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Warner Home Video presents
Harry: Coming over on the boat, I took an inventory. And you know something? Right up to this minute, my only claim to fame—you were once my girl. Jo, you have to tell me—not a million other people, but you have to tell me—that I'm not a coward and that you don't hate me. That's the medal that I want to win in this war.
DVD ReviewBusby Berkeley directed some of Hollywood’s most opulent musicals, yet he consistently stated that his favorite of all his films was the modest For Me and My Gal. On the surface, this nostalgic, unabashedly sentimental—but terrifically entertaining—salute to vaudeville during World War I seems like an odd choice from the man who turned movie musicals into kaleidoscopic fantasies and revolutionized the art form with innovative camera angles and boundless imagination. But it turns out the slave-driving "Buzz," as he was affectionately dubbed, was deep down an old softie, and none of his films mirrored his own life as closely as For Me and My Gal.
Berkeley, however, wasn't the only member of the company with a vaudeville background. The woman who would portray the title role also knew a thing or two about the circuit. Rumored to have been "born in a trunk," Judy Garland lived the vagabond vaudeville life since she was old enough to toddle onto the stage at age 2. She was just 19 when she began shooting For Me and My Gal, the first picture that would give her solo billing above the title. Yet such an honor would not be the musical's only notable first. The film also marked the screen debut of Gene Kelly, who was originally signed to play the second (and far less interesting) male lead. Days before production commenced, however, Kelly switched roles with leading man George Murphy, and a major career was born. As the lovable heel who woos, wins, loses, and must fight to reclaim Garland, Kelly proved he was much more than a common Broadway hoofer, and his magnetic personality, athletic dancing, and palpable chemistry with Garland made him an instant star.
Although his character remains largely unlikable for most of the film, Kelly's charm wins us over. He portrays Harry Palmer, an opportunistic song-and-dance man willing to claw his way to fame at any cost. His life's ambition is to perform at that towering vaudeville temple, New York's Palace Theater, and when he meets starry-eyed singer Jo Hayden (Garland) during a two-bit engagement in Iowa in the winter of 1916, he believes he's found his ticket to the top. Harry's smooth lines and slick finagling don't impress the down-to-earth Jo, but she finds herself attracted to Harry nonetheless, and the two team up when Jo's act fizzles.
The duo struggles both professionally and personally at first, as Harry falls under the spell of opera singer Eve Minard (Marta Eggerth), but he soon realizes his deep feelings for Jo. As fate would have it, however, just when their act achieves a modicum of renown and scouts from the Palace beckon, war intervenes and Harry receives a draft notice. Determined to postpone his service until he can play the Palace, Harry engineers an "accident" that keeps him out of the army, but in the process destroys his dream, his relationship with Jo, and his self-respect.
The film's strong dramatic focus makes it unique among 1940s musicals, which usually offered featherweight escapism for weary wartime audiences. And although For Me and My Gal takes place during World War I, it struck a chord with 1942 viewers, bolstering morale and instilling hope that America could weather its current war and emerge victorious. Today, some might call the plot timeworn, hokey, and predictable, but despite a few dated elements, For Me and My Gal remains emotionally affecting due to the sincerity and professionalism of its stars.
Also unlike other musicals of its time, no big production numbers bog down the story. True to the spirit of vaudeville, what we get is meat-and-potatoes singing and dancing without the clutter of chorus girls and moving set pieces. Thanks to the simple staging, nothing distracts us from the electric energy of Garland and Kelly, who perform a host of traditional World War I tunes, as well as a classic rendition of the title song and a zippy little ditty called Ballin' the Jack. Garland also sends chills up the spine with the torchy After You've Gone, which would later become a staple in her concert repertoire. But for this reviewer, the film's indisputable highlight is when Judy rips through the rousing How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm to a cheering throng of American GIs. Their frenzied reaction at the song's conclusion provides a glimpse of the unrestrained audience hysteria that would distinguish many of Garland's concert performances after she left MGM.
Often dubbed the silver screen's original "triple threat girl," Garland could act, sing, and dance with equal aplomb, and For Me and My Gal showcases her talent in all three disciplines to a greater degree than perhaps any other film. As the sole star, Judy must do it all, and she handles the heavy responsibility of "carrying" a major motion picture with ease. The movie also offered Garland her first truly mature role, as well as the chance to step out from behind Mickey Rooney's shadow. She makes the most of both opportunities, and her unqualified success hastened her breezy transition to adult stardom.
