The second feature in our Astaire double-feature was the classic Irving Berlin/Fred Astaire/Judy Garland musical Easter Parade. Fred Astaire had tried to retire—he was in his mid-40s, for cryin’ out loud!—when Gene Kelly had a little fit on a volleyball court and hurt his ankle. Or so the story goes.
The story had been done many times in many ways, and many of those times with Judy Garland. At least it feels that way. (Like, I remember For Me And My Gal with Gene Kelly and Garland having a similar plot and even the same climactic line: “Why didn’t you tell me I was in love with you?”) Judy is a farm-girl stumbling around in the big city when a sophisticated man takes her under his wing—in this case after being dumped by the stunning Ann Miller—and (as an act of vengeance) makes a star out of her.
In this case, our hero Don (Astaire) foolishly tries to make over Hanna (Garland) in the mold of Nadine (Miller), a sophisticated ballroom dancer. After this proves disastrous, he realizes she has plenty of talent as a comedic dancer and singer. (There’s a certain irony here, as the Astaires themselves were comedic dancers on vaudeville who incorporated elements of ballroom into their act.)
Ultimately, of course, Hannah and Don begin to rival and even exceed Nadine, whose only real serious malevolent act (beyond perhaps ditching Don in the first place) is to provocatively dance with Don in a way that she knows Hannah can’t rival.
It all comes out in the wash, of course.
Great songs and dances. This is the one where the chorus is dancing behind Fred at normal speed, but he’s been in slow-mo. He’s also great when he cons the little kid out of the drum in the toy store, opening scene. Peter Lawford sings “Fella with an Umbrella” and actually seems like a much better fit for Garland’s Hannah character.
I don’t know that Fred and Judy have any real chemistry, but their acts are completely incompatible, sort of contrary to the story premise. He’s a more elegant dancer, and she just dusts him with her singing. It all still works, of course.
Ann Miller’s big number is just amazing. I’d never seen this on the big screen and she is—well, not a talentless hack, as you might wish her character to be, even if that would make for a much worse movie.
There’s a great recurring bit with Jules Munshin as a put upon waiter. Jules would re-appear in On The Town as the other sailor (besides Sinatra and Kelly).
It’s one of those movies that makes you sad about modern films because every character has memorable role to play. Like they knew how to drew characters from the merest words or actions.