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The classic plot of girl refuses guy only to fall in love with him later is
at work again. When the girl happens to be Judy Garland, one of the top box
office draws and the MGM triple threat of extraordinarily talented singer,
actress and dancer, it kind of changes the whole perspective. In the MGM
heavens there are no leading men who can match her on screen stature.
To solve that problem, she gets two leading men. Before World War 1, the vaudeville girl has to choose between two partners. George Murphy and Gene Kelly. Fresh from Broadway success with "Pal Joey", Mr Kelly makes his movie debut in "For Me and My Gal" and it is nothing short of memorable. It was time the world saw that Hollywood dancers wore something other than white tails and top hat, like Mr Astaire.
The screenplay is slight. It hardly matters, because World War 1 is enough of a threat to forward the story anyway. All elements of drama and tear jerking romance are there. For a routine musical at MGM, we expect our happy 40s story, all complete with happy ending, plus the usual congenial mix of complications along the way. And with direction from Busby Berkley, great 1915s songs and two of the greatest musical stars in the mix, we certainly get our happy ending.
Today it stands out because of its musical quality and excellent conception of production. They certainly don't make 'em like this anymore.
Gene Kelly makes his smashing screen debut in For me and my gal. That
alone should make it a must see. This movie was a delight for numerous
reasons. First, I like the fact that this movie was a musical/drama.
So, we were able to get a full dose of the manifold talents of Gene
Kelly and Judy Garland. Second, the chemistry that Judy and Gene had in
this movie was exceptional. The scene in which they are singing the
title song is riveting. George Murphy was solid in his role as the
amiable friend and colleague, who was a good example of selflessness.
This movie is not as renowned as other Garland classics such as the wizard of Oz and Meet me in St. Louis. However, I think this was her most endearing role. She was beautiful, sweet and vivacious in this movie. I can watch this movie repeatedly, and so should everyone else.
Though a thinly veiled piece of propaganda for WWII sentiment, it did the trick. I couldn't believe I cried not once but three times at this Kelly/Garland musical. An amusement park of a flick. With rollercoaster rides of joy, mood swings of sadness and insecurities, all rolled into a sappy feel good post-depression fluff. Who needs hormones when you can watch this. Great star vehicle for Kelly,it catapulted him into the rarified air of those who have talent, good looks, and that certain "something". Though at times he seems a bit in awe of his surroundings, it comes off as cockiness and works. Garland's sense of innocent security grounded this film and proved she was already in the stratosphere. The supporting cast held up their ends admirably. Enough to make this film enjoyable even in these jaded times.
If this movie was simply Gene Kelly and Judy Garland exchanging quips (the "Hello Springtime!" bit is especially good) and singing and dancing in a coffee shop, then it would still be entertaining. But that's really not all it is. This movie is more like a drama/romance than a musical, in the way that there are some songs, very good ones, but there is more story than numbers. Yes, the idea is an old one, but there are a few twists that distinguish it from any other wartime romance. (Don't go expecting The Maltese Falcon though.) The little plot weaknesses are forgotten as the actors (particularly Garland) hold it all together. I cried twice, and I almost never cry at movies. I fully recommend For Me and My Gal, unless you're dead-set on a tear-free day.
20 year old Judy Garland takes her first stab at adult acting in this
musical that naturally makes you cry. Before this 1942 debut, Judy had
played those child/juvenile roles. (like Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz)
Even a few years later, in 1944, she still played a 17 year old Esther
in Meet Me in St. Louis. Also, Gene Kelly, who will always credit Judy to
abolish his "camera fright" has his movie debut in this movie. He, of
course, was fresh off Broadway.
This movie is about a song and dance team in those "good old days of vaudeville", back in 1917, where Jo Hayden (Judy) teams up with Harry Palmer (Gene) as a song and dance team. However, when Jo senses unfaithfulness in Harry, she moves to performing soldiers out in France during World War I. It only worsens when Harry is drafted............
This was released when men were fighting out in the pacific and European theatres, and it was not pretty. Japanese and Nazi advances were at their extent, and MGM decided to make a movie to spark "patriotic" interest, with the abstract idea that you should enlist or buy war bonds. The first time I saw this, even I wanted to buy war bonds.
I recommend this movie to anyone because it will tug at your heart and make you really proud of the US.
In 1943 Gene Kelly made "For Me And My Gal". It was a film starring
that rising star of MGM Judy Garland, set in the years from 1915 -
1919. Garland wanted Kelly to appear in this film as her lover, Harry
Palmer. It was an unusual film debut for Kelly, now recalled for his
masterful dancing in musicals like "Singing In The Rain" and "An
American In Paris". Instead, although it was a musical (using many
tunes of the Tin Pan Alley period, it really was a character study. It
looked at Kelly's opportunistic anti-hero, who does love Garland, but
who is career centered to the point that he injures himself (he thinks
it will be a slight injury) to avoid the draft.
It is a passably good film, due to the chemistry of the leads and such supporting film actors as Keenan Wynn (as Kelly's long suffering agent, who gets to tell him off), and George Murphy (as the would-be lover of Garland, who can't get her attention away from the unworthy Kelly).
