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Monday, May 03, 2021

First Annie Gun Misfires


MGM Musicals Make Blu-Ray Landing

If we must lose Warner Archive, at least let them exit singing, MGM musicals arriving plenty on Blu-Ray for whatever is left of disc service, five lately out, perhaps more I’ve overlooked: Annie Get Your Gun, Good News, Showboat, The Great Caruso, and Broadway Melody of 1940, Annie gold-encrusted since NBC had a single 1965 play, the picture less easy to see after until clips turned up in That’s Entertainment Part Two. To have a 16mm print was like snatching a Rembrandt off the Metropolitan’s wall. There came confetti and pinwheels when TCM brought Annie out of comparative hiding prior to Warners making it available on DVD. Annie is a favorite for those who embrace, or will endure, Betty Hutton, my being of latter persuasion, but as willing to enfold her for a part few could play so well, which raises matter of who MGM initially bought the source play for, Judy Garland their most valued musical asset melting down first in gossip columns, then on front pages, across the land. Leo lost grip of talent understood to be irreplaceable, plain evidence they could not control property East Coast management and stockholders relied on for continued profits. To stake so much on such an unstable resource … no wonder banks and cooler corporate heads shunned this industry, or dealt with it cautious.

I watched Broadway Melody of 1940 and Good News by way of warm-up to Annie. Both can be, are, enjoyed, provided you have a bent for musicals, specifically ones from Metro. We (at least I) tend to think of theirs in terms of That’s Entertainment, as if the features themselves don’t exist apart from those compilations. Musicals tend toward joyous spots set amidst hidebound storytelling and foolish misunderstandings that take forever to sort out. This had been formula on Broadway, “book” sections a price paid for enjoyment of the scores. Most musicals from the 20’s aren't stage-revived, certainly not in toto, even ones crowded with loveliest song. Movies would be much the same, rescue and continued relevance coming of personalities we still enjoy, thus Fred Astaire to make Broadway Melody of 1940 viable, DVD providing menu select for highlights, result many viewers shaving the show from 102 minutes to whatever one liked of dance and tunes. That amounted for me to Begin The Beguine with Fred and Eleanor Powell against mirrored black walls and floor, That’s Entertainment using the piece as sole picking from Melody-’40. Think of numbers plucked from B’way shows and not seen in original context again. No wonder Hollywood did such overhaul on musical plays when adapting them. Two good glimpses of legit in the raw: The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, early enough for talkies not to trust anything other than simple porting-over from the stage, a boon for us getting closer approximation of the Marx Bros. live than we could have if the films had been made even a few years later.


MGM was known for its vast assemblage of talent, but how vast were individual talents, and how many of these could singly carry a musical? There was but one voice, one with capacity to lift story out of formula and give it appearance of genuine heart. No actress or singer was presumed to be so good as Judy Garland. All were of tier or tiers beneath her: June Allyson, Jane Powell, Kathryn Grayson, Cyd Charisse, on this point both they and handlers were of like mind, Garland’s ability viewed as almost supernatural. She’d be billed above Fred Astaire and he would not complain. Nor would Kelly, or anyone of prominence. Whatever your opinion of Garland, there is no taking from her a status not achieved by others who did musicals at Metro, or for that matter, anyplace else. That this vessel of cheery consensus should break down so completely was a source of unease, true despair, for infinite number whose livelihoods were tied to hers. Garland made life hell for many, but few kept a grudge, at least of those who worked, or tried to work, with her. Lots saw coming the debacle of Annie Get Your Gun. Still, no matter how dire her delays or behavior, they knew magic would not be instilled other than from her. Garland was the specialness of casting, a reason why Irving Berlin was willing to sell, and what Broadway, no matter who they had, in this instance Ethel Merman, could not approach. Garland had become for the 40’s what Marilyn Monroe would be for the 50’s, an increasingly impossible mission each time out. So did MGM have any choice but to settle the artist's contract and let her go? I’d say not.

