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Warner Home Video presents
Summer Stock (Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory) (1950)

"Forget your troubles, c'mon get happy,
You better chase all your cares away,
Shout hallelujah, c'mon get happy,
Get ready for the judgment day!"

- Jane Falbury (Judy Garland), knocking 'em dead with Get Happy

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: July 06, 2006

Stars: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly
Other Stars: Eddie Bracken, Gloria DeHaven, Marjorie Main, Phil Silvers, Ray Collins, Carleton Carpenter
Director: Charles Walters

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:49m:00s
Release Date: April 25, 2006
UPC: 012569791084
Genre: musical


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

DVD Review

When you think of Judy Garland on film, three timeless classics spring to mind—The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, and A Star Is Born. Now, I love those movies as much as the next fan, but there's something about Summer Stock, Judy's MGM swansong, that makes it my top choice whenever I crave a Garland fix. In the rarefied annals of Metro musicals, Summer Stock only rates a footnote (it's not even produced by the esteemed Arthur Freed Unit), but it's one of the studio's most entertaining and least pretentious genre entries, and contains one of Garland's all-time greatest numbers, Get Happy.

Originally envisioned as a vehicle to reunite Garland and perennial co-star Mickey Rooney, Summer Stock embraces many of the backstage, barnyard elements of their adolescent let's-put-on-a-show musicals of the early 1940s. (Thankfully, though, MGM deemed Gene Kelly a more suitable on-screen partner for Garland at this stage of her career, and assigned him to play opposite her for the third and final time.) In this incarnation, a struggling New York theatrical troupe invades the tranquil Connecticut farm of Jane Falbury (Garland), and, much to her chagrin, hijacks her barn to mount a Broadway-bound musical revue. Joe Ross (Kelly) is the show's affable writer-director and Jane's stagestruck sister, Abigail (Gloria DeHaven)—who invited the company without Jane's knowledge—is both his girlfriend and leading lady. At first, an outraged Jane plans to evict the disruptive thespians, but soon strikes a deal with Ross, allowing him to use her barn on one condition: his city-slicker actors must pitch in and help with daily farm chores. The mutually beneficial arrangement satisfies Jane, but not her hyper-allergic fiancé of four years, Orville Wingait (Eddie Bracken), and his overbearing, puritanical father (Ray Collins), both of whom ardently disapprove—especially when they learn Jane herself has caught the theatrical bug.

Summer Stock benefits not only from a top-notch Harry Warren score that includes such marvelous tunes as the lilting If You Feel Like Singing, Sing, the rousing Happy Harvest (capped by a lung-busting final note that Garland belts to perfection), and the heartrending ballad Friendly Star, but also from exhilarating dance numbers and a snappy script that somehow makes the tired backstage story seem fresh. (Anyone who's ever questioned Garland's terpsichorean abilities need only take a gander at the complex and precisely executed Portland Fancy to fully appreciate her dancing talent.) The colorful characters and brisk pacing (care of director Charles Walters, who also helmed Easter Parade) keep us fully engaged at all times, and make the film seem far shorter than its 109-minute running time.

It's no secret Garland was not at all well as production on Summer Stock commenced, but she valiantly soldiered on, and somehow files one of her most energetic, multi-faceted, and sensitive performances. Jane Falbury is perhaps the most three-dimensional character MGM ever allowed its musical heroine to portray—proud, independent, opinionated, mature, yet still awash with the vulnerability that's such an integral part of the Garland persona—and Judy fully exhibits all those qualities. No longer saddled with a protective aunt, sisterly roommate, or domineering mentor who monitors her every move, Garland really seems grown up for the first time on film, and it's a thrill to see her so liberated and in command. She laces many of her humorous lines with a welcome cynical edge, and seems to relish Jane's frequent temperamental explosions. Best of all, Judy is also in stellar vocal shape, at last bucking MGM's "sing pretty" mantra in favor of attacking her numbers with a full-throated vigor that would also distinguish her work in Warner's A Star Is Born four years later.

Garland had put on considerable weight prior to beginning Summer Stock, and though the added pounds befit her farmer character and lend her complexion a healthy glow, they often lead viewers to speculate that the sublime Get Happy number—in which Judy appears significantly slimmer—is an outtake from a previous film. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. After Garland (wisely) decided not to participate with Kelly and Silvers in the vulgar Heavenly Music routine—without a doubt the movie's low point—and Summer Stock wrapped, producer Joe Pasternak felt the picture needed a slam-bang Garland solo to cap the musical show-within-a-show. The Harold Arlen standard was chosen, and when it came time to shoot the sequence three weeks later, Judy—thanks to a Carmel hypnotist—arrived on set looking svelte and glamorous. In a few quick takes, she nailed the number, and turned Get Happy into a euphoric and chicly sexy tour de force that remains one of the high points of her illustrious career.

