Andrew over at Encore's World of Film & TV is hosting a Musical Blog-A-Thon today and since I had a new dvd waiting to pop in the machine I though this would be the perfect occasion to join in to a bit of crazy bloginess! ;o)
The idea was to write about your favourite musical, but you already know I'm not very good at following instructions... and besides, I've already written about my favourite musical Meet Me In St Louis. As I looked for it through the archives I discovered that was actually only the 3rd post I wrote for the blog (and my first review)! And it's not half bad, if I do say so myself (you can check it out here). ;o)
So anyhow, back to this post. I was practically jumping for joy when I saw this on the shelves at the FNAC a couple of weeks ago, as is usually the case when I land on a Judy Garland film I haven't seen. Add in a dose of the extremely talented Gene Kelly and the summery title fitting perfectly into this glorious weather, and I thought it would make for a good choice for the Blog-A-Thon.
Summer Stock is a simple story of girl meets boy, girl tries to run boy (and his musical show) off her farm, girl relents upon insistence of her sister who is engaged to boy but puts the whole cast and crew to work as farm hands when they're not preparing the show (to hilarious results), girl has multiple arguments with her fiancé and future father-in-law about said show and then... well lots of music, singing, dancing and a partner swap later, all's well that ends well! When the Girl is played by Judy Garland and the Boy by Gene Kelly... then you know you're guaranteed quality for the musical numbers (and you're willing to tolerantly let slip some of the weaker components in the movie).
As usual what sells the show is the chemistry of the leads, and the music. Some musicals annoy me when the music isn't quite "right", when it pulls you out of the story for a 'tah-dah!' musical moment. But here the numbers all pretty much worked seamlessly within the tale, starting off with a song I need to adopt as my own "If you feel like singing, sing!". Judy sings this as she goes through her morning rituals (shower, dress etc.) and it's just such a wonderful moment that I'm sure many people can relate to, when you just feel like singing and to hell with anyone who might have a different opinion!
Poor Jane (Judy) is struggling to run her family farm. Any savings she had she spent on her younger sister's "education", we can guess that she already owes a sizeable debt to the local store when she goes in and asks them for a tractor. Fortunately (?) the store is owned by her fiancé and his father who obviously dreams of uniting the two "oldest" families in the area so he gives her whatever she asks for.
So a worried but happy Jane arrives home with her shiny new tractor to find her farm taken over by persons unknown, running all over the place, and unloading material in her barn. The look on her face and her obvious bewilderment are wonderful! As she tries to get rid of them her sister basically uses emotional blackmail to get her to let them stay and prepare her fiancé's new show in the barn. This doesn't settle to well with the townsfolks (particularly her future father-in-law) but since she gets some much needed extra pairs of hands (those poor "city folks" are in waaay over their heads here! As if that cow were really going to milk itself! lol!) to help with chores around the farm well... She starts by helping her sister,
...and then ends up getting so entangled in the whole production she's in way over her head, and as they say, the rest is history!
As I said the music is what really sells this film, and amongst all the numbers I think I've got 4 favourites (as well as the opening song). I couldn't find clips for two of them: a fun "dancing duel" between Judy and Gene at the "Historical Society Dance", and a lovely intimate moment when Judy is singing them to the stars asking them to show her her lover, and Gene is sitting nearby in a lounge chair listening with a wishful look on his face. Then there's the usual Gene Kelly "solo" dance (what I usually call his "ego" numbers), which was fabulous and for once didn't annoy me! He uses his surroundings so well... a creaking floorboard, paper cumpling, ripping, tapping on wood, paper, sliding. You can tell he (or his character) would rather be on the stage dancing than producing the show...
Then there's the amazing "Get Happy" number that Judy filmed (in one take!) 3 months after the end of the movie, where she's just sizzling in a tuxedo jacket, black nylons and a fedora. The energy levels in that number are through the roof!
(pity the quality of that clip isn't great)
I noticed early on in the movie that Judy looked a bit tired (she looks much better at the end in "Get Happy"). She was going through some serious health problems and from what I've read the people at MGM (this was her last movie with the studio) didn't make her life any easier (insisting she lose weight, she did thanks to drugs...). Apparently the one person who did help her as much as possible was her friend Gene Kelly. This was their third and final movie together, and he actually got his shot in the movies thanks to her insistence that he be her partner in "For Me and My Gal" (which I have yet to see, I have the 2nd on dvd -"The Pirate"- which is just outrageously insane but a lot of fun!). While googling around for info about this movie I came across a blog -The Gene Scene- dedicated to Gene Kelly where they state:
"Gene was patient, and he brought out the best in her (Judy) as a result. Considering he's decribed by other co-stars as a "slave-driver", the fact that he was so patient during the filming of Summer Stock proves just how much he cared."
That old Studio System really knew how to "use" it's assets, huh... :o( Judy fortunately improved (physically) quite a bit (for a while) once she got away from them. Good for her, sad for us since there are so few movies of her after this one!
Well, that's it for me! If you want to do some more "musical browsing" then be sure to head over to Encore Entertainment for more entries in the Musical Blog-A-Thon!
I'll sign off by leaving you with the trailer for Summer Stock, and highly recommend you go find the dvd somewhere and enjoy some good old fashioned musical fun! :o)