The Annie Get Your Gun Blu-Ray has footage of Garland doing two of the numbers, less boisterous than Betty Hutton would be (observers said JG was “too elegant” for the part). Though she was said to want this role badly, it wasn’t long before Garland realized she was wrong for it. She tried saying so, but everyone discounted that for nerves, or usual craziness by reckon of those less sparing. What do actors do where obliged to act even when they know they will act badly? Happens all the time, surely among studio serfs this was endemic, but how many had leave to stop the show, walk out, cost their employer thousands, then be taken back with all forgiven? This was Garland’s status and no one else’s. Leo did not otherwise tolerate such conduct. The Lion could dash a career and not look back, every career, that is, but Garland’s. She stood for what made their musical unit truly exceptional. To rely on Allyson, Powell, Grayson, left MGM little better off than Fox or Warners, and even they had Betty Grable and Doris Day, respectively. MGM was obliged to negotiate with a person who was not sane. Stress Garland caused must have been ungodly. Mayer even sent Katharine Hepburn to the Minnelli residence after Judy tried cutting her throat, idea being that Hepburn as a most stable among actress ranks could somehow talk reason to her. Mayer asking the favor was recognition of Hepburn’s having the most maturity, the most authority, of any performer on the lot, whether her tough love approach was tactful or not (“Your ass has hit the gutter. There’s no place to go but up. Now Goddammit. Do it!”). A person like Hepburn could never understand the mind of a person like Garland, the difference between one who felt eternally put upon and sorry for herself, confronted by another who had not known a self-pitying day in her life.

Good News
is evidence of MGM on musical autopilot. It is adequate, pleasing at times, staff talent augmented by high-volt hopefuls brought from Broadway to show Hollywood some things or two. June Allyson, for appeal she had, operated at a level of expected competence and seldom more. Same with Peter Lawford, who could get by on looks but not voice or dance. Production and choreography was relied upon to dazzle, if being dazzled was within reach. Young talent with fizz had left with Mickey Rooney, so what was left … Mel Torme? I can’t think of an exceptional singer among male ranks at Metro, Astaire and Kelly not really pretending to that (although with time, we learned to embrace their voices), Nelson Eddy by the 40’s going, then gone, and Frank Sinatra, great as he was, did not become so as Lion property, him nobody’s property as was forcefully evident from early on. Howard Keel and Mario Lanza came to eventual rescue, but late to MGM’s party, both to witness the genre fade. Other studios were as blighted, Paramount blessed with Crosby, while Fox had Dick Haymes, terrific where poised before the mike, thudding when not. Dennis Morgan sounded fine for Warners, but something lacked … he’d never be a Bing to Jack Carson’s Bob. Maybe Metro should have taken a leaf from their old Dogway Melody shorts and teach Lassie to sing.

Start It Again ... Start It Again

I thought of Annie Get Your Gun this time in train wreck terms, even though things turned out largely fine. There was less profit than it should have had, due to bloated negative cost thanks to they-knew-who. $8.1 million in worldwide rentals was cork off of champagne, but profit stuck at $1.3 million, still good, but the tab, plus what Irving Berlin took (lots), otherwise expense of the property, Betty Hutton borrowed for $150K flat from Paramount, well, it all adds up. Again to those outtakes, unexpurgated form of which were once a rarest object of grim curiosity, pieces seen on authorized terms per DVD or Blu-ray, cloudier glimpse afforded on You Tube. More of what survived, Judy and others fluffing lines, stopped numbers, her provoked by a clapper board, this was stuff of fascination to go with what we heard of disaster that was Judy Garland as aborted Annie. A collector friend in Greenwich Village had got the footage, all the footage, from a guy who made a print off a print that MGM lab techs had made up for Liza Minnelli after That’s Entertainment --- very hush-hush. We watched in anxiety that the hovel might be pinched. This was around 1985, Annie as a feature yet withheld. I do miss collecting as forbidden pursuit, blood quickened with each find. “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” was a number Judy completed (she in fact pre-recorded most all of the score), and it’s part of Blu-extras, but her doing the song is also on You Tube, and with one of the support kids blowing a line, to which lifelong pro Garland reacts but quick, spreads her arms in director mode, says “Start it again … Start it again,” which they do. It is a moment where we see her capacity to take completely over where needed, for who else present had even half her grasp of getting a performance right?

