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Warner Home Video presents
Easter Parade (1948)

Don: Miss Brown, what idiot ever told you you were a dancer?
Hannah:
You did!
- Fred Astaire, Judy Garland

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: March 16, 2005

Stars: Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford, Ann Miller
Other Stars: Jules Munshin, Clinton Sundberg
Director: Charles Walters

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:43m:10s
Release Date: March 15, 2005
UPC: 012569707221
Genre: musical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A-AB+ A+

DVD Review

"The happiest musical ever made…" is how MGM's publicity machine described Easter Parade upon its initial release in 1948, and despite the passage of more than 65 years, the tagline still rings true today. As light and airy as a scrumptious soufflé, this joyous Irving Berlin confection features a whopping 17 of the composer's best loved tunes, and showcases the incomparable talents of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in their only screen appearance together. Add a sizzling tap routine by Ann Miller, the charm of Peter Lawford, and an inspired comic turn by Jules Munshin, and it's easy to see why Easter Parade remains a perennial holiday favorite, and one of America's most treasured musicals.

Astaire and Garland make a marvelous team, but their dream coupling happened literally by accident, when original leading man Gene Kelly broke his ankle playing touch-football during rehearsals. At Kelly's suggestion, producer Arthur Freed approached Astaire as a replacement, but held out little hope of hiring him. The legendary dancer had been cooling his heels in retirement for two years, and hardly seemed eager to return to work. Yet he jumped at chance to team with Garland, and despite a hefty 23-year age difference, the two enjoy a relaxed rapport during their musical and dramatic scenes that makes their fictional love affair utterly believable.

Kelly, however, wasn't Easter Parade's only casualty. A torn ligament forced Cyd Charisse to bow out of the film, paving the way for Ann Miller to join the MGM ranks, and though Garland's husband at the time, Vincente Minnelli, was initially penciled in as director, marital stresses between the two forced Metro executives to rethink the decision. On advice from Garland's doctors, Freed dismissed Minnelli, and novice Charles Walters nabbed the plum assignment. The switch would prove fortuitous, as Walters' easygoing style better suits the casual nature of Easter Parade, and allows the film to seamlessly juggle its cavalcade of musical numbers and the plot's substantial romantic complications.

Those complications begin almost at once, as snappy vaudeville dancer Don Hewes (Astaire) is unceremoniously dumped—both professionally and personally—by his ungrateful partner, Nadine Hale (Miller), so she can star solo in a Ziegfeld Follies revue. In a fit of pique, a lovelorn Don randomly selects the unassuming, insecure, yet beguiling Hannah Brown (Garland) from a saloon chorus line to groom as Nadine's replacement, and vows within a year to make her the sensation of both the 1912 Broadway season and New York's famed Easter Parade. But instead of highlighting Hannah's down-to-earth personality and potent pipes, Don insists she mimic Nadine's more refined, sophisticated image. Following a string of disastrous performances (and a comical tête-á-tête with Nadine), Don realizes his mistake, revamps the act, and begins to recognize Hannah's talent, beauty, and spirit.

Most musicals feature a love triangle of some sort, but Easter Parade goes a step further by creating a love square. Hannah silently pines for Don, who still carries a torch for Nadine, who aggressively pursues Don's best friend Johnny (Lawford), who instantly falls for Hannah when they meet by chance during a downpour (and sing the sweet but silly ballad, A Fella with an Umbrella). Amazingly, all the tangled relationships iron themselves out in the end, as the film deftly blends the vagaries of human emotion with the ebullience of musical comedy.

Garland once again combines heartbreaking vulnerability with impeccable comic timing (just watch how she proves to Astaire she's a sexy dish) to create a totally unaffected portrayal. Whether she's confessing her unrequited love for Don, venting her anger over his obsessive attitude toward work ("You're nothing but a pair of dancing shoes!"), or expressing joy at the prospect of Broadway success, Garland is always completely genuine, and that all-too-rare quality—as much as her peerless voice—puts the audience in the palm of her hand. Her readings of the nostalgic Michigan, plaintive Better Luck Next Time, and ebullient title tune are letter-perfect, and although many cite A Couple of Swells (a classic number in which Judy and Fred cavort as lovable tramps) as the picture's musical highlight, in my book, a medley of Berlin standards capped by an exhilarating rendition of When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam' displays Garland to even better advantage. Sure, Judy's no Ginger, but she more than holds her own with Astaire, and their dances together possess an infectious enthusiasm that more than compensates for the simplistic steps.