As always, Kelly creates a warm rapport with Garland that makes their on-screen romance believable and touching, while on his own, he mounts a thrilling dance sequence around such basic elements as a squeaky floorboard and single sheet of newspaper. A year later, he would choreograph the elaborate An American in Paris ballet, but many find the graceful simplicity of his work in Summer Stock, which also includes the revival-tinged Dig, Dig, Dig for Your Dinner and the aforementioned Portland Fancy, preferable. I know I do.

The first-rate supporting cast, including Bracken (in one of his most hilarious performances), DeHaven (in perhaps her best film role as Garland's spoiled, snooty sister), the always delightful Marjorie Main (as the blunt Falbury cook), and Phil Silvers (who's either endearingly annoying or just plain insufferable as a bumbling techie-turned-performer), helps keep the film on its toes, yet no one can steal the spotlight from Gene and (especially) Judy. The duo takes a run-of-the-mill idea and molds it into a tuneful tonic that never goes flat, no matter how many times we see it. Summer Stock may be a minor musical, but more than half a century after its initial release, it remains a major piece of good, old-fashioned fun.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: Fans of Summer Stock can rest easy, as Warner supplies a beautiful transfer marked by richly saturated colors and wonderful clarity. A few blotches occasionally intrude, but their appearance only briefly distracts. Fleshtones are stable and natural-looking, contrast is excellent, and deep black levels make a Garland silhouette during the Friendly Star number strikingly beautiful. Thanks, Warner, for taking such fine care of one of my favorite films.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track provides distinct, full-bodied sound that caresses Garland's lovely vocals and crisply reproduces all of Kelly's taps. The orchestrations—whether lush or brassy—enjoy fine dynamic range, and the audio resists distortion during both Judy's tirades and powerful belting. Though pops and crackles have been erased, some hiss remains, but Warner technicians probably (and rightfully) hesitated about limiting fidelity on a Garland film. Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and the musical numbers receive a slight volume boost that increases their immediacy and excitement.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 56m:48s

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage short, Did'ja Know
  2. Vintage cartoon, The Cuckoo Clock
  3. Audio outtake
Extras Review: Warner pads the disc with its customary assortment of fine supplements, beginning with Summer Stock: Get Happy!, a 16-minute featurette that chronicles the film's rocky production history, salutes its superb cast, and analyzes its musical impact. Thankfully, the enthusiasm and insights of Garland historian John Fricke offset both the female narrator's bland delivery and the featurette's surprisingly grainy, off-color look. (I rarely quibble over the image quality of extras, but something's definitely awry here.) Fricke's a Garland champion, but he never sugarcoats the star's frailties, and his ability to cut through rumors and present the far less sensational truth in a thoughtful, straightforward manner lends welcome balance to the often skewed Garland legend. (It's too bad Warner didn't engage Fricke to record an audio commentary for this disc; Summer Stock—more than most musicals—cries out for such a track due to the turmoil that plagued the production.) Here, he relates how a supportive cast and crew helped a fragile Judy survive shooting, and connects her iconic Get Happy number to a sequence cut from Easter Parade 18 months earlier. Cast members Gloria DeHaven (who admits to idolizing Garland) and Carleton Carpenter (who jokes about having either "an elbow or an earlobe in every other shot") also share their fond Summer Stock memories in this slick, informative piece.

The seven-minute Tex Avery cartoon, The Cuckoo Clock, supplies plenty of slapstick laughs as it details a desperate pussycat's violent attempts to evict an annoying cuckoo from its comfy clock, while Did'ja Know?, a seven-minute live-action short, humorously depicts the differences between new and expectant fathers, and shows us why yawns are contagious. A delightful audio outtake, Fall in Love, featuring DeHaven, Silvers, and Hans Conried, as well as a teaser and trailer, wrap up the supplements.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Clap your hands and lick your chops, Summer Stock is at last available on DVD, and Warner's excellent rendering makes this modest but enormously entertaining musical a must-have for any fan of the genre. Judy and Gene are at the top of their illustrious form, and their superb singing and dancing help us get happy and stay happy from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

 


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