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Jenny Bowman is a successful singer who, while on an engagement at the London Palladium, visits David Donne to see her son Matt again, spending a few glorious days with him while his father is away in Rome in an attempt to attain the family that she never had. When David returns, Matt is torn between his loyalty to his father and his affection for Jenny. Written by
John Teo <email@example.com>
This film, Judy Garland's last, was panned at its premiere for being old-hat melodrama. The theme of secret mother love recalls "Madame X", with Garland as a Gladys George or Ruth Chatterton. Her big scene of renouncing her son over the telephone (white, naturally) recalls Luise Rainer in "The Great Ziegfeld". Aline MacMahon as Garland's acerbic confidante is like a Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell. There is a show-must-go-on ending to gratify admirers of "42nd Street".
Garland's character, Jenny Bowman, is a thinly disguised self-portrait, down to the fluttery neurotic mannerisms (with hints of pill-popping) and the ability to turn around an audience kept waiting an hour past time for her show at the London Palladium- where Garland had sensationally headlined in 1960. After "A Star is Born" Garland, cheated of her rightful Oscar, had withdrawn to concerts and cabaret for almost a decade except for "A Child is Waiting" and her overheated cameo in "Judgement at Nuremberg". Here, for the last time, she essays full-blooded emotional acting against a worthy British opponent (for James Mason, think Dirk Bogarde) and carries it off pretty well, never becoming tiresome and often laughing at her own overwrought persona. She still looks pretty, too, not quite overwhelmed by the blowsiness of her last few years.
Bogarde, rapidly maturing after his daring role in "Victim", is a superb, challenging foil. Watch how he turns on a sixpence from the surgeon to the ex-lover after reassuring Garland that her throat is okay. His buttoned-up Britishness is never dull; like Ronald Colman, he radiates reliability and sensitivity in a coherent combination. He claimed to have rewritten all his dialogue with Garland during shooting; certainly their exchanges have a cut and thrust which prevents her from chewing the scenery. She has to react as well as posture.
The fans are given generous dollops of Garland's act in between plot scenes, but these reasonably complement and underscore the themes of defiance and sacrifice. Yes, it's soapy and lush, with daft interludes like the helicopter flight over London. But a touch of Limey stiff upper lip takes the saccharine taste away, and the Ronald Neame of "Tunes of Glory" and "The Poseidon Adventure" knows how to keep a story rolling along. File with contemporary efforts such as "The VIPs" and "The Yellow Rolls-Royce" as an enjoyable wallow, to be taken with boxes of paper handkerchiefs and chocolates.
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