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Warner Home Video presents
Presenting Lily Mars (1943)

Frankie: Lily, do you know what you are?
Lily: Foolish?
Frankie: You're me. The same eager, hopeful, stagestruck little hick I was half a century ago, with the same question to answer: What do you want?
Lily: I want to be an actress.
Frankie: Know what I'd do if I were you?
Lily: Go home?
Frankie: Lily, I think you are home.

- Connie Gilchrist, Judy Garland

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: January 07, 2007

Stars: Judy Garland, Van Heflin
Other Stars: Fay Bainter, Richard Carlson, Spring Byington, Marta Eggerth, Connie Gilchrist, Leonid Kinskey, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, Bob Crosby and His Orchestra
Director: Norman Taurog

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:43m:33s
Release Date: December 19, 2006
UPC: 012569795266
Genre: musical


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

DVD Review

Judy Garland starred in plenty of flagship musicals for MGM during her 15-year tenure at the studio, but one of her most entertaining efforts is a little-known, low-budget, black-and-white gem called Presenting Lily Mars. Originally envisioned as a straight dramatic vehicle for Lana Turner, this heartwarming and surprisingly humorous tale of a plucky Indiana teen who ventures to New York to forge a career on Broadway possesses none of the glitz and élan of Metro's Arthur Freed-Vincente Minnelli collaborations. Rather, it relies solely on Garland's fresh-faced charm and velvet-toned voice, and benefits immensely from those endearing and formidable qualities. Musical fans might rue the movie's bargain-basement look, but the lack of Technicolor, period trimmings, and massive production numbers allows us to focus more intently on Garland than we might otherwise, and thus absorb more of her special gifts. Rarely has Judy looked so lovely on film or filed a more natural, carefree performance, and her inimitable magic once again elevates a pedestrian film to a higher plane.

Along with For Me and My Gal and Meet Me in St. Louis, Presenting Lily Mars helped Garland emerge from Mickey Rooney's shadow and ease into adult roles. Booth Tarkington's story may possess a familiar backstage slant, but more closely resembles 42nd Street than the adolescent and oh-so-predictable let's-put-on-a-show musicals Judy did with Rooney. And though 19-year-old Lily Mars is far from a worldly woman, she's got self-confidence and starry-eyed optimism to burn, and enough maturity to balance out her schoolgirl naiveté. Heretofore, Garland was often typecast as a vulnerable, insecure plain Jane, so it's refreshing to see her break free from that mold and come on to co-star Van Heflin with lines like, "I know why you treat me as a child; it's because you're afraid to think of me as a woman."

A drama queen before there ever was such a term, Lily Mars eats, drinks, and breathes acting, and feels suffocated by her hick Indiana town and small-minded boyfriend (Ray McDonald). When favorite son John Thornway (Heflin), a successful Broadway producer, returns home for a visit, the tenacious Lily repeatedly tries to impress him with her ability, but her hammy, melodramatic readings alienate him instead. Undeterred, Lily follows him to New York with the hope of landing a part in his new show, which stars his temperamental girlfriend, Isobel Rekay (Marta Eggerth), an operatic diva with a jealous streak a mile wide. Romantic complications invariably ensue, and help land Lily the chance of a lifetime. But is she too green to make good?

The story may be stale, but screenwriters Richard Connell and Gladys Lehman punch it up with some funny one-liners, and a first-rate supporting cast adds welcome zip to many static scenes. Richard Carlson is especially delightful as Heflin's playwright sidekick, and Fay Bainter and Spring Byington make the most of thankless maternal roles. Each of Lily's siblings also shines, but moppet Poppy (Patricia Barker) takes the cake, melting hearts and milking laughs as the youngest (and spunkiest) Mars child. (It's tough to steal a scene from Judy Garland, but Barker does it with ease and without any manipulative tricks.) Also of note for trivia buffs, Mickey Rooney's real-life dad, Joe Yule, enjoys a fine bit as a crusty stage manager, and Garland's sprightly dance partner in the finale, Charles Walters, would later gain renown as a director, and helm such classics as Easter Parade, Summer Stock, High Society, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

The Lily Mars score is mediocre at best, but offers Garland plenty of chances to swing, most notably in the clever and bouncy Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son. Yet perhaps the film's most memorable song is the quiet, touching duet, Every Little Movement, which pairs Lily with a theatrical scrubwoman (marvelously played by Connie Gilchrist) who years ago enjoyed a modicum of stage success herself. The tune's understated emotion, lilting melody, and simple staging combine to create an unexpectedly special movie moment. Slicker, but far less affecting, the tacked-on finale (filmed months after principal photography was completed) looks more expensive than the entire picture that precedes it—and more than a bit out of place as a result—but lets a glamorous Garland, backed by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, tear into Broadway Rhythm and show off her considerable terpsichorean talent.

