Judy Garland became a grown-up star and Gene Kelly made his star-making film debut in this vaudeville-era musical (larded with dramatic heavy-lifting) from producer Arthur Freed, just hitting his maturity @ M-G-M. Judy’s working the small town theatre circuit, grinding out a song-and-dance act with George Murphy to put her kid brother thru med school, when pushy up-and-comer Gene Kelly poaches her for better things. THEY instantly fall into a routine that taps her true potential; SHE instantly falls for the guy, knowing he’s a charming heel. After hits, misses & Gene’s roving eye, they finally get a call to play The Palace when WWI catches up to Gene with a draft notice, something he’d do anything to avoid. Busby Berkeley, directing in a relatively naturalistic mode (for him), can’t hide the berserk third-act plotting needed to soften Kelly’s abrasive character and give him a heroic act of redemption (there were 21 days of reshoots), but still gets a lot of emotion out of the big cast. In the end, the lumpy results were stupendously successful; deservedly so.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: You can spot the exact moment Garland transitions from kid-to-adult star right in the middle of her singing ‘After You’ve Gone.’ Some of those 21 days of reshoots might well have gone toward the insert reaction shots used to point this up. Kelly, who’d been sitting out a dud contract with David O. Selznick, suddenly found himself prime casting for a role not so far removed from his B’way breakthrough in Rodgers & Hart’s groundbreaking PAL JOEY. All of which leaves poor, pleasant, heat-free George Murphy as the Ralph Bellamy of musical comedy leading men, always the third wheel. (That’s three SCREWY THOUGHTS for the price of one.)
DOUBLE-BILL: Instead of a second feature, check out the EXTRAS on the DVD. Judy’s debut in the TechniColor short LA FIESTA DE SANTA BARBARA/’35 (loaded with Hollywood stars in rare color cameos - Buster Keaton; Andy Devine; Gilbert Roland; Ida Lupino); and the better known musical short EVERY SUNDAY/’36 with Garland scatting jazz against Deanna Durbin’s remarkably assured, warm-voiced coloratura. Note that the opposing styles aren’t used to show modern pop winning against classical snobbery. In fact, it’s Deanna who brings in the crowds. Exactly what she did when Universal scooped her up after this and stuck her in a series of films so popular they saved the studio from bankruptcy.