Musical Monday: Summer Stock (1950)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Summer Stock (1950) – Musical #9

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Charles Walters

Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Gloria DeHaven, Phil Silvers, Marjorie Main, Carleton Carpenter, Eddie Bracken, Ray Collins, Hans Conreid, Nita Bieber, Carol Haney (uncredited), Johnny Duncan (uncredited), Michael Chapin (uncredited), Bunny Waters (uncredited), Almira Sessions (uncredited

Jane Falbury (Garland) runs her family farm. Her peaceful daily life is disrupted when her sister Abigail (DeHaven) returns home to the farm accompanied by an acting troupe. Abigail and the group’s director Joe Ross (Kelly) are in love, and the show has to be a hit for the two to be married. Jane agrees that the actors can stay at the farm and rehearse if they Jane’s fiancé Orville (Bracken) disapproves of showbusiness and wants the actors to leave. Jane also finds that she is falling in love with Joe.

• Judy Garland’s last film with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
• In 1949, Judy Garland was originally announced as the lead, and then June Allyson was announced for the role. Garland was then back in the role, according to the book Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance by Brent Phillips.
• Neither Gene Kelly or Charles Walters wanted to do the film, but wanted to help Judy Garland. Walters later said his experience with this film gave him his first ulcer, Phillips wrote in his biography.
• Pete Roberts dubbed Hans Conried’s singing
• Produced by Joe Pasternak
• The hillbilly number “Heavenly Music” originally was supposed to include Judy Garland. At the end of the movie when Eddie Bracken confronts Garland backstage, she is in costume for this number.

• The Technicolor

Notable Songs:
• “Get Happy” performed by Judy Garland
• “Dig for Your Dinner” performed by Gene Kelly and Phil Silvers
• “Howdy Neighbor” performed by Judy Garland

My review:
Is “Summer Stock” Judy Garland’s best movie? Not quite. Her last film for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the studio where she grew up and became a star) may not be her best or even of the same plot caliber of her earlier musicals. But that doesn’t make it any less fun.

“Summer Stock” is a bright and colorful Technicolor musical (with color enhanced by Warner Archive’s blu-ray edition of this film).

Judy Garland runs her family farm that is overrun by actors, thanks to her spoiled sister, played by Gloria Dehaven. Gene Kelly directs the group and Phil Silvers is among the actors. Garland’s fiancé, played by Eddie Bracken, disapproves.

Neither Charles Walters or Gene Kelly were interested in making the film, but took the project to help Judy Garland. Charles Walters called the project “trite” and said it was beneath Judy Garland’s talent, comparing her to Charles Chaplin in a memo, according to the biography Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance by Brent Phillips. Walters fought to strengthen the script and lost.

Gene Kelly said in a 1974 interview that he was miscast in the role, according to Phillips’s book.

But miraculously, the many troubles that plagued making the film translate on screen. Kelly and Garland have a tender relationship onscreen, and the dancing by the acting troupe (which includes dancer Carol Haney) is joyous.

But I have to be truthful. While I like and enjoy “Summer Stock,” parts of the film drive me crazy – especially Phil Silvers. I also hate the number “Heavenly Music” where Phil Silvers and Gene Kelly are dressed as hillbillies, complete with giant rubber feet, bad wigs and blacked-out teeth. The only bonus is that there are lots of dogs in the number.

Of course, the highlight of the film is Judy Garland’s performance of “Get Happy” as the film’s finale. Dressed in heels, a suit jacket and a hat, Garland gives a cool performance of the Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler song. To me, Judy Garland’s version is the definitive version of “Get Happy.”

“Summer Stock” is a little sad though, knowing that it was Judy Garland’s last musical under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She wouldn’t make another film until “A Star is Born” (1954) four years later.

Despite some of its flaws, “Summer Stock” is fun and colorful escapism. I just hate that it marked the end of a portion of Garland’s career.

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