|Gene Kelly and Judy Garland teamed for the first time in "For Me and My Gal."|
MGM’s For Me and My Gal boasts two firsts: This was Gene Kelly’s film debut and Judy Garland’s bow in getting billed above the title. The 1942 musical drama may not be as well-remembered as some of Gene and Judy’s best efforts. For Me and My Gal was a big hit on a modest budget, which is always the best bottom line in Hollywood’s book. Gene was given the lead over George Murphy at the last minute, and when Kelly scored, he began a long association with MGM. For Judy, to carry this film meant that Metro’s faith in her was justified.
|Judy Garland & Gene Kelly rehearsing in "For Me and My Gal."|
Gene Kelly and Judy Garland were on the cusp of 30 and 20 when they filmed For Me and My Gal. Male stars enjoyed a longer shelf life in Hollywood than their female counterparts. Imagine if Metro starred Judy in her first film at age 30—no way. Kelly had done some work on stage, including Pal Joey. Gene’s Irish good looks, athletic build, charm, decent acting ability, and great dancing—all made him a versatile and valued performer. Personally, my only pet peeve with Gene Kelly was his tendency to preen, as if “Look at me!” He didn’t need to.
|Judy Garland spars romantically with Gene Kelly in "For Me and My Gal."|
Judy Garland truly warrants her name above the title as Jo Hayden. Judy is in youthful voice and good humor, a nimble dancer and a natural in her dramatic scenes. The star is so strong in all the major categories of performing, it’s no wonder MGM considered her their greatest asset. Though some Judy Garland’s films may seem slight by today’s standards, looking over her filmography, Judy’s box office was mighty strong. Only a few of Garland’s first and last films failed to perform, the rest made mountains of money for MGM. This goes a long way to explain why they put up with her problems for so long.
|Judy Garland got her name above the title for the first time in "For Me and My Gal."|
For Me and My Gal has a major flaw: the story is a clichéd soap opera, set to music. Every time something good happens to Gene and Judy’s vaudeville performers, you just know heartbreak lurks in the next scene. But the two stars ably handle the tear-jerking as well as the song and dance numbers.
|Judy Garland, flanked by George Murphy & Gene Kelly in "For Me & My Gal."|
This story makes Ziegfeld Girl look like a hard-hitting documentary. Since For Me and My Gal was filmed in the first half of ’42, it looks like this musical morphed into a wartime story, as well. The film’s characters all go off to WWI in gung-ho fashion, to promote patriotic spirit in audiences for the U.S. entry into WWII. The climactic scenes, when Gene’s Harry Palmer redeems himself on the war front, feels especially tacked on. The latter half of the film has plenty of nostalgic WWI-era songs, beautifully sung by Garland and company. MGM was now in full war time propaganda mode, at the behest of FDR. When Judy appears in the finale in uniform, it’s a distinctly World War Two uniform! There’s even a tagline at the finale to buy war bonds.
|Judy Garland's "WWI" uniform in "For Me and My Gal."|
The most important aspect of For Me and My Gal is to just enjoy great talents Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, at the height of their youthful energy and appeal. Watching “Ballin’ The Jack,” I was amazed by Gene’s high-energy performing, but also admired how nimble Judy was as a dancer, as well. Judy’s great number “After You’re Gone,” is just stunning for this young star.
|Gene Kelly & Judy Garland make beautiful music together in "For Me & My Gal."|
Interestingly, two show biz up and comers have significant but unbilled performances: future director Richard Quine as Judy’s kid brother and Keenan Wynn as the couple’s tough agent. Wynn would soon become one of MGM’s great character actors.
|Richard Quine is unbilled as Judy's kid brother who goes off to war. |
Quine later became a director with a knack for romance and comedy.
Busby Berkeley was a rather odd choice as director. He usually helmed splashy musicals, filmed in ‘40s Technicolor. Here, Busby is directing a modestly budgeted dramatic musical in black and white. The dance numbers, which he didn’t even direct, are filmed in straightforward vaudeville style. No busy Busby stunts here!
The supporting cast is fine, save for a very annoying opera singer, who is Judy’s love rival. Why, you ask? MGM honcho L.B. Mayer was obsessed with “class” and was forever overcompensating with his Anglophile fantasies. This opera singer is shrill and looks old enough to be Judy’s mother! It’s the same mentality that gave us Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones disrupting A Night at the Opera or the semi-operatic ingénues in Mickey and Judy movies. Metro also created the short-termed opera craze with Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.
|George Murphy, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly in 1942's "For Me and My Gal."|
If you can suspend disbelief with the ‘40s MGM sentiment, you will enjoy Gene and Judy, in all their youthful exuberance and talented glory in For Me and My Gal.
Here’s a much more elaborate musical starring Judy Garland, with Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr! My look at 1941’s Ziegfeld Girl: https://ricksrealreel.blogspot.com/2021/02/ziegfeld-girl-1941.html
FYI: I put my movie overflow on my FB movie page. Check it out & join!
|Is this the secret MGM handshake? Joan visits Judy on the "For Me and My Gal" set.|