Monday, January 15, 2007


Despite starring two of MGM's greatest musical stars, Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, this is a generally underrated musical, perhaps because Garland was not at her energetic peak (this was her last film for the studio), perhaps because the "Hey, let's put on a show in the barn" storyline was pretty worn by 1950, perhaps because there are no really memorable melodies here (except, of course, for the tacked-on finale, "Get Happy," which is a prime Garland career highlight). Still, this movie is great fun, and as far as I'm concerned, it shows Gene Kelly at his sexiest. The movie begins with Garland looking frumpy as the keeper of a family farm which is falling on hard times; she hasn't been able to pay her workers, so they have all deserted her except longtime cook Marjorie Main. Garland has been promised in marriage to allergy-ridden doofus Eddie Bracken, son of the general store manager (Ray Collins), though clearly she does not love him. One of the reasons Garland stayed with the farm was to raise money to put her sister (Gloria DeHaven) through art school, but when Sis shows up, it turns out she's flunked out and joined up with a troupe of actors, led by Gene Kelly, who have shown up out of the blue to take over the farm for the summer as a rehearsal space for a prospective Broadway show. Garland is unhappy about hosting the large group of young people, but finally agrees as long as they all put in their share of work around the farm each day. Things start out well, and there's a lot of funny business involving the kids learning how to do things like milk the cows and collect the eggs, but soon Phil Silvers messes up by wrecking the brand new tractor that Garland had finagled out of Bracken's father. Garland is heartbroken and ready to kick everyone out, but Kelly sells his own station wagon to buy her a new tractor, and she lets them all stay. Slowly, Garland finds herself charmed by Kelly, and vice versa, and when DeHaven decides she's too good for the troupe and leaves for a better prospect, Kelly talks Garland into taking over her role. There are more complications, involving Bracken's jealousy and DeHaven's sudden return, but it all works out to our satisfaction, climaxing with Garland's great "Get Happy" number.

I'll get rid of the liabilities first, and there are really only two. The lesser one is that it is clear that Garland is not at the top of her game--she was going through a rough patch, physically and emotionally--but she still has plenty of charisma and voice, and is perfectly acceptable in the role of the pragmatic farmer who is converted to the more whimsical charms of the theatrical life. The real stinker here is Silvers, whose heavy-handed comic style sinks every scene he's in. Luckily, the film's strengths outweigh its weaknesses. The group dance numbers are well staged, and all of Kelly's dances are great fun, especially his athletic "Dig for Your Dinner" and the later dance he appears to improvise as inspired by a squeaky stage floorboard. Overall, Kelly was better in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, but here, he's as handsome and sexy as he gets; even in a song he does in a silly blond hillbilly wig and blacked-out teeth, he's hot. Garland's opening number, "Howdy Neighbor," sung as she's running errands on a tractor, is corny but has grown on me through repeated viewings. Bracken is fun, as always, and other support comes from Hans Conreid as the "name" star who has agreed to do the show and Carlton Carpenter as a gangly dancer. Lots of fun, though when they invent software that will allow us to replace performers in movies, I'll snuff out Silvers and replace him with, oh, Mickey Rooney or Donald O'Connor, or even Carlton Carpenter. [DVD]

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