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Monday, August 25, 2014

Some Songs and Lotsa Tears


Listen, Darling Is Metro's 1938 Investment In Judy

Judy Garland and Freddie Bartholomew want to rescue widowed mom Mary Astor from marriage to stolid banker Gene Lockhart. Can handsome stranger Walter Pidgeon supply a way out? Garland was the incoming express at Metro as Bartholomew set upon departing rails. He'd got gangly at fourteen and maybe Metro figured him overpaid for diminished charm. There were lawsuits flying (custodian aunt vs. parents for the boy's income), and that could have put icing on resolve to let Freddie go. Not known is if Metro settled his contract, or FB left of own volition. Either way, he was tough casting at awkward age in a same way Roddy McDowall would be in the 40's. Proper English Boys seemed to appeal more than young men of a same bent, as Bartholomew and McDowall learned. They'd both find going tough in adolescence. Moppets at Metro could tip scale between precocious and plain bratty, little Scotty Beckett crossing such a line here. You wish someone, anyone, would lay on a hairbrush to put him straight.


Judy Gets In The Sunday Rotogravures For 2/38
It's clear from a start, in both feature and trailer, that Listen, Darling (tendered by its preview as a "Sunshine Special") will be Garland's vehicle. She gets the tunes and heart-tug to which others react or sing along. An early hazard for JG was inclination toward tears, less her own habit than cliché on part of writing. Not such a go-getter as faster-rising Deanna Durbin, Judy's cue to cry came with seemingly every reel change through Listen, Darling. Yes, this actress had unique gift of sincerity, but handlers abused it and our patience by over-reliance on her sad mechanism. They seemed to be working off a list called "Things Garland Does Well," at top of which was "Weep." The voice came to rescue of this in Listen, Darling. Judy sings thrice, one instance of which, Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart, became a standard for her. There's also upbeat On The Bumpy Road Of Love, performed by the cast as they travel over rough public byways that were reality of 1938 and years to come, and pulling a trailer besides. Such road condition might be cause for any of us to cry, or be considerably discouraged, if faced with today.


Success of Andy Hardy made child-centering a brand for MGM, question being if youngsters could cope with a same killing pace as borne by adult players. Garland famously could not, and there was walking wounded among others who told their stories later on. Bartholomew wound up "without a penny," family squabble having eaten up all his $ in legal fees. Tank town thesping, like a late 40's (and aborted) turn in Greenbriar's own backwood, was fate of Freddie as he tried for a grown-up career before settling behind-scenes in TV. Pictures like Listen, Darling were less end in themselves than investment in future stardom of youngsters being developed. Maybe then it was OK to overspend on the negative  ($566K), and stand a final loss of $206K if that would bring Judy Garland to a wider public's attention. Variety called Listen, Darling "a lightweight offering that will sneak through on the lower sections of double bills," but this was no "B" in terms other than length (a brief 75 minutes), producer Jack Cummings having lately done decided specials Born To Dance and Broadway Melody Of 1938. Next-up for Judy Garland was The Wizard Of Oz and a greater gamble, plus further loss, but when profits came, via 1939's Babes In Arms, it was a deluge ($1.5 million). From there, she was reliable as rain for steady gain.

1 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

The plot elements of LISTEN, DARLING aren't dissimilar to those of the contemporaneous Deanna Durbin vehicles at Universal, but somehow, I've always felt that Metro's efforts in this genre, including Judy's earlier EVERYBODY SING and, later PRESENTING LILY MARS and the vehicles of Metro's young sopranos Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell, lack the special qualities of the Durbin films. Certainly, none of these Metro films, though profitable, created the worldwide sensation with the press and the public that Deanna did. I wonder why? In any case, with LISTEN, DARLING Judy was just coming off her biggest Metro success in LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY, so it's not surprising that MGM began promoting her more heavily. I think it's interesting that, while Judy may be the promoted "star" of LISTEN, DARLING, Freddie Bartholemew received top billing in the ads for the film, which were the means of attracting the public to the film.

5:28 PM  

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