Thursday, December 31, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Harvey Girls (1946) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

I rang out the year in fine style with the new Warner Archive Blu-ray of one of my all-time favorite MGM musicals, THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946).

Other MGM musicals may be more lauded, but THE HARVEY GIRLS is one of MGM's "second tier" musicals like GOOD NEWS (1947) or SUMMER STOCK (1950) which are wonderful "feel good" films.  Perhaps they're not up there with MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), or THE BAND WAGON (1953), but they're still head and shoulders above most other movies and among my very favorites.

Watching THE HARVEY GIRLS, I start smiling from the moment the opening credits begin, accompanied by some of the music from the film's fine Johnny Mercer-Harry Warren score.

For those who haven't yet had the pleasure, the movie tells the story of Susan Bradley (Judy Garland) of Ohio, who we first meet on a train headed for the desert town of Sand Rock.  She's destined to be the mail order bride of H.H. Hartsey (Chill Wills), but the letters wooing her were actually written by Ned Trent (John Hodiak), owner of the Alhambra saloon.

After Susan's arrival -- and the mind-blowing production number of the Oscar-winning "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe"! -- she and Hartsey quickly call it quits and Susan goes to work as a Harvey girl, waitressing in the Harvey House restaurant across the street from the saloon.

Ned, Judge Sam Purvis (Preston Foster), and head saloon gal Em (Angela Lansbury, who was a stunning 19 or 20 when this was filmed) all want the Harvey House competition gone and try to scare the ladies away, but Susan and most of her coworkers are made of tough stuff and don't back down.

Things get really complicated as the warring Ned and Susan realize their attraction for one another...

There are so many things I love about this film, including the marvelous cast, the music, and the gorgeous Technicolor filmed by George Folsey, which has surely never looked better than it now does on this new Blu-ray.

Judy was at her loveliest and most charming, and she has wonderful chemistry with the handsome Hodiak.  

As a Harvey Girl, Judy is surrounded by sweet young Cyd Charisse, amusing Virginia O'Brien (who disappears partway into the film due to a real-life pregnancy), and a plethora of beautiful young ladies.  A viewer looking carefully can pick out Catherine McLeod (I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU) or Jacqueline White (THE NARROW MARGIN) among the group.  

I'd seen THE HARVEY GIRLS many times before Horace McNally, who plays Ned's competition for Em, was someone I recognized.  Horace changed his name to Stephen McNally a couple years later and starred in classic film noir like CRISS CROSS (1949) and a host of marvelous Universal Westerns, including playing James Stewart's nemesis Dutch Henry Brown in WINCHESTER '73 (1950).

The movie's best scene, the staging of the massive "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" number, is something that only a studio like MGM could pull off.  Watch how smoothly the camera moves and pulls back, often avoiding expected cuts, and note how the takes are even longer once Judy enters the scene.  It's technically impressive and emotionally exhilarating.  

The rest of the score may not be as well known, but songs like "It's a Great Big World" and "Swing Your Partner Round and Round" have been part of my life for most of my life, and I love them.  The big choral numbers have that very distinctive "MGM sound" thanks to the scoring by Conrad Salinger and the Oscar-nominated Lennie Hayton.

The screenplay had too many contributors to name here, but it all works, and the film's 102 minutes fly by.  This is one of those cases where I think I'd have enjoyed the movie being a bit longer, and indeed, some scenes that were filmed were cut from the final print.

THE HARVEY GIRLS was directed by George Sidney.  Cast members I haven't yet mentioned include Marjorie Main, Selena Royle, Kenny Baker, Roy Bolger, Jack Lambert, Morris Ankrum, and Ray Teal.

A couple fun personal notes: Years ago I met one of the Harvey Girls; she's the same chorus girl I wrote about in my post on MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS two years ago.

Also, I realized for the first time tonight that Judy Garland and John Hodiak filmed scenes at Iverson Ranch, which I've been able to visit a couple times over the past few years.  It was great fun to suddenly realize they were standing in a place which looked very familiar.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray includes a song selection menu, deleted musical numbers, and studio scoring session music cues.  It also provides the commentary track by director George Sidney which first appeared on the DVD nearly two decades ago.

THE HARVEY GIRLS never fails to make me happy.  Most highly recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold. 

2 Comments:

Blogger Pete said...

I had mostly forgotten I saw this movie but it turned out to be great fun for the holidays! Bolger was good in it but still I think I laugh the most at his scenes in The Great Ziegfeld. I like the title track but Mercer had another version before this with the Pied Pipers and Jo Stafford. It was a hit for quite awhile just before the movie came out.

Anyway thanks for the post and Judy Garland was awesome!

Pete

6:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm delighted to know you enjoyed this favorite so well, Pete. Happy New Year!

Best wishes,
Laura

9:41 AM  

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