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MGM made some of the most lavish musicals of the 40s and 50s, and this one is in keeping with that tradition. Fred Astaire plays Tony Hunter, a washed up film star and dancer, who is asked to take part in a stage musical written by his friends. The great director, writer and actor Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) is hired to direct the production, but decides to present it as a modern day Faustian story, and changes it beyond all recognition. As if this wasn’t a big enough problem, Tony also finds it difficult to get along with his leading lady, the ballerina Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse).

This is a really a rather lovely film, with some genuinely funny moments, due to an excellent cast and supporting cast. (Buchanan is great, as are Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray, who play Tony’s friends, and the writers of the show.)

Astaire, of course, dances beautifully, as does Cyd Charisse. However, as a personal preference, I would rather have seen more tap dancing, whereas here the dancing is more balletic in style, perhaps to accentuate the incredible talents of Charisse. Nonetheless, the dancing is great; my favourite number being the one which Astaire did near the beginning with the shoe-shine man; it was full of energy and really made me smile.

Overall, I would certainly recommend this film, if you are a fan of musicals or comedy. Definitely one to put a smile on your face!

Year of release: 1953

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Producers: Roger Edens, Arthur Freed, Bill Ryan

Writers: Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Alan Jay Lerner, Norman Corwin

Main cast: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan

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In this delightful musical from 1946, Judy Garland plays Susan Bradley, a young woman from Ohio, travelling to a western town to marry a man she has only ever spoken to by post. On the train, she meets a group of young women who are planning to open a Harey House restaurant in the town. When she and her suitor realise that they are actually completely wrong for each other, she joins the Harvey girls…but the staff and customers of the nearby Alhambra saloon resent the presence of the restaurant. And further complications ensue when Susan finds herself drawn to Ned Trent (John Hodiak), the owner of the saloon…

Judy Garland starred in a number of hit movie musicals, probably most notably Meet Me In St Louis and The Wizard of Oz. The Harvey Girls is somehow often overlooked, and that’s a shame because it really is a lovely, funny and sweet film from MGM, the studio that produced all the best musicals of the era. Garland is perfectly cast as Susan Bradley, a young woman with grit and determination, and no shortage of humour! John Hodiak is handsome and charismatic as the man who she falls for despite herself. It’s also worth mentioning that some great supporting roles are played by Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse and Virginia O’Brien (although O’Brien seems to disappear halfway through the film; this was due to her real life pregnancy). Some of the songs are terrific, and there is a real sense of joy permeating through the film.  And if you like fabulous dancing, check out Ray Bolger’s incredible dance – the energy and choreography is amazing.

The ending, when it comes, is no great surprise – but how often is anyone surprised by the ending of romantic comedy musical?! And in any event, any other ending would have not felt right.

If you like musicals and haven’t seen this one yet, I’d definitely recommend that you do so. Garland looks stunning, and plays her role with aplomb; the supporting cast are great; the whole thing is colourful and cheerful – it’s well worth a watch!

Year of release: 1946

Director: George Sidney

Writers: Samuel Hopkins Adams (book), Eleanore Griffin, William Rankin, Edmund Beloin, Nathaniel Curtis, Harry Crane, James O’Hanlon, Samson Raphaelson, Kay Van Riper

Main cast: Judy Garland, John Hodiak, Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse, Virginia O’Brien

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