Summer Stock is where Judy Garland and Gene Kelly try to Get Happy. The duo had dominated the 1940s, yet it was time for all good things to end. After all, Judy in her 20s had to give way to something better. Who doesn’t loving Momma’s Gotta Dazzle style Judy Garland?
Judy Garland shot her biggest sequence 2 months after the shoot completed. Why? Well, Garland had to lose 20 pounds and get into the proper shape. I can already feel the certain breed of internet denizens getting their feathers ruffled, so let me frame it for you. MGM was getting ready to push Garland into the next phase of her career.
But, she was also an actress that wasn’t 30 and already being pushed into features she didn’t want to make. Knowing that she had been a box office dynamo for over a decade, she decided to redefine her image and exit MGM on a grand performance. It’s the kind of thing Madonna, Beyonce and Gaga does. However, Judy Garland did it first in an era where it just wasn’t done.
Mostly noted as being the final MGM film for Garland, Summer Stock also served as a benchmark for many of Garland’s later trappings. Garland stole focus from Kelly a lot, as she was shaking off the last vestiges of being a song and dance kid. She could command the camera and made sure that Kelly never forgot who was on the opposite side of the stage.
Portland Fancy is a dance number that gets no love from modern audiences. Well, outside of a small community on YouTube. It turns out that there is a cross-section of goofy white people that love to competitively dance across America and Europe. After obsessively watching various German couples’ takes on The Nitty Gritty, I discovered that many of them also re-stage the Portland Fancy.
What is so cool about the Portland Fancy? Well, it’s a contra dance. You can see the origins of square and line dancing in the contra, but it breaks into different ground. Started in Colonial times, the contra offers non gender based leads to split focus and drive the dance forward. Contra dancing requires 4 or 6 set parts which makes filming in Academy Ratio a nightmare. There’s a reason why this was one of the few films to show it adequately.
But, director Charles Walters also broke the rules of contra dancing by shoving Kelly and Garland to center frame. It’s a showy number, but one that demonstrated that the younger Garland could hold her own with Kelly.
You Wonderful You is a bit of a stock classic. Hell, the first time I ever saw it was on an old episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show. While the film lasts under 2 hours, the effort is apparent from frame one to the conclusion. This is a jukebox experience of standards and new jazzy numbers designed to bring you into the post WWII live music feel.
This is a hang-out movie before the term had any meaning. Nothing is lost or gained, but you get to see two song and dance talents dominate the screen through various showy numbers. Hell, they even steal focus from a series of dogs backing up their vocals. Things like this are why I loved the 1950s American cinema. You could have edgy drama on one screen, a little bit of Noir and then Judy Garland singing around dogs. It was the best of times for all of us. Well, most of us.
Summer Stock arrives on April 30th
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