Garland kept being promised vacations she never fully got. After a couple weeks of what was understood to be months off, they’d call and want her back to just do this, pre-record that, try on costumes … and before she knew it, principal photography was upon her. Corporate, then and now, knives out always. Read the Charles Walters bio by Brent Phillips and learn how music personnel regularly took brunts. As long as she breathed, Leo figured Judy should work. Contract folk never got a rest, unless they went out in the woods somewhere and couldn’t be found, like Gable or Robert Taylor. Judy should have taken up camping, or duck hunts. MGM did at least cover her medical costs, a sort of Workman’s Comp before there was Workman’s Comp. Stress caused Garland’s hair to fall out, and she was only 27! Don’t you want to just reach back and hug this poor creature? Not everyone did at the time, Mary Astor fed up early as St. Louis and said so (to Judy response: But … I don’t sleep!), and Anita Loos, who thought JG “a compulsive weeper … a great bore.” Judy also didn’t mind sticking it to a colleague who got in her way, as director Fred Zinnemann recalled in a letter to Vincente Minnelli after the latter took Fred’s chair on The Clock (“I think Judy has behaved pretty badly in this whole set-up …”).

MGM initially put Busby Berkeley to directing Annie Get Your Gun. Someone (Arthur Freed?) must have liked or felt sorry for him, as Buzz was thought washed up by many if not most. He was exacting, impatient, especially with Garland, whose teen dreams, plus ones after, this martinet had haunted, him having done several of the Mickey-Judys. Mere sight of Buzz gave Garland migraines. She lacked nerve to give as good as she got from this monster of her past. Wish I could have fed her a retaliatory line when he got nasty: Hey Buzz, shouldn’t you be in the penitentiary for second degree murder? (see L.A. DUI deaths circa 1935) That might have shut him up and got Garland a round of on-set applause, from Howard Keel certainly, who had an ankle broke thanks to Berkeley making him do over and again a horseback entrance. Garland was a settled genius, if unsettled as custodian of it, a quickest study, her delays/upset largely reason for The Pirate losing money in 1948, so some had to ask if this juice was worth the squeeze. Significant was her last for Leo, Summer Stock, also finishing in the red. Maybe it was easier seeing her go than stay, at least for Loew’s East Coast accounting division. Off immediate topic a sec: Mike Cline and I were in Atlanta, on the way to, or coming back, from a poster show, and heading up the escalator as we were going down --- Howard Keel! Too far away for us to annoy him, and in motion besides, so his defenses were not down.

Hardly an oasis of stability herself, Betty Hutton saw what opportunity Annie was and behaved as if she’d been as meek for Paramount (they knew better). She would complain decades later to Osborne at TCM of cold treatment after taking Judy’s place, Hutton a most fragile of interviews toward the end. She was another of stars dealt-out, not long after Garland from Metro, Betty insisting on a present husband to co-star for her next, Paramount naturally opposed and finally washing hands of her. Hutton was from there a ghost at banquets, comeback trying (Spring Reunion), a TV series that didn’t last, talking here and there for documentaries (one on Preston Sturges). Next stop was said to be scrubbing floors at a rectory somewhere, therapy more the object than income. Hutton would credit a priest at the place with saving her sanity, so good for her, and him. Walter Matthau later got argumentative Barbra Streisand’s goat on the Hello Dolly set by loudly warning Remember what happened to Betty Hutton! Judy Garland meanwhile had gone from Metro exit to triumph of A Star Is Born. All show biz revered her for being an absolute best the art afforded, plus cautionary fable for what results when that biz consumes you. Star premiere footage, done for TV, shows mixed emotion as biggest names fete Judy, even as none would pay dear price she did. Nobody had fans so devoted, one I knew an autograph dealer who told me an amazing story of when Garland (always broke) couch-slept at a small L.A. apartment he shared with a pal. She was grateful, enough so to load up double LP Judy At Carnegie Hall on their phonograph and sing the whole thing to her hosts’ astonished joy. I asked my guy to repeat the story to be sure I heard it right. Hollywood … you wacky, wonderful town.

