Friday, February 06, 2015


This musical has Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, and Virginia O'Brien, three people I usually like to see, and a very young and sexy Angela Lansbury (pictured), not to mention the epic musical number "On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe," so as a card-carrying lover of musicals, especially the ones that Arthur Freed's unit turned out at MGM, I should love this movie, but I don't.  However, on a second viewing recently, I discovered that I don't dislike it as much as I thought I did—faint and ambiguous praise, I know. The plot's background is based on the real life restaurant chain called Harvey's, from the late 19th century, which expanded by opening new locations in small frontier towns, helping to give those towns a veneer of respectability to attract travelers. Judy Garland is a city girl who has come out to a small Old West town to marry a man she's been corresponding with; arriving on the same train are a number of Harvey Girls, young women who will work as waitresses at the new Harvey House opening in town. Garland's sweetheart (Chill Wills) is a tad too old for her, and it turns out that the letters he sent were actually ghostwritten by another fella (John Hodiak). They call off the wedding but Garland decides to stay and join the Harvey Girls, and an attraction slowly builds between her and Hodiak. The conflict: Hodiak runs a popular saloon (and, it's implied, whorehouse) that may lose a great deal of business to the new restaurant, and though Hodiak tries to keep the battle clean, some of his men resort to underhanded methods to stop people from patronizing Harvey's, culminating in a fire being set by the bad guys.

The movie actually has a number of pluses, beginning with the ten-minute "Atchison" number performed on and around the trains. Even Marjorie Main gets a verse which she brays out in that ragged voice of hers. Many of the supporting players are fine: on the male side, Wills, Bolger, and Preston Foster (the chief baddie); on the distaff side, the seductive Lansbury (tarted out in some fabulous colorful and shiny outfits), and O'Brien (who vanishes halfway through because her pregnancy began to show) and Cyd Charisse as Harvey girls. The sets and costumes are first-rate and the songs are fine. Disappointingly, it's the leads that let the movie down. Garland seems distracted or unwilling to commit her all, except in her songs, and Hodiak is unattractive and charmless.  Among the songs, only "Atchison" stands out. Worth a viewing, but I will never consider this one of MGM's musical gems. [Warner Archive Instant]

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