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Movie Musical Monday, February 6th: ‘For Me And My Gal’

February 6, 2012

Good morning, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

Today’s film, kicking off this new Green Room Blog series, is 1942’s For Me and My Gal.  This movie from the MGM Freed Unit, marks the screen debut of Gene Kelly, as well as his first partnering with Judy Garland.  They would go on to make two more films together, The Pirate and Summerstock. (There would have had a fourth, but before filming began Kelly broke his ankle and sent the script over to friend and then-retired Fred Astaire.  Astaire took over the part, bringing him out of retirement, and would pair him with Garland for their only film together: Easter Parade.) The plot of For Me and My Gal is based on real-life vaudeville duo Harry Palmer and Jo Hayden, centering around Palmer’s self-injury in order put off joining the army after being drafted–the timing of which would have kept the couple from playing an engagement at the Palace.

The trailer for this film is like a time capsule that speaks volumes to our seventy years hindsight:

First, such a long-winded, pumped up textual explanation of what kind of film this will be.  Follow that by introducing Judy Garland as Jo Hayden, in “the Outstanding Role of Her Career.”  At this point, Garland was only 19 years old, and was literally at the half-way point of her film career: it was her sixteenth (fifteen full lengths, one short) and she would go on to do sixteen more.  The description is probably more due to the fact that it was the first time she was cast in an adult role, not simply as an innocent young girl…again.

George Murphy gets second billing, though few of us today would recognize his name sandwiched between those of the two now iconic stars, responsible for defining a generation and genre of filmmaking.  Murphy had actually just finished another movie with Garland previous to For Me and My Gal called Little Nellie Kelly, and had been slated for Gene Kelly’s role in this film.  However, due to Kelly’s acclaimed performance on Broadway as the somehow-lovable heel Pal Joey, members of production (including Garland herself) lobbied for Kelly to take on the part of playing the somehow-lovable heel Harry Palmer.  And a film star was born.  Being brand new on the scene, Kelly is only credited here as the “Sensational Star of Broadway Musical Comedy!” (Though I am sure I am not alone in noting that I would count myself lucky if that was the only thing people had to say about me.)  The trailer then reminds us of simpler times, when all you needed was “A Boy…A Girl…And a Song!”

The final title card also notes that Busby Berkeley directed the movie.  This would be one of many films in Berkeley’s catalogue that showcased a smaller scale of film-making by the director.  There are no lavish production numbers featuring chorus girls who go on like their legs–forever.  Instead, we find a more natural, less impressionistic approach to song sequences.  Berkeley would later say that this had been his favorite film he had worked on.  However, despite the lack of tiered, revolving platforms, draped in thighs and hosiery, this is a movie musical and not Chekhov.  Hence our next clip.

Jo Hayden and Harry Palmer have only just met, and already she doesn’t like him.  But he likes her: as a commodity.  How is a guy supposed to break the very-cold-ice with a girl he’d like to steal away from her current show-biz partners and build a double act with?  We all know music is better than words, so why not invite her for a cup of coffee and sing her a song you bought out from under those aforementioned partners who had originally been promised that arrangement?  Great idea, Gene Kelly.  We should all be so conniving/clever/dashing-in-spite-it-all.  What happens is largely predictable in the world of the movie musical:

Did you see that?  How all of these other instruments came in suddenly after Judy Garland finished the first four bars of the song and started the verse?  How she could play the piano part without really looking at the sheet music, or actually pushing down on the keys, somehow conjuring all the notes from deep within Gene Kelly’s eyes?  How the two of them suddenly could sing harmony and knew all of the words for a song neither of them had heard before?  How they had instant and spontaneously matching choreography, and could feed each other schtick?  It’s a musical, so all of this can only add up to one thing: these two kids are in love (even if they may not know it yet).  And what do people who are in love (even unconsciously) do better than anyone else?  Perform as a double act.  Even the lone shop owner agrees.

But the story isn’t over, so there has to be some more conflict.  The pair hit a couple of bumps along the proverbial road (one being an opera singer played by Martha Eggerth, who was seemingly so voluptuous they actually blurred out her cleavage during her singing of “Do I Love You?”), but finally their hard work pays off, and they get a booking at the only place that matters: the Palace.  (The one in New York, it should be noted.) But just when they start packing up their trunks to go, Gene Kelly gets drafted.  Wha-wha.

What’s to be done?  How can he give up his greatest dream just to fight some Germans?  He won’t.  He gets a couple postponements on behalf of his agent, but after those run out, the pair are still days away from playing their engagement. (I should also mention, they are conscious of their love by now, and are planning on getting married after their first matinée at the Palace.) Rather than get his army physical and risk being shipped off immediately, Palmer slams the lid of his trunk on his hand and buys himself more time since the army wants him healed before they make a decision.  But it backfires: the same day he does this, word comes in that Judy Garland’s brother Danny–who, like every noble man portrayed at the time, had enlisted–had been killed overseas in the fighting.  She calls Palmer a coward and tells him she never wants to see him again.  Because what does a person in a 1942 musical love more than their singing-and-dancing-partner-and-romantic-love-interest?  AMERICA.

But remember: it’s a musical comedy.  It all works out, I promise.  And with a very patriotic conclusion.

HIDDEN GEM SONG: One of the best things about old movie musicals are the occasional gem-of-a-song you can find that people haven’t heard in a while, but would make a great addition to anyone’s musical theatre book. (This is particularly true of some novelty songs from the early part of the century, that can make for great comedic song options: something that still stands up, and hasn’t been beaten to death in front of auditors.  Because let’s face it: unless you’re in final callbacks for Wicked, or your name is Kristin Chenoweth, who wants to hear you sing “Popular?”  No one.) A song that might fit such a bill: “After You’ve Gone.”  A popular song from 1918, the Roger Edens arrangement to this song is just stunning.  Garland would bring it back to her catalogue during her concert years.  I couldn’t find a clip of it from the film itself, but here’s a recording from 1960.  There are several possible 16 bar cuts that are just waiting for you to mineminemine.  Provided the rest of us don’t get there first.

That’s it for today’s film, For Me and My Gal.  Have a great week, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

 

 

(**Resources used for this post: Wikipedia, IMDB, TCM, John Fricke’s commentary on the DVD of the film, and my own inane knowledge and observations.**)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2012 11:41 am

    What a great idea for a series! This will definitely be on my list of films to watch 🙂

  2. February 6, 2012 2:39 pm

    Can’t wait to continue my movie musical education with the expert! 🙂

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