There used to be constant info and anecdotes about MGM musicals thanks to so much personnel being still around to tell them. Ann Miller actually went to work again for Metro to spread gospel of That’s Entertainment. But it’s 2021 now, and they’ve all shuffled off. We might as well be talking of figures from past World Wars. Books are filled with testimony on Annie Get Your Gun and the rest, but there will not be any more testimony. It seemed once that whatever old stars did not reminisce about MGM musicals were riding The Love Boat. A story told on Lana Turner illustrates. She arrived for the LB cruise expecting rose petals strewn before her, an illusion put to rout by fellow guest, and always-realist Stewart Granger, Look sweetheart, we’re not at MGM anymore. Old Hollywood itself sort of sailed away on the Love Boat and similar rickety crafts. Judy Garland's legacy proved to be as delicate for what happened to The Wizard of Oz, once an annual event, now just another plug-in to TCM schedules, Oz having become sort of the Our Gang of features. When there’s not a Munchkin left to tell what Judy was really like, well, we know it’s time for us all to throw in our dice.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Superb article.

ANNIE is one of my favorite musicals, having first seen it in 1963 at formerly my family's drive-in theatre, preceded by a live country music stage show and three Road Runner cartoons.

Amazing they got it to the screen with the Judy problems and Frank Morgan dropping dead during filming.

Had forgotten about Howard Keel/Atlanta spotting.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Another marvelous piece. Especially the stuff about Garland and her unique status at Metro and in the whole movie musical hierarchy. Definitely the best of the best. I read Howard Keel's autobiography years ago and he - naturally - shared impressions of many of his movie colleagues. In spite of the on-set calamities weathered by "Annie Get Your Gun", he remembered Judy with fondness. Weighing in on others, he was very enthusiastic about his working experiences with Doris Day and Esther Williams and positively rhapsodic about Kathryn Grayson, a lifelong friend he adored. The only one of his leading ladies he had genuinely bad recollections of was Betty Hutton, remembered by him as difficult and uncooperative to the max. Still,as acknowledged in your piece, her onscreen Annie Oakley was pretty terrific. Only Doris Day might have equaled or bettered her and - of course - Doris got her chance to prove just that in the glorious "Calamity Jane" which, to me, is a superior film.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Just those stills of Betty Hutton alone make me want to avoid this movie. Only Preston Sturges got a tolerable performance from her.

1:00 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

As a teenage drama nerd I always had mixed feelings about movie musicals that didn't mirror the stage versions I'd seen or in some cases done. I had a special fondness for AGYG, having played Charlie Davenport (the Keenan Wynn part), and was actively annoyed that songs and even specific jokes didn't make it to the screen. It would be a few decades before I could view AGYG, "Bye Bye Birdie", and other less-than-slavish adaptations with an open mind.

I knew of the Judy Garland version because I saw an LP of her soundtrack, which included a new Berlin number: a yearning ballad titled "Let's Go West Again". For me that pinpointed why Garland was miscast. The show's Annie Oakley is a brash, tough tomboy whose kept her vulnerability deep down. Judy's vulnerability was always right there on the surface; you worried about her. And the end of the show is Annie clumsily feigning weakness and defeat to win Frank. The audience gets that raucous Annie has finally learned a feminine wile, and even an over-the-top faking of fragility is sufficient to assuage Frank's male ego. This might have been weird with Judy on multiple levels.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

On a somewhat related note, I was fortunate to view That's Entertainment >four times< during the summer of 1974, when I was eighteen. One big reason it was so effective is the audiences were those who saw the musicals >on their first run<, and were oohing and ahhing nostalgically with each clip on the big screen. Then there was this young couple behind me, unfamiliar with the MGM glories, audibly going "wow!" when seeing Astaire in action. The whole audience was in rapt attention. A perfect storm of Classic Hollywood adoration.

4:59 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

This is an excellent piece.

I saw this film on TCM when it was finally taken out of the closet in which it was held for many years. This also happened to other movies but when they finally become fully available again they realized that all the potential of doing a great business is actually lost. The intended audience for these films is no longer there and it is almost impossible to generate interest for titles like these ones.