Never fear, Astaire tackles more complex moves during his solo routines, with typically thrilling results. He shows off his trademark agility and dexterity in the opening Drum Crazy number, and creatively employs special effects for Steppin' Out with My Baby, in which he dances in slow motion in the foreground (a gimmick that spotlights his supreme artistry), while the chorus performs at regular speed behind him. He also elegantly partners Miller, who almost steals the film with her deliciously bitchy (yet endearingly comic) portrayal of the haughty Nadine, and her show-stopping interpretation of Berlin's Shakin' the Blues Away.

One of the most enjoyable musicals ever made, Easter Parade is a full-bodied experience, integrating songs, comedy, romance, and heartache with such panache it's no wonder it was MGM's top-grossing movie of the year and a crowning achievement for the Arthur Freed Unit. The studio, of course, quickly tried to duplicate the magic by re-teaming Judy and Fred on two subsequent occasions, but, sadly, illness prevented Garland from completing either The Barkleys of Broadway or Royal Wedding. Although it's impossible not to rue such missed opportunities, they make us doubly appreciate the pair's appearance in Easter Parade, and the energy, style, and expertise Garland and Astaire bring to this enduring musical classic.

A couple of swells, indeed.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Easter is all about color—pastels in particular—and thanks to the wizards at Warner and the magic of ultra-resolution, Easter Parade looks as bright and lush as a freshly decorated holiday egg. The costumes (designed by Irene) sport a plethora of plumes, but the richly saturated hues never bleed. The yellow gloves and skirt Miller wears during Shakin' the Blues Away, and the blazing red feather boa she brandishes throughout The Girl on the Magazine Cover possess exceptional vibrancy, and such subtle accents as Astaire's colorful socks grab our attention like never before. Although primary colors burst forth, the more muted pinks, lavenders, and pale greens possess equal depth and richness.

Clarity and detail are, of course, top drawer, and only a couple of errant specks dot the pristine print. Grain is faint, but there's enough of it to provide a lovely film-like feel, and though a few shots seem just a tad overexposed, such instances are happily few and far between. This is another spectacular effort from Warner, and one that will delight the film's legion of fans.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Sadly, almost none of the Easter Parade pre-recordings have survived, so Warner was unable to fashion an authentic 5.1 remaster. Still, the well-scrubbed mono track provides distortion-free audio with plenty of tonal depth. A faint bit of hiss can be detected occasionally, but for the most part the track is clean and pure. Dialogue remains clear and comprehendible throughout, and the musical sequences enjoy solid fidelity. The percussion on Drum Crazy possesses fine resonance, Miller's taps are crisp and distinct, and Garland's powerhouse vocals enjoy marvelous dynamic range. Sure, 5.1 audio would have been a dream come true, but this mono track is a satisfying alternative.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Love Finds Andy Hardy, The Wizard of Oz, Ziegfeld Girl, For Me and My Gal, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, Ziegfeld Follies, Till the Clouds Roll By, The Pirate, In the Good Old Summertime, A Star Is Born
1 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Garland biographer John Fricke and Fred Astaire's daughter, Ava Astaire McKenzie
Packaging: unknown double keepcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 49m:33s

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio promo
  2. Radio adaptation
Extras Review: Although no one would ever term Fred Astaire chopped liver, the extras on the Easter Parade DVD most certainly favor his co-star, Judy Garland. (And, come to think of it, that's exactly how the modest, gracious Astaire probably would have wanted it.) Fred, of course, is far from ignored, but Garland's throng of admirers will no doubt describe this Warner special edition as sheer Judy heaven, as it salutes its legendary female star with an array of truly special supplements.

First up on Disc One is a delightful audio commentary by affable Garland historian John Fricke and Astaire's daughter, Ava Astaire McKenzie. At its best (which is pretty often), the informal, free-flowing track makes one feel like a fly on the wall at a cocktail party, eavesdropping on John and Ava (pronounced Ah-va) as they swap stories about Garland and Astaire. Some of the charming anecdotes include how the two stars devised their wardrobe for the immortal A Couple of Swells number; what happened when Irving Berlin tried to gently coach Garland on how to perform one of his songs; and how Astaire's reputation as a stern taskmaster initially intimidated Garland. McKenzie recalls her father's perfectionism, explains the evolution of the Astaire name, and shares her early memories of Berlin phoning her home, while Fricke provides a comprehensive overview of the film's production intertwined with biographies of the cast and crew. He divulges that Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, and Red Skelton were once considered for Easter Parade supporting roles, details the excruciating back pain Ann Miller endured during the shooting of her dance numbers, and often quotes from the much darker and melodramatic original script that was wisely overhauled. Both Fricke and McKenzie have pleasant speaking voices, and their relaxed conversation and insightful observations make the track fly by.

Also on Disc One, a bountiful Garland trailer gallery features 12 beautifully restored previews for some of the star's most famous films, including The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, and A Star Is Born.