A tender, tuneful romance with more heart than most '40s musicals, For Me and My Gal evokes the essence of a bygone era and reminds us once again why Judy Garland was one of the greatest talents ever to grace the screen. Her work here ranks among her very best, and remains as fresh and exciting as it must have seemed more than 60 years ago. After all, they didn't call her Miss Show Business for nothing.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Warner presents a delectably crisp transfer, full of rich contrast and exceptional clarity. Blacks are solid and deep, while tremendous gray level variance lends a sumptuous feel to this black-and-white film that few others from the period possess. Details are so vivid that in one scene viewers can clearly see the residue of Garland's tears on Kelly's cheek. A slight bit of grain adds texture to the print, and only mild speckling occasionally intrudes. For a film that has not undergone any intense restorative procedures, For Me and My Gal surpasses expectations and looks spectacular on DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track contains plenty of noticeable hiss, and some of Garland's heftier vocals sound as if they might fall victim to distortion, but pops and crackles have been erased and dialogue is always clear and understandable. The musical numbers enjoy a modest volume and fidelity boost, and the track possesses solid presence (which seems to improve as the movie progresses). Although the audio isn't as clean as some of Warner's other classic releases, it's still better than average for an early 1940s musical.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Garland biographer John Fricke
Layers Switch: 41m:27s
Garland fans will rejoice at the inclusion of two of the actress/singer's early short films. La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935) features a 13-year-old Judy singing with her sisters a month before MGM offered her a contract. Billed as The Garland Sisters (the family name of Gumm had been dropped from the act a year earlier), the trio sings the traditional Spanish tune La Cucaracha in this 18-minute Technicolor romp that showcases Latin culture Hollywood-style. Cameos by several big stars, including Buster Keaton, Andy Devine, Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor, and Harpo Marx, add to the fun, and astute viewers will even catch a glimpse of a very young Ida Lupino and Cecilia Parker (who later played Mickey Rooney's older sister in numerous Andy Hardy films). The well-preserved print and surprisingly vibrant Technicolor combine to make this short a sumptuous visual feast.
Every Sunday (1936) marked Garland's first official MGM appearance and shows her off to far better advantage. The ten-and-a-half-minute short chronicles the efforts of two teen girls (Garland and Deanna Durbin) to drum up support for a failing Sunday afternoon concert series conducted by Durbin's kindly grandfather. According to studio legend, MGM had little use for two adolescent singers, so constructed Every Sunday as a sort of screen test to help executives decide which girl they would keep. (Garland won.) The young Judy belts out a rousing rendition of Americana, then joins Durbin for a cleverly arranged duet contrasting Deanna's operatic soprano with Judy's jazzy alto. Hearing such a powerhouse voice emanate from a 13-year-old frame takes one's breath away, and makes one understand why the young Judy was often billed in vaudeville houses as "the little girl with the great big voice."
The Audio Vault includes several rarities, beginning with photo recreations of two deleted musical numbers. It's impossible not to rue the excision of the snappy, infectious Three Cheers for the Yanks, which Garland belts with her customary verve. Meant to be included in the World War I medley, the song (written expressly for the film by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, who would later pen the classic tunes for Meet Me in St. Louis) was cut because it sounded too contemporary. Although the footage of Garland performing the number is lost, thankfully the audio track survives. Another photo montage gives viewers an idea of what the film's original (and far weaker) finale might have looked like, as George Murphy joins Garland and Kelly for a reprise of For Me and My Gal.
Also in the vault is the complete Screen Guild Players radio production of For Me and My Gal, which aired on March 22, 1943, and featured Garland, Kelly, and last-minute substitution Dick Powell, who filled in for a measles-stricken George Murphy. This severely truncated version of the film runs less than 30 minutes, and glosses over most of the plot in favor of music. Garland sings After You've Gone, How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm, and joins Kelly for a duet of the title tune. The audio quality is excellent, and it's fun to hear Judy at the show's conclusion breathlessly thank Powell for stepping in "on less than five minutes notice." In the final vault selection, Garland introduces newcomer Kelly to national radio audiences courtesy of the MGM promo series Leo Is On the Air. Renditions of For Me and My Gal and the World War I medley included in the brief program are lifted from the movie's soundtrack.
The film's original trailer completes the hefty extras package.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsFor Me and My Gal is Garland's finest black-and-white musical, and beautifully showcases its beloved star's singing, dancing, and acting talents. In her first grown-up role, Garland gives us a glimpse of the megastar she would become, while in his film debut, Kelly instantly proves he's a worthy rival to Astaire. Together, they ignite the screen, and make this love letter to vaudeville an enduring classic. Highly recommended.
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