I finally watched MGM’s Easter Parade for the first time two days before Easter, 2020! While I love old-time songs, period movie musicals usually seem too precious to me. However, Easter Parade is playful with the musical conventions it employs, and avoids the obvious pitfalls.
Some film folk have criticized Easter Parade’s tissue thin plot. This Metro musical was before the blockbuster musicals of the ‘50s and ‘60s, usually bolstered by a literary basis. The scenario “boy meets girl,” who banter, bicker, break up, meet back up beaus, but reconcile by the last reel is an old movie staple. And Easter Parade stars Fred Astaire and Judy Garland performed in many of them! I can accept most movie conventions of the past as long as they’re not beyond the pale. If ‘40s movie musical conventions are an irritant to you, let Easter Parade pass you by.
|Fred Astaire is astounding in the 'Steppin' Out' number, nearly six minutes of dancing.|
Fred Astaire came out of early retirement to take over for Gene Kelly, as dance man Don Hewes. His partner, diva Nadine Hale—Ann Miller in her first MGM movie—ditches him to go solo. Hewes is determined to show she’s dispensable, so he hires singing waitress Hannah Brown, played by Judy Garland. Perfectionist Hewes hectors Hannah, not a stretch, since Fred was one in real life! Soon, the dancing duo is in sync. Hewes young pal is a stage door Johnny—Peter Lawford—who bounces back and forth between Nadine and Hannah, when Hewes wavers. It doesn’t take a film buff to figure out who will be paired up by the finale, but the fun is in the performing.
|In fine form at almost 50, Fred Astaire's first 'Easter Parade' number, "Drum Crazy."|
Astaire was pushing 50 in Easter Parade, but his dancing is as elegant and energetic as ever. Fred’s opening, “Drum Crazy,” set in a toy store, is a playful blast. My favorite is “Steppin’ Out with My Baby.” Sporting MGM’s “tropical” makeup for this jazzy number, Astaire transcends this with out of this world dancing. The nearly six minute number’s showstopper is when Fred is filmed dancing in slow motion, while his backup dancers perform in real time.
|Ann Miller, looking fab and dancing like a dervish, in her first Metro film.|
For those familiar with Ann Miller in her latter day black beehive and kewpie doll makeup, will be stunned by Annie at the height of her beauty. Miller’s dancing is incredibly energetic. “Dancin’ the Blues Away” made me dizzy with all of Miller’s dervish spins. Peter Lawford is basically the male ingénue, and no singer or dancer. As someone who only saw Lawford act in his later dissipated days, I was pleasantly surprised to find handsome Peter warm and charming.
|Judy Garland and Peter Lawford at the peak of their youth and MGM stardom.|
Last—and best—is Judy Garland. Growing up, I mainly recall Judy as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I later saw A Star is Born; though impressed, Judy seemed a bit physically and emotionally frayed, even then.
|Fred & Judy are great fun in "We're a Couple of Swells." Garland later got much mileage out of this musical motif.|
What a delight then, to find Judy Garland cooking on all burners in Easter Parade. Judy looks and sounds marvelous as the slip of a thing that becomes a sophisticated star. Garland is in great humor and spirits, and her camaraderie with Astaire is apparent. Irene designed the superb women’s costumes, and Garland’s look stylish and understated. No surprise that Judy’s in great voice here, but her energetic dancing and clowning shines, too. I was especially knocked out by Judy and Fred’s hoofing to “When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam.’”
Easter Parade is delightfully effervescent and light on its feet, a real Easter treat.
|This promotional art captures the spirit of 'Easter Parade.'|
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|Judy and Fred in their "Easter Parade" finery!|