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Wednesday
Jun 01 2016

Judy by the Numbers: "On The Atchison Topeka And The Santa Fe"

Anne Marieis tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

Though we last left Judy Garlandin 1944 crooning from a trolleyand cementing a (troubled) place in Hollywood history,this week we must catapult two years into the future to rejoin our musical heroine.The reason has to do with the odd nature of the Studio System in general and this series in specific.Judy Garland actually shot two movies between 1944 and 1945,but because one was delayed due to reshoots (therefore getting bumped to next week) and the other was a straight drama (therefore not fitting a series focused on musical numbers),we must travel through the end of WW2 and the beginning of Judy Garland's marriage to Vincente Minnelli.Thus,in 1946 we arrive in...the Old West?

The Movie:
TheHarvey Girls(1946)
The Songwriters:Johnny Mercer (lyrics),Harry Warren (music)
The Players:Judy Garland,Angela Lansbury,Ray Bolger,Cyd Charisse,& John Hodiak,directed by George Sidney

The Story: In 1946,Judy Garland hopped off the trolley and onto a train for a Western-style musical entitledThe Harvey Girls.I have to admit,while this is by no means Judy Garland's best musical,it remains a personal favorite for three reasons:

1) Judy Garland sings on atrain.
2) It's a musical western genre mashup that missesOklahoma!by three years and and one saloon fight.
3) Angela Lansbury plays a chorus girl/prostitute named Em.In fact,the movie is a veritable Who's Who of MGM & the Freed Unit,since it also stars baby Cyd Charisse,the return of former Scarecrow Ray Bolger,deadpan alto Virginia O'Brien,and the delightful dulcet tones of Marjorie Main and Chill Wills!

More importantly for Judy,though,this movie shows the Freed Unit's ability to find a winning formula for its tiny Technicolor titan and stick to it.LikeMeet Me in St.Louisbefore it (and many Freed films after it),The Harvey Girlswas a musical that leaned heavily on nostalgia;a period piece mixing authentic songs - conveniently taken from the MGM catalogue - with new insta-classics provided by a rotating stable of songwriters.The plots of each of these movies revolves around Judy meeting,loathing,then learning to love a confounded-but-charismatic man;providing ample opportunity for musical numbers,slapstick,and a brightly-colored battle of the sexes.Though this decision may seem limiting,it also further defined Judy Garland at MGM: Judy's image would embrace the tension between modern stardom and nostalgic Americana,a potent symbol of post-war America.

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Reader Comments (14)

While I agree that the film is missing that certain something that would move it from enjoyable entertainment to all time classic it is a fun picture with Judy full of spunk.

Angela Lansbury is SO young and even at this point playing older than her actual age,she was about 20 when this was filmed and Em (this Em is certainly miles away from Auntie Em!) is obviously supposed to be have been around long enough to own a saloon and run roughshod over her "girls".And she gets to dance!All feathered and bejeweled.

I think the thing that really marks it as a war picture is the casting of John Hodiak as the male lead.Nothing against him,he's handsome in his way and fills the role well but was never a top star that you would expect to see cast with Judy at the time.He had a bum ticker which kept him out of the service and with most of the biggest stars away fighting he became a popular available choice for many films.

On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe is such a complicated number and pulled off beautifully.I saw a few of those brief little vignettes on TCM where they had various people involved in the production talking about how complex,and exhausting,the staging was and yet it seems so seamless.The saloon brawl is great fun too.

June 1,2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Unfortunately,the video stops about half way and we don't get to see Judy :-(

June 1,2016 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Here's the complete audio at least: https://youtu.be/TdTZ1w-TAoE

June 1,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

What a tongue twister of a song title!I like this musical for all the reasons you mention,but most especially for Angela Lansbury.
Thanks for the audio link Paul O.

When you think about it,Judy Garland was a queen of period costume style.

June 1,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

What do you mean it beat Oklahoma!by one year?Oklahoma!opened on Broadway in 1943 and was pretty much the sole reason this movie was made.If you mean the movie,that didn't come out until 1955.What gives?

June 1,2016 | Unregistered Commentervladdy

I have always loved this one.Virginia O'Brian is hilarious,and top star or not,Hodiak was a hottie,and he and Garland have great chemistry.It's a joyful piece of film.

June 1,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLauraB

Vladdy - Thanks for the fact check!I got my dates mixed up.

June 1,2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Despite the vibrant costumes and wide smiles I can't but help find something exceedingly dull about this number.Haven't seen the film so maybe it's better in context.

June 1,2016 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

Baby Lansbury playing a hardened saloon owner in this movie reminds me of how in "Burlesque"Cher has a random line about how she and Kristen Bell supposedly got their start together/co-launched the burlesque club.Maybe sometimes it's okay to revise the script a tad after casting?

June 1,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Love this movie….love this song.I have a thing for trains…which,in speaking of other great train songs,Harry Warren did the music for both this AND Chattanooga Choo Choo,

June 1,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

EVERYONE - sorry about the video it's very hard to find a functioning video of this number for some reason.I hope i have fixed it now.

June 1,2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I like everything about this movie more or less except John Hodiak.I realize that during the war you take what you can get,and it probably explains Tom Drake in Meet Me In St.Louis as well,but he just doesn't seem like the right fit for Judy.Maybe it's the mustache?

As I recall,I think Judy looked pretty terrific in the period clothes.Maybe they should have stuck with the big shoulders and floor length gowns for some of her other later movies (A Star Is Born has some heinous clothes as I recall).

I know Anne Marie barely mentioned it,but I want to say that in The Clock,Judys' non musical movie,she looked very lovely.She was very,very rarely wearing contemporary clothes in this era,and she just seems young and natural.

June 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

I didn't notice it until years after I first saw it,but Hanna and Barbera managed to slip parts of this song in their Oscar winning cartoon from that year,"The Cat Concerto."

June 2,2016 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

I just rewatched Meet Me in St.Louis.So glorious.Gotta say,though,there is a huge,mind-numbing hurdle to get through: Tootie.Margaret O'Brien is chalk and my brain is the chalkboard.Her grating presence really hurts this movie.

June 3,2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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