I frequently prefer Fernando Martín Peña's Filmoteca Online towards whatever TCM has to offer. Even though I don't exactly like all of his programming choices he has unearthed very obscure films that are far more interesting than the typical options. And this also include musicals.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I find "Annie" well-nigh unwatchable, because of Hutton. She remains the reason the "Let's Dance" is the only Astaire picture I've never seen.

I realize this is folly, but if they were going to re-cast anyway, why didn't they just bring Merman on board? Was Hutton that big a draw? Who could stand her for that long?

As for "Broadway Melody of 1940," while there are weaknesses (that opera singers and they must have threatened Astaire at gunpoint to be in that interminable juggling sequence; what was it about Mayer forcing completely talentless acts -- like Virginia O'Brien -- into pictures?), I find it one of the best Metro musicals, and enjoy it far more than something like the brain-dead "An American in Paris" (Levant excepted) or even -- yes, I'm going to go there -- "Singin' In the Rain."

6:29 AM  
Blogger RichardSchilling said...

Betty Hutton really was something else; it's too bad most of her films remain tightly locked in the Paramount vaults. Even Let's Dance with Astaire, which made it to VHS now has vanished, rumored rights issues preventing even Kino from releasing it. I definitely recommend Betty's fascinating What's My Line appearance on YouTube, Bennett Cerf, almost always smug and confident, finds himself completely baffled by Betty as he asks her if she's retired or not. She seems sure of a comeback.....that we know never happened.

At least Judy had A Star Is Born, the ill-fated CBS show (with its goldmine of performances) and Carnegie Hall ahead of her, but nothing like that for Betty.

8:03 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff considers varied aspects of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN:

Dear John:

DBenson brings up a good -- and deceptively basic -- point about Judy Garland and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. The actress was so fundamentally miscast in the role, it's hard to imagine what Freed, MGM and (I would imagine) Berlin were thinking.

Make no mistake about what I'm saying here; Garland was almost unimaginably talented, probably the greatest star and actress in the history of musical film. But, as DBenson very shrewdly points out, "Judy's vulnerability was always right there on the surface; you worried about her."

The point of the libretto of "Annie Get Your Gun" is that Annie Oakley is seemingly invulnerable; brash, confident, raucous. Perhaps the principal action of the play (however politically incorrect today) is Annie gradually learning that she'll have to suppress a certain amount of that iron will and determination and feign at least a bit of vulnerability in order to land Frank.

Garland's metier was playing (and illuminating, often to perfection) characters who were deeply sensitive and insecure to a greater or lesser degree. The action of a Garland movie usually involves her character learning about to her strength and inner talent, eventually growing more brave and confident.

Could Judy Garland have played Annie Oakley? Probably. [See the first sentence of my second paragraph.]

It would have required a real director of actors and a great deal of preparation on her part -- this was a far different role (and character) than she had ever played on screen. All right, it was a fragile and difficult time for the actress, but with the proper help and a strong collaborative structure, this could have been a breakthrough performance for her, showing her dramatic and comedic range.

How Freed came to initially appoint Busby Berkeley to direct this remains a total mystery. Even bearing in mind Berkeley's immense historical contributions to the Hollywood musical, the complexities of ANNIE were simply outside of his skill-set. This was one of the two three most important (and costly) pictures that Metro made that year. It needed to be carefully crafted in every way, right down the line. Okay, maybe Minnelli couldn't direct Garland in any more movies (as has been noted elsewhere), but there must have been other directors on the lot who would have leaped or begged for this plum assignment. Hiring Berkeley to direct Garland in something like ANNIE almost seems like corporate sabotage.

Looking at the unused scenes from the abortive Garland shoot, it's hard to believe that Berkeley understood the show -- or that he'd ever even seen the stage play. These scenes seem like rehearsals -- early stagings to show Freed and executives -- as opposed to actual sequences intended for a feature film.

I'm not a particular fan of the ANNIE movie. Betty Hutton isn't mostly my cup of tea; although God knows, she was a big star and draw of the day. Richard Schilling is correct; it is difficult today to really assess Hutton, her stardom and her career with so many of her films locked in the Universal and Paramount vaults. But I believe that when you see Doris Day in CALAMITY JANE, you can get a sense of how the Oakley character might have been better handled (and played) onscreen.

