Wartime romance (G.I. finds love in the Big City on a 2-Day Pass) skirts the line between tender & sappy in a surprisingly engaging manner. Surprising since what looked unalterably sappy back in the ‘70s, has seemingly toughened up over time, relatively speaking, all the way back to tender. Working with the inevitable background projections that passed for NYC locations at the time, Vincente Minnelli, directing his first straight drama, manages a real feel for the city on sets big (PENN Station, enormous & stunningly handled) and small (milk truck interior with friendly driver). The story, think WWII-era BEFORE SUNRISE/’95, has lonely soldier-boy Robert Walker meet-cute with Judy Garland over a broken shoe-heel. They spark, tour the town, have an over-night adventure delivering dairy products (almost too cute), then lose each other on the subway before reconnecting and racing to get married. The film has a loose, experimental feel to it; and Walker’s lost-boy charm does wonders to center Garland, she’s depressurized. Look fast to spot producer Arthur Freed giving Walker some matches, and for Freed Associate Roger Edens on the piano at a nice restaurant. They even let milk truck driver James Gleason play against his actual wife, Lucile Gleason when he takes the couple home for breakfast. Minnelli pulls off some daringly long takes, but none more daring than Gleason himself, who wins the prize for longest time driving via process shot without bothering to watch the road. Except for an over-active score (with heavenly female chorus), this modest charmer is currently holding up nicely. And don’t skip THE SCREWY TRUANT, a really ‘out there’ Tex Avery/Screwy Squirrel cartoon Extra.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Minnelli is almost certainly the guy responsible for working up the film’s convincingly multiracial cast used in little spots all thru the pic. Hardly a crowd scene goes by without Asians & Blacks doing pretty much what everyone else is doing. Most unusual for the period.
DOUBLE-BILL: Walker made something of a specialty playing shy soldier-boys in both comic (SEE HERE, PRIVATE HARGROVE/’44) and tragic mode (SINCE YOU WENT AWAY/’44). The latter, an awkward & remarkable homefront epic, made just as Walker’s co-star/wife Jennifer Jones was shifting her affections to that film’s producer David O. Selznick. It meant that, for once, someone other than Garland was the needy emotional basket-case on set.