The interest I have in the film is why Garland chose Kelly for this part. She apparently insisted that he be used for this film. The reason is that his biggest Broadway success was the 1941 show "Pal Joey", where he played the first anti-hero in Broadway history. Joey is a user of women, who wants to own a fancy nightclub in Chicago. He never rises above the sleazy dive he acts as M.C. at. He could be Harry Palmer's distant, slightly cousin. Garland would have seen Kelly play a role of a heel where he sang a golden flow of Rogers and Hart melodies, and do some good hoofing as well. It was the perfect "screen test" for Kelly to use to prove his ability to play Palmer. So he got his first role, and then went on to the major achievements of his career.
Notable for two things: the first adult role for Judy Garland (then just out
of her teens), and debut of Gene Kelly, who had previously made an impact on
Broadway as Pal Joey. George Murphy also appears as a kind of
second-string lead, and one suspects much of his original part went to Kelly
as filming progressed.
Directed by Busby Berkeley, but without his usual musical sequence flourishes, the plot is focused on the war, specifically the need for able-bodied men to serve rather than squander their lives on selfish pursuits. This means, for Kelly and Garland, putting aside their dreams of vaudeville fame as a team in favour of the greater good.
The stars have great chemistry in their two duets, the title song and If You Wore A Tulip', there is a gaiety and charm which would continue throughout their further collaborations through the forties. Garland shines as you always knew she would from her pictures as a child, and Kelly has the charisma in spades which would put him at the forefront of the golden age of musicals.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Very few people have as auspicious debut in film as Gene Kelly did in
For Me And My Gal. After a big success on Broadway in Pal Joey, Judy
Garland pushed for him to be signed to an MGM contract and he was given
to her as one of her leading men in this film. Kelly proved to be such
a success in film that he next went back to Broadway in 1957 as a
director of Flower Drum Song.
But even Judy or anyone else could not have predicted that Kelly would be the major creative dancing icon he became, the only real rival that Fred Astaire ever had in film. George Murphy who was Kelly's rival for Judy Garland in the film was a good song and dance man, but never created on the screen the way Kelly did.
In fact Murphy in his memoirs says that in the original ending he was supposed to wind up with Judy Garland instead of Kelly, that it was changed midpoint during shooting. Of course he didn't like that idea, but looking at the film, it so much works out for the better.
Still Judy is the star and she and the rest of the cast get to sing a whole bunch of songs from the teen years of the last century, some numbers identified with the World War I years. She plays a young aspiring Vaudevillian in an act with Murphy, Lucille Norman, and Ben Blue. Kelly is also an aspiring Vaudevillian who wants to rise in the profession, but he will do just about anything to insure that happens and even love for Judy can't quite put a curb on his ruthlessness.
In 1942 there will people in the audience who remembered Vaudeville and could reference easily what playing in the Palace Theatre in New York meant. For today's audience it would be the equivalent of a spot on David Letterman or the Tonight Show.
Busby Berkeley directed For Me And My Gal and while he did it with a sure hand, the really spectacular numbers he was noted for are strangely absent from this film. The musical scoring by Roger Edens and Georgie Stoll earned the film an Academy Award nomination in that category.
Gene Kelly not only made a film debut, but also a debut on record. He and Judy cut a 78 with the title song and a flipside duet of When You Wore A Tulip. Judy was contracted with Decca Records at the time and both sides later came out on albums. The original 78 would be quite a collector's item today.
For Me And My Gal is a nice period type musical, the kind that 20th Century Fox was more known for, but for which MGM did a fine job. The whole cast and crew took long bows for this one. In Vaudeville they would have gotten a whole lot of curtain calls.
Very enjoyable musical, with Kelly and Garland dancing well together and
singly nicely in harmony, too (particularly the title song). Also Judy
a really nice job of singing some WWI tunes while entertaining the
Some tidbits about the movie from a Gene Kelly biography I've read:
- Fair bit of on set animosity between George Murphy and Gene Kelly. Murphy was a veteran song and dance man from many film musicals and felt he was deserving of the starring role (Kelly's) in the film. As he saw it, because it was Kelly's first film, Kelly didn't deserve the role.
- Gene coached Judy through the dance numbers, and Judy helped Gene with his acting. Apparently he received next to no acting coaching from the director or from the studio.
- If the ending feels sort of tacked on, it actually was. The original ending had Gene serve as entertainer overseas, then return home to get the girl. At a test screening, audience was 85% negative that a draft dodger should get the girl in the end, typical comment was George Murphy should get the girl, not some draft dodger. MGM re-shot it to give Gene's character a more heroic overseas tour of duty.
I thought Judy Garland gave an Oscar worthy performance in this movie. As for Gene Kelly, it was hard to believe that this was his movie debut, his acting made it seem as if he'd been around Hollywood for years. And oh, that musical score, remeniscent of some film scores by Irving Berlin. Not just your ordinary musical, this one has a fine story that fits in with the time of World War One. The title song as done by Garland & Kelly is a classical show-stopper. For sentimentalists, like my wife and I, there are a few scenes that tug at the heart strings, and provide for some misty eyes.
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