-- Griff

2:52 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I agree with both Radiotelefonia and Dave, albeit I don't really think that bringing Merman on board would have helped very much now, as being both brassy and braying is no longer in style. At least, I don't think it is - is it?

7:47 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Terrific piece, John! You have a greater admiration for Garland than I'd gathered -- I'd hitherto found you mostly stoically indifferent to her. I, of course, am a complete devotee -- but even I agree that Garland was miscast from the start -- despite Metro laying out a record breaking price to secure the vehicle for her.

Interestingly, the last Broadway revival, a big hit with Bernadette Peters, was also completely miscast.

"The girl that I marry will have to be as soft and as pink as a nursery." Welp, that's Peters' "kewpie doll" appeal in a nut shell. The show did brisk business, Peters got yet another Tony award, and the show won best revival.

However, the critics didn't go nuts UNTIL Peters was replaced by Rheba Macintire -- who was ideal for the part, kinda like when Betty stepped in for Judy -- suddenly the casting was right. In fact, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS does annual fundraising events called "Miss Cast," in which big broadway stars perform numbers (often gender switched) from roles they'd never be cast in in a million years. Every time the event rolls around, my first thought is "They should get Bernadette to do a number from AGYG!"

1:27 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

P.S. I agree it's hard to judge Hutton today with most of her stuff out of circulation, but she really did do some fine work (when she wasn't being what Bob Hope called "a vitamin pill with legs"). I have many audio recordings of hers, and for every "He Says 'MURDER! He Says!" there's a soft ballad, like "Where Are You (Now That I Need You?)" or "I Wish I Did 't Love You So."

And to see what her film work could have been like if given "non-vitamin" roles, I recommend one of her Paramounts that IS still available, "Here Come The Waves," with Bing Crosby. Hutton plays twins, one a "vitamin pill" blonde, the other her level headed brunette sister. As the latter, she's calm, she's subtle, and altogether appealing, qualities all the mugging and jumping about tended to obscure.

2:10 PM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

Well ... color me a fan of AGYG. I think Hutton is fine; and remember, fine for AGYG is not a blanket endorsement of everything and anything. I think Henry Daniell was fine in The Body Snatcher; in Singing in the Rain, not so much.

So, while Hutton is not everyone's favorite, I think the movie works largely because of her. It would be too large an boat to float on a more contained talent.

It's sad that Merman didn't do the film, but she was always problematic on screen. Too big, too bold, too brassy; rather like Tommy Steele (how's that for an impudent comparison?) she was too overwhelming a presence for screen, despite (or, perhaps, because of) monumental talent. The "real" loss is Frank Morgan, who would have been the definitive Buffalo Bill Cody.

There are only a few musicals I pop into the machine regularly -- the early Warners, Singing in the Rain and Easter Parade among them -- and ... AGYG. It's colorful, fun and vibrant.

I saw Peters on Broadway ... and agree with Neely that she was miscast. But the rest of the show was so good, it didn't really matter. Also, she really looked like she "needed" Frank Butler, and since that's the nubbin of the whole thing, it worked.

2:26 PM  
Blogger tmwctd said...

Another terrific piece, John, always appreciate your take on musicals. Great line about Betty Hutton - "Hardly an oasis of stability herself"

Please don´t forget - Jane Powell is still among us!

One slight correction: Only the first Broadway Melody had a "The" in its title. So it´s "Broadway Melody of 1940".

I like it very much - everybody is talking about the 2nd half of "Beguine" of course but it also includes an underrated Astaire-solo ("I`ve got my eyes on you"), the Vaudeville-like opening number "Please don´t monkey with Broadway" and the Jukebox Dance. Then again, whenever Astaire does ballet, he does not look exactly comfortable like here in "I concentrate on you".
Agree that the juggling and opera-parody-numbers are awful to watch today and most probably did not go over much better in 1940.

Dave - if you have seen Astaire´s Piano Dance from "Let´s Dance" (one of his greatest in my opinion), this should cover the movie for you. An oil-and-water pairing if there ever was one and Hutton seems to be crying about half of the movie. Even more damaging: The Loesser-score is completely unmemorable. Am surprised Astaire did not put his foot down on it. For me, the movie is almost as unwatchable as "Yolanda and the Thief".

