Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Gene Kelly Films
- Hans Conried Films
- Judy Garland Films
- Let’s Put On a Show!
Summer Stock is primarily remembered for its notoriety as the film which ended Judy Garland’s career at MGM. Read any review or write-up on the movie, and you’ll learn all you need to know about the sad details surrounding Garland’s ongoing addiction, stint in rehab, 20-pound weight gain (leading to the oddity of a “show-stopping” finale number added several months after primary filming, at which point she’d clearly lost the weight), and overall struggles to make it to the set each day; you’ll also read about Kelly’s kindness in helping her through the ordeal (including faking a fall one day to allow her to take the day off). Ultimately, however, what really “matters” is whether the film succeeds or not — and critical opinions remain deeply divided on this point.
DVD Savant, for instance — while acknowledging the redeeming power of the musical numbers — argues that the plot’s “mechanics are even simpler than shows like Babes on Broadway: Save the farm, put on a show, ditch the loser love interests so the leads can get together”, and points out the “lazy way the… script abuses the supporting players” so that “amusing personality Eddie Bracken and so-so MGM contract player Gloria DeHaven both play unfunny, unpleasant jerks so as to make Garland and Kelly seem all the more virtuous for dumping them”. In his laudatory review for Digitally Obsessed, however, David Krauss argues that the “snappy script… somehow makes the tired backstage story seem fresh”, and that “the colorful characters and brisk pacing (care of director Charles Walters, who also helmed Easter Parade) keep us fully engaged at all times”.
In truth, I’m more in agreement with DVD Savant than Krauss on this debate; the cliched storyline is a bit too escapist for my blood (sorry, but nothing about Garland’s attempt to fill farming shoes “worked” for me) — and while I didn’t have much of a problem with DeHaven as Garland’s spoiled sister (or Bracken as her spineless fiance), the presence of Phil Silvers as Kelly’s irritating sidekick was simply cringe-worthy throughout. With all that said, the film is at least partially redeemed by a host of rousing musical numbers, as well as truly top-notch performances by both Garland and Kelly; whatever troubles Garland may have been having behind the scenes are (amazingly) nowhere in evidence on-screen. While only her stunning finale number (“Get Happy”) is memorable enough to stick in your head for days afterwards, the remaining songs are all enjoyable while they last, and perfectly suited for Garland’s timbre. Meanwhile, Kelly gets to dance one of his best, most creative numbers (and that’s saying a lot!) as he shuffles away on a wooden floor, engaging a newspaper for sound effects. It’s fun stuff.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Judy Garland as Jane
- Gene Kelly as Joe
- Kelly and Garland dancing the Portland Fancy
- Kelly’s truly classic solo tap-dance sequence
- Garland’s justifiably famous “Get Happy” finale
No. While certainly recommended, this one is only must-see for Garland or Kelly completists.