbish bit as shopkeeper Orville Wingait, though his character here is far less likable than usual. And the large ensemble took some of the pressure off Garland, who was apparently not in good shape emotionally during production.
2. Judy sings “Happy Harvest” by Harry Warren (music) and Mack Gordon (lyrics) while driving an actual tractor. No rear projection fakery for the pride of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. And the whole sequence - choreographed by Nick Castle - is covered in exactly five shots. Amazing.
3. Gloria De Haven’s character has a conversation with Eddie Bracken’s that may have inspired a generation of second-wave feminists: “A woman doesn’t want to be asked,” Abigail tells Orville. “She wants to be told.” Ahem.
4. Appearing in their sixth film together (with leading roles in three), Garland and Kelly have a believably natural chemistry. “You’re wonderful,” Gene says to Judy toward the end of the film. “Every thing I could have hoped for in a leading lady.”
And Kelly delivers a solo number with a newspaper and the squeaky floor of a barn that is unforgettable. Seriously, if you don’t like it, then Studio Era musicals are probably not your thing, and never going to be.
5. "Get Happy" (music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Ted Koehler) is a perfect, joyous closing anthem for the movie, and for Garland’s career at MGM. Talk about going out on a high note.
One more thing: read the heartbreaking open letter Garland wrote to her fans in Modern Screen magazine in November, 1950, following the release of SUMMER STOCK. In an era where studios controlled publicity with military discipline and sought to maintain the fiction that film stars were flawless gods and goddesses, it’s a stunning example of the un-contrived vulnerability that is key to Garland’s appeal, and her longevity.
SUMMER STOCK airs today at 6 PM (ET). For the complete schedule and background on Garland, visit TCM’s site. The film is also available on DVD as part of the Greatest Classic Legends series from TCM. You can also read more about the film at Aurora’s Gin Joint.