Yet, those who have never watched or who don’t mind watching yet again and again some of Judy Garland’s classics and not-so-classics might want to check out or rewatch Meet Me in St. Louis (above, 1944), The Clock (1945), Summer Stock (1950), A Child Is Waiting (1962), and I Could Go On Singing (1963).
Directed by Garland’s soon-to-be husband, Vincente Minnelli, Meet Me in St. Louis is a charming — if a little overlong — family musical. By that I don’t mean it’s a musical for families to watch together, as many — both young and old — may find the goings-on in this idealized period piece much too sugary for their taste. It’s just that Meet Me in St. Louis happens to be a musical about a specific family, in which a cast of excellent actors — Garland, Leon Ames, Mary Astor, and a fully believable Margaret O’Brien — makes the potentially saccharine situations feel comically (at times, touchingly) endearing. And there are some good songs, too, mostly courtesy of Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.
The Clock pairs Garland with Robert Walker, then going through a difficult time with soon-to-be ex-wife Jennifer Jones, who had become producer David O. Selznick’s protégée. Perhaps as a result of his off-screen emotional travails, Walker delivers a remarkably sensitive performance as the shy soldier who spends a couple of days in New York City before returning to camp. Garland flawlessly plays the girl he meets and falls in love with in a matter of hours. Vincente Minnelli makes the unlikely affair seem fully believable and quite moving.
Directed by the underrated Charles Walters, Summer Stock was Garland’s last MGM film. Though considered a "minor" example of the genre, this "putting on a show" musical has several good songs and dance numbers, some funny jokes, and the usual good chemistry between Garland and co-star Gene Kelly, with whom she can also be seen in both For Me and My Gal and The Pirate.
A Child Is Waiting and I Could Go On Singing (above) were Garland’s last two films. (She was supposed to have played a role in The Valley of the Dolls later in the decade, but that didn’t work out. She was replaced by Susan Hayward.) Personally, I find these two dramas to be Garland’s best showcases as an actress, even more so than the revered A Star Is Born.
Neither film, however, is very good: A Child Is Waiting, in which Garland plays an unstable woman teaching mentally handicapped children, is much too melodramatic — perhaps evidence that director John Cassavetes wasn’t comfortable working within the confines of a commercial production, as he frequently opted for in-your-face melodrama whenever the screenplay asked for visceral drama. (Even so, I find A Child Is Waiting and Cassavetes’ similarly commercial Gloria eons more tolerable than his self-indulgent, independently produced efforts.) I Could Go On Singing, for its part, although directed by the capable Ronald Neame, is bogged down by a sentimental storyline that needed to go through a few more drafts.
But really, no screenplay or directorial shortcomings matter when Garland is on screen. Her performances in both films are nothing short of mesmerizing, as she brings in a nervous, raw vibrancy to her characters the likes of which have rarely been found on film.
I’ve sat through only two of the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland pairings: Girl Crazy (not listed) and Strike Up the Band. The only thing I remember about the former is June Allyson’s specialty number; the latter, however, is simply unforgettable. Disguised as a "let’s put on a show" musical, Strike Up the Band is actually one of the scariest horror movies ever made, more frightening than Alien, Curse of the Demon, and all the Friday the Thirteenth films put together. In fact, Strike Up the Band gave me nightmares for months — just like the one Naomi Watts suffers from in Mulholland Dr. right before blowing her head off. And that’s why I still haven’t mustered enough courage to watch any other Mickey & Judy pairings.
Watch Strike Up the Band at your own risk.
3:00 AM Listen, Darling (1938)
Two children try to find a new husband for their widowed mother. Cast: Judy Garland, Freddie Bartholomew, Mary Astor. Director: Edwin L. Marin. BW-75 mins.
4:16 AM Short Film: Every Sunday (1936)
4:30 AM Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940)
A teenage boy goes into debt to court a Manhattan socialite. Cast: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Lewis Stone. Director: George B. Seitz. BW-88 mins.
6:00 AM Life Begins For Andy Hardy (1941)
A small-town boy tries life in the big city before going to college. Cast: Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Judy Garland. Director: George B. Seitz. BW-101 mins.
7:45 AM Strike Up the Band (1940)
A high-school band sets out to win a national radio contest. Cast: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Paul Whiteman. Director: Busby Berkeley. BW-120 mins.
9:45 AM Little Nellie Kelly (1940)
The daughter of Irish immigrants patches up differences between her father and grandfather and rises to the top on Broadway. Cast: Judy Garland, George Murphy, Charles Winninger. Director: Norman Taurog. BW-99 mins.
11:25 AM Short Film: If I Forget You - Judy Garland (1940)
11:30 AM For Me And My Gal (1942)
An unscrupulous song-and-dance man uses his partner and his best friend to get ahead. Cast: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy. Director: Busby Berkeley. BW-104 mins.
1:15 PM In The Good Old Summertime (1949)
In this musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner, feuding co-workers in a small music shop do not realize they are secret romantic pen pals. Cast: Judy Garland, Van Johnson, S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall. Director: Robert Z. Leonard. C-103 mins.
3:00 PM Summer Stock (1950)
A farmer gets sucked into show business when a theatrical troupe invades her farm. Cast: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Phil Silvers. Director: Charles Walters. C-109 mins.
5:00 PM I Could Go On Singing (1963)
An American singing star in London tries to reclaim the son she gave up for adoption. Cast: Judy Garland, Dirk Bogarde, Aline MacMahon. Director: Ronald Neame. C-99 mins.
6:43 PM Short Film: Looking At London (1946)
7:00 PM Clock, The (1945)
A G.I. en route to Europe falls in love during a whirlwind two-day leave in New York City. Cast: Judy Garland, Robert Walker, James Gleason. Director: Vincente Minnelli. BW-90 mins.
8:34 PM Short Film: La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935)
A musical/sketch comedy revue staged as a fiesta in Santa Barbara. Included are cameos, sketch comedy, and musical performances from famous stars such as Andy Devine, Buster Keaton, and Judy Garland C-19 mins.
9:00 PM Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
Young love and childish fears highlight a year in the life of a turn-of-the-century family. Cast: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor. Director: Vincente Minnelli. C-113 mins.
11:00 PM Pirate, The (1948)
An actor poses as a notorious pirate to court a romantic Caribbean girl. Cast: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Gladys Cooper. Director: Vincente Minnelli. C-102 mins.
12:46 AM Short Film: World Famous Musical Hits (2000)
A short promotional reel showcasing six MGM musicals: "Three Little Words," "Because You’re Mine," "Till The Clouds Roll By," "The Band Wagon," "Words and Music," and "Singing In The Rain." C-9 mins.
1:00 AM Child Is Waiting, A (1963)
An emotionally fragile woman takes a job teaching mentally handicapped children. Cast: Judy Garland, Burt Lancaster, Gena Rowlands. Director: John Cassavetes. BW-104 mins.
2:45 AM Short Film: Judy Garland Biography (1962) BW-4 mins.