4:56 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

The difference between the DVD and Blu-Ray of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN is night and day.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Calling a work horse a "rather spoiled young lady" as Virginia Payne did in her REPORT ON JUDY is not something a friend does. It is not a sign that she knew and understood Judy better than others. We don't get the rest of that piece but that is one helluva insensitive beginning.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I suspect that the "rather spoiled young lady" remark was not intended maliciously -- the Photoplay columnist is just saying that Judy became accustomed to getting whatever she wanted, and thus becomes upset when things don't work out.

The author is quite sympathetic to her friend; you can read the rest of the article here:

2:00 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

That archive is an invaluable resource. Garland, consciously or unconsciously, drove herself to excellence. Getting what she wanted was part of that as it is for any creative artist.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I've not much to say about Judy Garland; the lady was dead and in her grave before I was half-way through childhood, and as I grew up in a place where "The Wizard of Oz" never played on TV, she simply didn't show up on my radar at all. For decades.
In fact, I didn't see a full Judy Garland movie until the late 1990s, after I had bought a sealed MGM VHS tape of 'Meet Me In St. Louis' that I had found priced at 99 cents in a bin of miscellaneous VHS tapes at a local 'Liquidation World' knock-off that I was idly wandering around in killing time (and I bought it using loose pocket change!); that movie itself turned out to be much better than I thought it would be - a fantastic bargain is how I look back on that transaction now - and I thought then that Judy Garland had been a great beauty, a true Technicolor knock-out.
I've seen a couple of her other movies since, as well as "The Wizard of Oz", on DVD and blu-ray; but I have to say that to my disappointment she simply never looked as beautiful as she did in "Meet Me In St. Louis". Indeed, I still watch the wonderful "Meet Me In St. Louis" on blu-ray from time to time; her other titles, though they're on my shelf, and though I think them worth seeing, I watch but rarely.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"after I had bought a sealed MGM VHS tape of 'Meet Me In St. Louis' that I had found priced at 99 cents in a bin of miscellaneous VHS tapes at a local 'Liquidation World' knock-off."

This, more than anything else, is why DVD and Blu-ray sales fell off. Those of us happy to pay the price first asked often had only a year pass when the same title was part of a 2 or more for $20, $10 or even $5.

People felt ripped off. We learned to put a leash on our enthusiasm.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

I echo how superior Reba McEntire was as ANNIE on Broadway. Check YouTube and be overwhelmed with her magnificent voice and humor in the role. I also will go to bat for Hutton. Annie needed a robust player and she delivered. Can't imagine anyone else in 1950 who would've reached that level, aside from the problematic Merman.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

excellent piece. if anyone wants to truly test their Betty Hutton threshold...try "Cant Atop Talking About Him" from Let's Dance. It's on YT. Her style of "puttin' over" a song is one of those things from the Golden Age... like Jello-molds with meat in them...that will simply never make sense to me. Thus I will likely never see Annie Get Your Gun.

I think Garland and Astaire are two performers who will continue to be watched and revered well into the future, after so many other performers are forgotten. My young nieces and nephews all know who Judy Garland is. That's a good sign.

10:08 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer ponders the Judy Garland costume tests:

Those costume tests you ran of Judy are fascinating, about the only time I've seen her sans makeup or, at least, with makeup intended to create that effect. She does look very plain, which was the surely the intent, though it could only have made her even more self-conscious about her looks. She has a very interesting face, though: a little asymmetrical, terribly thin, the long, sharp nose, piquant lips, and, of course, dominated by those huge, almost frightened eyes. A strange, fascinating face--far from conventional notions of beauty but almost more beautiful for that.

I had a chance encounter with AGYG recently, catching it during the "I'm an Indian, Too" number. I am not ashamed to say that I was driven from the house by it.