Disc Two kicks off with the all-new, 34-minute documentary, Easter Parade: On the Avenue, a slickly produced, informative feature that chronicles the film's production history through clips, photos, studio logs, and interviews. Writer Sidney Sheldon (yes, that Sidney Sheldon) discusses his extensive contributions to the script and how he successfully lightened the original screenplay's tone, while Ann Miller matter-of-factly recalls how an abusive husband kicked her down a flight of stairs when she was nine months pregnant, resulting in a stillbirth and causing the horrible back injury that plagued her throughout filming. In addition, John Fricke and Ava Astaire McKenzie offer their perspective on the movie, but the documentary's biggest surprise is the appearance of Jimmy Bates, who, as a child, clutched the stuffed rabbit Astaire so desperately covets in the Drum Crazy number. Now an esteemed choreographer, Bates remembers his awestruck impressions of Astaire, Garland, and filmmaking in general, and the special gift Astaire gave him at the conclusion of shooting. Other great anecdotes from Sheldon, Fricke, and McKenzie spice up this typically fine Warner documentary.

Yet as good as On the Avenue may be, an even better documentary follows it. Judy Garland: By Myself won a trio of Emmys after it aired as part of PBS's American Masters series a year ago, and deserved every accolade it received. Far and away the best Garland profile ever produced, By Myself tells Judy's triumphant, inspiring, and yes, tragic story in the entertainer's own words, accented by scores of film and TV clips—the most compelling evidence of the heart, soul, and explosive talent that define Judy Garland, and have made her one of the most beloved performers in show business history. Actress Isabel Keating, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of Garland in the Broadway musical The Boy from Oz, uncannily channels Judy as she recites excerpts from tape recordings the star made in preparation for a never-completed autobiography. The passages (as well as comments from such luminaries as Nelson Riddle, June Allyson, Alan King, Norman Jewison, Margaret Whiting, and many others) provide fresh insights into Garland's rollercoaster life and beautifully frame the powerful performances that drive and distinguish this riveting 115-minute film. At last, Judy receives the honest, straightforward, and substantive tribute she's always deserved, and the inclusion of this excellent documentary as part of the Easter Parade package is a very special treat indeed.

Next up is a Garland musical outtake, and though, on the surface, the inclusion of Mr. Monotony (which was previously seen in That's Entertainment! III) might not seem monumental, click on the menu item and prepare to be blown away. Warner includes not only the electrifying number itself, but also all the dailies from which the finished product was edited. The result is a fascinating look at the filmmaking process and the incredible effort that goes into a seemingly simple song and dance. Dressed in the identical outfit in which she would perform the iconic Get Happy in Summer Stock two years later, Garland sexily struts her stuff to Berlin's odd but infectious melody, building to a thrilling climax. The number runs a scant three minutes, but 18 minutes (!) of dailies follow, featuring an array of long shots, medium shots, and close-ups from various sections of the song. Even Garland's numerous curtain call attempts are included. Watching Judy clown around while she waits for the playback, then chime in on cue, and muster the same energy level and pitch-perfect execution in take after take after take makes one appreciate her talent, professionalism, and vivacious personality all the more. As icing on the cake, both the completed number and all the dailies have been magnificently restored, so they look and sound terrific.

Finally, the audio vault contains two noteworthy entries, beginning with a radio promo for the film. Dick Simmons conducts an obviously scripted interview with Astaire, in which the classy hoofer talks about his retirement, how the charms of Easter Parade lured him back to the screen, his early vaudeville days with his sister Adele, and the importance of dance in everyone's daily lives. The four-and-a-half-minute piece is followed by a 1951 radio adaptation of Easter Parade, in which Garland, Astaire, and Lawford reprise their film roles, and Monica Lewis fills in for Ann Miller. Lawford narrates this truncated version, which deletes a few songs (A Couple of Swells among them), shifts the order of others, and substitutes How Deep Is the Ocean for Shakin' the Blues Away. The story's essence, however, remains intact, and it's fun to hear how Judy and Fred interpret the slightly different script. Unfortunately, the audio quality is just a hair above atrocious, yet we're lucky the 54-minute adaptation exists at all, and Warner deserves kudos for including it, despite its compromised quality.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

The Warner crew outdoes themselves yet again with another stupendous special edition. Not just for musical lovers, Easter Parade is a flat-out must-own for anyone who appreciates the superior talent and creativity of Hollywood's Golden Age. The magic of Garland and Astaire transcends the passage of time, and with an immaculate ultra-resolution transfer and exceptional extras, this two-disc set surpasses expectations as it instantly becomes one of the year's top DVDs. Garland fans especially will cherish every component of this superior release. Highest recommendation.

 


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