Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Viewing Notes: SUMMER STOCK (1950)

Summer Stock, 1950, d. Charles Walters
scr. Sy Gromberg, George Welles
with Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Eddie Bracken, Gloria DeHaven

Conventional Wisdom has it that there's little to see in Summer Stock but "Get Happy", which, shout hallelujah, is in itself a hell of a Thing to See anyway, even if it was patched in three months after principle photography and found its famous costume among Minnelli's cast-offs. And yet!... There's also a silent Gene Kelly partnered with a squeaky floorboard and discarded newspaper, gliding and hopping and inventing 100 rhythmic gags to an instrumental reprise of "You, Wonderful You" like he's a permagrinning Buster Keaton. And there's the tour de force fight-n-flirt deconstructed-square-dance between Judy and Gene. And Kelly going at tornado speed through a cramped country kitchen, up on the table and practically pushing the fourth wall out past the edge of the set in "Dig Dig Dig Dig for Your Dinner". And, and, and Eddie Bracken and Marjorie Main out comic-relieving Phil Silvers without breaking a goddamn sweat. Point being that's at least enough to justify looking at something for an hour and forty minutes.

That plot, with Judy (as Jane) trying to run the family farm while her sister's crazy showbiz pals (led by Kelly as Joe) rehearse in the barn, recalls the Mickey & Judy pictures of yore, and maybe Oz, too. Ironically-ish, the Major Theme involves Judy coming to understand that putting on a show is for reals hard work, just like farm chores, and her sister gradually emerges as a sort of villain whose diva behavior (ahem, sleeping too late, disappearing during rehearsals, running up expenses) threatens to ruin the show. However troubled Garland was during production on Summer Stock (i.e.: Troubled), she does the buoyant optimist thing, the tough-talking can-do! thing, and the cute funny nervous motormouth routine and there's not a crack in her armor on screen.

So you've got this slick, bright-hearted, colorful kids-puttin-on-a-show-in-the-barn throwback with a classic roadblocked-courtship plot, at least two truly great numbers and several really really good ones. This being Garland's final film for MGM, perhaps we have a phantom ache for a grander (or more grandiose) send-off — a whole 120 minutes of "Get Happy". The loss in underrating Summer Stock, I think, is that if MGM musicals are a thing with you, then second or third tier is really not so far from the top shelf. This is rather a primo example of that particular dream machine doing what it did in 1950.

Under a pink spotlight on a darkened stage, Joe tries to explain his show to Jane. Nestled in the functional segue dialogue before the romantic confession number "You, Wonderful You", Summer Stock offers possibly the simplest, wisest of explanations for the existence of the musical itself. It's a throwaway moment, sweet and slight, and — in spite of all well-documented effort behind Summer Stock — it is effortless.:

JOE: We're trying to tell a story with music and song and dance, not just with words. For instance, if the boy tells the girl that he loves her, he doesn't just say it. He sings it.
JANE: Why doesn't he just say it?
JOE: Why? Oh, I don't know. But it's kind of nice.

Viewed on: 3/19/14 — DVD (Warner/TCM, Region 1)

2 comments:

joel65913 said...

Nice re-evaluation. The film is a mixed bag with some really terrible stuff, that barnyard number just before Get Happy is cringe worthy, but it contains some great things beside that justly famous number. The square dance shows what a skilled dancer Judy was and the Friendly Star number is so beautiful. It's full of longing and nicely staged plus I've always thought it is one of Judy's loveliest interpretations.

Anonymous said...

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