Friday, March 27, 2020

Tonight's Movie: A Date With Judy (1948)

So far this week's movie "comfort viewing" has included an animated film from Disney and a romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Next it was time to bring out what might be the best comfort viewing of all, an MGM musical! Whether I'm fighting an ear infection, recovering from surgery, or "social distancing" at home during a pandemic, the very best distraction, as far as I'm concerned, is a colorful MGM musical. And A DATE WITH JUDY (1948), while not one of MGM's best-known films, is one of my long-time favorites.

I'm not sure whether I first saw the entire film before or after seeing clips from it in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974) when I was a kid, but the couple of scenes from the film which appear in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! are delightfully tantalizing, as first Elizabeth Taylor (dubbed by Jean McLaren) and then Jane Powell and company sing "It's a Most Unusual Day." I love this upbeat song by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson, which has a bit of the vibe of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It's a Grand Night for Singing" from STATE FAIR (1945) yet stands on its own as a terrific tune.

Like STATE FAIR, A DATE WITH JUDY also features marvelous Technicolor and some of the prettiest dresses put on film in the '40s. The DATE WITH JUDY wardrobes designed for Jane Powell and Elizabeth Taylor by Helen Rose are exquisite; they're colorful, beautifully cut, and richly detailed, with ribbons threaded through the dresses an eye-catching recurring theme.

A DATE WITH JUDY isn't a title one sees on lists of the great Technicolor films of the '40s, but Robert Surtees' lush cinematography is glorious. Taylor was all of 16 when she filmed this, though she looked considerably older, and I think it just might be her most beautiful appearance on film. Powell was about 18 at the time this was filmed, and she also looks delightful.

And then there's the terrific cast of pros backing up the two girls: Robert Stack, Selena Royle, Wallace Beery, Leon Ames, Scotty Beckett, Lloyd Corrigan, and one of my favorite character actors, Clinton Sundberg. And I haven't even mentioned Xavier Cugat and Carmen Miranda! What's not to like?

The plot? Not that it matters a great deal, but it's about a group of high schoolers who put on a weekly radio show in their hometown of Santa Barbara, California. Judy (Powell) becomes concerned when she catches her father (Beery) hiding a woman (Miranda) in his office closet, not realizing the woman is teaching Dad the Rhumba so he can surprise his wife for their wedding anniversary!

Judy is also torn between her lifelong sweetheart (Beckett) and the handsome college student (Stack) spending the summer working at the local drugstore. Meanwhile Judy's poor little rich girl friend (Taylor), who's neglected by her well-meaning but very distracted widowed father (Ames), also falls for the college student.

That's about it in terms of a story, but it's an engaging 103 minutes, with a pretty good script by Dorothy Kingsley and Dorothy Cooper, with well-paced direction from Richard Thorpe.

A DATE WITH JUDY was released on DVD in 2008, then reissued by the Warner Archive in 2011. I watched the latter disc, which carried over the trailer, short and cartoon from the original DVD release.

A DATE WITH JUDY was released on VHS in 1995, and it's shown periodically on Turner Classic Movies.

A DATE WITH JUDY is a happy diversion I've returned to every few years for most of my life, and it was wonderful spending time with it again this week.


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