“A Harvey Girl is more than a waitress; whereever a Harvey House exists, civilization is not far behind.”
A young midwestern woman (Judy Garland) travels to the Southwest to marry a rancher (Chill Wills) she’s never met; but when she learns he’s a hick, she decides to become a “Harvey Girl” waitress instead, and finds herself falling for the owner (John Hodiak) of a rival saloon.
I was disappointed to revisit this MGM musical western (inspired by the Broadway success of Oklahoma!), which features a memorably catchy Oscar-winning tune — “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” — but fails to really deliver on most other counts. The remainder of the Harry Warren/Johnny Mercer score is largely forgettable (though I did enjoy Virginia O’Brien’s droll delivery of “The Wild, Wild West”), and the story’s dramatic tension hinges upon an overly simplistic division between two types of erstwhile “working girls” (saloon performers — a.k.a prostitutes, though naturally they’re not named as such here — and waitresses). Other than through one musical montage (“The Train Must Be Fed”), we don’t learn nearly enough about what life was really like for Harvey Girls, other than to believe they were consistently badgered by nefarious townsfolk threatened by their “civilizing” presence. Ray Bolger is on hand to offer a bit of comedic dancing relief, but his presence seems calculated simply to remind audiences of his former pairing with Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Garland is as charming and sassy as ever (she has one especially good scene when she goes on a rampage to collect some stolen steaks); however, this ultimately remains one of her lesser roles for MGM.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Judy Garland as Susan
- Virginia O’Brien singing “The Wild, Wild West”
- The “Atchison-Topeka” musical sequence
No; this one is only must-see for Garland fans.