Sunday, June 09, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Summer Stock (1950) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Judy Garland and Gene Kelly star in the MGM musical SUMMER STOCK (1950), recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

Like the Warner Archive Blu-ray release of MGM's BRIGADOON (1954), this new Blu-ray looks absolutely fantastic. What a treat to revisit this longtime favorite with the movie looking and sounding so wonderful!

Garland plays Jane Falbury, a struggling farmer. Jane has just wangled a loan for a tractor from the father (Ray Collins) of her longtime suitor Orville (Eddie Bracken), but when she arrives home with it she discovers her farm has been taken over by a theatrical company headed by Joe Ross (Kelly).

It seems that Jane's flighty sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven) has returned to the farm with the show business bug -- and a part in the new musical being developed by Joe. The show has a shoestring budget so Abigail offered the farm as a place for rehearsals.

Jane initially tries to throw the actors off the premises but relents when she realizes that if the actors spend a couple hours a day doing chores she end up coming out ahead at a time when she can use some extra help.

Complications ensue when Orville is scandalized by "show business" people taking up residence at Jane's farm; things get even more chaotic when Abigail gets too big for her britches and bolts for New York with her leading man (Hans Conried in a small but amusing performance). In true "Let's put on a show!" style, Joe takes over the lead role and convinces Jane that she can learn Abigail's part in a handful of days before the production's out-of-town tryout in the barn.

The plot is a simple, tried-and-true musical theme, with "Save the farm!" thrown in on the side, but it's completely engaging, played with commitment by a terrific cast. The screenplay by George Wells and Sy Gomberg is very good for its type, with some memorable lines and amusing readings from the actors; one of my favorite moments is when an exhausted Jane tells off Orville mid-rehearsal. She's delightfully funny.

Ace musical director Charles Walters provides peppy direction and keeps things moving for all of the film's 108 minutes, while the Technicolor photography by Robert Planck is just right, pretty to look at while not overwhelming the farm setting.

With the exception of Saul Chaplin's more-painful-than-funny "Heavenly Music," performed by Kelly and Phil Silvers, the score is most enjoyable, starting with Garland's opening Harold Arlen-Mack Gordon anthem "If You Feel Like Singing, Sing." Arlen and Gordon also wrote "Happy Harvest," the terrific song Garland sings on the tractor; "Dig Dig Dig For Your Dinner," performed by Kelly and company in the farm kitchen; and Garland's beautiful solo "Friendly Star," sung as feelings are beginning to develop between Jane and Joe.

Best of all, the film contains two of the greatest numbers from MGM musicals, Kelly's "newspaper dance" with a squeaky board and a paper, and Garland's "Get Happy," by Arlen and Ted Koehler. Both are sheer bliss for musical fans.

Although the latter song was famously shot shortly after the main production of the film had concluded, I noticed that its backdrop appears in the background of a dramatic scene earlier in the film, which was interesting. I also noticed a continuity issue for the first time, that just before the end of the film Garland is costumed for "Heavenly Music," in which she doesn't appear, and when she and Kelly appear for the finale, ostensibly seconds later, they're wearing completely different costumes. That was a quick costume change!

In addition to Bracken, Collins, and Conried, the movie has Marjorie Main as the farm cook, performing the role with sarcastic, brash flair as only Marjorie Main could do. (Wait till you see her "wake up call" for the actors!) This was one of four terrific films Carleton Carpenter had small yet memorable roles in in 1950, the others being THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950), FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950), and TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950), where he performed "Aba Daba Honeymoon" with Debbie Reynolds.

The dance cast includes Nita Bieber as bookworm featured dancer Sarah Higgins; I noted Bieber's passing at the end of my February link roundup. Another of the dancers is Dorothy Tuttle, easily recognized by sharp-eyed MGM musical viewers from her roles in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), where she appears prominently in "The Trolley Song," and as one of THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946). Many years ago I had a chance to chat with Tuttle at a gathering honoring director Walters, an evening which was quite a thrill for this longtime MGM fan.

The dance company also includes John Brascia, who danced the "Abraham" number with Vera-Ellen in WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) and Jimmy Thompson, who played Charlie in BRIGADOON. Kelly's assistants Carol Haney and Jeanne Coyne (his future wife) are billed but I have trouble picking Haney out of the company.

Extras duplicated from the original SUMMER STOCK DVD release include the trailer, a featurette, an outtake song, a Pete Smith short, and the Tex Avery cartoon THE CUCKOO CLOCK (1950).

The Warner Archive has been releasing MGM musicals on Blu-ray at a relatively slow pace, but when they do come out, they are spectacular! This release is highly recommended.

Look for a review of the Warner Archive Blu-ray release of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954) here in the future...and let's cross our fingers for more Warner Archive MGM musical Blu-rays in the future. My fervent hope is for a Blu-ray of THE HARVEY GIRLS at some point!  (December 2020 update: My HARVEY GIRLS dream came true!)

Related posts: TCM Friday Night Spotlight: Charles Walters and Book Review: Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.


Blogger Vienna said...

Great review of Judy’s last MGM musical. A pity Judy and Gene only made two films together. Must get the blu ray.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's really worth getting if you're a fan, the Blu-ray is beautiful.

I think you probably meant "two other films together"? (Those being FOR ME AND MY GAL and THE PIRATE.) They really are a good team. Gene was said to have been very loyal to Judy because of how helpful she was to him on FOR ME AND MY GAL and helped her through SUMMER STOCK when she was struggling.

Best wishes,

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this excellent review and providing details. I'd always wondered which dancer was Bieber so it was great getting this confirmation. Also I wanted to point out that Jeannie Coyne appears in the photo of Kelly with a lot of the dancers with Bieber just behind him. She is visible directly to his right (or stage left) wearing a white shirt, shorts, and laced sandals. She's actually in a number of scenes. Haney I was not able to spot either, though in the same photo, there is someone with dark hair and a bandanna whom I was wondering about-- but I'd have to go back and look at other moments where she appears. Doubtful it's her.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Belatedly catching up on comments after a busy patch with my day job -- thank you so much for your comment. I'm delighted I was able to clear up Bieber's identity, and in turn I appreciate you pointing out Jeanne Coyne! For some reason I have a harder time spotting here than Carol Haney. I will be watching for them both on my next viewing.

Thanks much for your note!

Best wishes,

7:00 PM  

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