Reminds me rather of my college days, when a showing of "Funny Face" on the TV in the dormitory lounge was abruptly terminated during the "Think Pink" number, when one of the football players muttered, "What is this sh-t?" While "I'm an Indian, Too" has not the polish and savoir faire of "Think Pink," I do not think that it would have passed muster, either.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"I had a chance encounter with AGYG recently, catching it during the "I'm an Indian, Too" number. I am not ashamed to say that I was driven from the house by it." Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali said, "It's good taste not bad taste which is the enemy." I am with them.

Just watched ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Would not have done so without your post. The film is wonderful from start to finish. Had no idea until now Sitting Bull financed Buffalo Bill's trip to Europe much less that he adopted Annie. What you and most here do not know is that in that troop was Black Elk, the noted Sioux Shaman who details his adventures with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in John Neilhard's wonderful BLACK ELK SPEAKS: . Nor is it likely that you will know that Black Elk was among the Sioux invited to meet Queen Victoria. Nor is it likely you will know that during her Diamond Jubilee Parade where heads of state from around the world bowed as she rolled by in her golden coach Queen Victoria had that coach stopped when it approached the group of Sioux seated there, got out and bowed to them. Victoria felt the people native to this continent the noblest on earth. I'm with her. So many songs I had heard and loved I learned today are from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. So much of this film, light though it is, speaks volumes about the hard truths not only of show business but also of life. When Victoria bowed to the Sioux people Black Elk tells us people fainted. BLACK ELK SPEAKS is a superb read. This is a superb film.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I, too, find myself turning off the TV when "Think Pink" shows up because I cannot stand Kay Thompson. She may be the reason the mute button and fast forward function were invented.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Mike Cline is no doubt correct about the benefits of the blu-ray as compared to the DVD, as the larger color space available as a result of the HD encoding can truly bring mid-twentieth century Technicolor films like AGYG "back to life". The benefit of high definition is not just about the higher resolution of the details in the image, but also about enlarging the color space, extending the range of available colors. High definition literally has a larger gamut of colors than standard definition is capable of displaying, and so these old Technicolor movies - properly mastered for high definition, of course - truly are a "revelation" to those who have only seen them in standard TV or DVD definition. There is simply more to see than there was before.
Because of that, I may pick this up just for the colors alone, so as to just look at the pictures - but also to hear the music, for the improvement in sound resulting from the high-definition audio also counts for quite a lot when it comes to these old mid-twentieth century musicals. There is simply more to hear than there was before.

7:51 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, as talented as Judy was, this role had Betty Hutton written all over it. Judy would have been wonderful, but for brash, raw-boned energy, Hutton was the perfect choice. She did tend to play to the back row, but she did a great job here, especially in character development and growth. A few years later, Doris Day could have pulled it off (as in CALAMITY JANE).

9:24 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Betty Hutton's performance in AGYG was distinctive enough to make the role her own; however, I can't help thinking that if Garland had but dyed her hair blonde, she would have seemed to fit the role better than she does on those out-takes. Garland was the better singer, I think, and given the right role, perhaps the better actor too - but I've not seen a lot of Garland's movies - did she ever appear as a blonde in any? How far would she, did she, go as an actor to change her appearance to fit a role?
I bring this up as I noticed that both Hutton and Doris Day's portrayals of wild backwoods sharp-shooting girls presents them as blonde as can be; I suspect that having a dark-haired half-wild and apparently orphaned girl of the American backwoods singing "I'm An Indian Too" while demonstrating exceptional frontier skills could bring unwanted undertones into the production by suggesting themes which the producers of an American frontier-period light musical romantic comedy would rather avoid entirely - simply put, it might not look good, even if the real Annie Oakley did have very dark hair. Perhaps MGM wanted to avoid any suggestion of a sharpshooting version of Pearl Chavez, and so they needed a blonde for this job.

5:09 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

The appeal of Betty Hutton in the 40s, versus today, I think can be chalked up to seeing the films in their original context.

I first saw "Miracle of Morgan's Creek" in a cavernous college auditorium and thought it was great and Betty was just perfect in it. Later, revisiting it on home video, Betty just seemed a little too much.

She really did play for the rear of the theater and it works best when you see the film in a big theater space. Betty's enthusiasm is just a little overbearing in the intimacy of your home on tv.

7:41 AM  

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