Presenting Lily Mars is a small, rather dated film, but its lack of pretense, wholesome ideals, and the luminous presence of a young Judy Garland on the cusp of womanhood make it an irresistible treat. Other Garland movies are more popular and renowned, but this one beautifully captures the star's essence.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: The full-frame transfer is a mixed bag, often fluctuating between relatively crisp, smooth scenes and murky, grainy stretches that hammer home the film's age. Some segments possess an unfortunate whitish cast, while others seem a bit fuzzy, and close-ups never dazzle like we hope they will. A fair bit of debris and occasional scratches tarnish the print, which sadly looks as if it's only been marginally touched up for this DVD release. A more varied gray scale would heighten contrast and lend the image more visual pop, but blacks levels are solid and remain rich throughout, especially during the glitzy finale. It's too bad more care couldn't have been lavished on this transfer, but it's still a major improvement over the old VHS edition.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The mono track gets the job done, although some faint hiss and a few pops and crackles can't escape notice. Dialogue, however, is always clear and comprehendible, and Garland's vocals, whether sweet and lilting or sizzling hot, enjoy fine fidelity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Academy Award-winning short, Heavenly Music
  2. Classic cartoon, Who Killed Who?
  3. Audio outtake and alternate versions
  4. Radio show adaptation with June Allyson and Van Heflin
Extras Review: Though Presenting Lily Mars is a minor musical, Warner treats it like a major release, with several enticing extras enhancing the disc. (The one thing that's missing, however, is an audio commentary, which would give this neglected film the attention and historical perspective it deserves.) First up is the Academy Award-winning, 21-minute short, Heavenly Music, which provides a tuneful glimpse inside the pearly gates. A young musician must "audition" before an esteemed panel of celestial classical composers (including Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, and Wagner)—and prove to them his modern music will stand the test of time—to gain admittance into heaven. The Tex Avery cartoon Who Killed Who? runs close to eight minutes and lampoons murder mystery and haunted house clichés as it follows an inspector's botched attempts to find a killer. Red Skelton fans will especially appreciate the payoff to this very funny and inventive animated short.

The Presenting Lily Mars finale went through a couple of revisions before MGM settled on a final cut, and two abandoned attempts survive in audio form. Both are included here. Initially, producer Joe Pasternak favored a patriotic format, and the flag-waving song Paging Mr. Greenback, which urged patrons to buy War Bonds, became the springboard for a rousing production number. Garland performs it with plenty of gusto, but the more stylish and sophisticated Where There's Music (arranged by her musical mentor, Roger Edens) suits her better. A truncated version of this ambitious, 10-minute medley—in which Judy sings such standards as St. Louis Blues and In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree—would become the Lily Mars finale, but this full-length audio version allows us to imagine the number in its entirety. We're also treated to an encore of the existing finale with a simulated stereo soundtrack, which offers brighter, more robust audio—always a plus where Judy Garland is concerned.

As fate would have it, when it came time to perform Presenting Lily Mars on radio on March 11, 1946, Garland was only a day away from giving birth to daughter Liza Minnelli, so was unable to reprise her role. June Allyson might seem like a logical replacement, but she lacks Garland's charisma and gives a dull, one-note portrayal. Thankfully, Heflin is on hand to keep this 52-minute, non-musical adaptation on an even keel.

The original theatrical trailer completes the extras package.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A slight but winning musical, Presenting Lily Mars presents Judy Garland in a tailor-made role in which she exhibits all the heart, energy, and wide-eyed charm that made her one of Hollywood's most beloved and enduring personalities. The transfers may not be up to Warner's usual high standards, but it's great to finally have this sweet little film on DVD. Recommended.

 


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