On a train trip West to become a mail-order bride, Susan Bradley (Judy Garland) meets a cheery crew of young women travelling out to open a "Harvey House" restaurant at a remote whistle-stop to provide good cooking and wholesome company for railway travellers. When Susan and her bashful suitor find romance daunting, she joins the Harvey Girls instead. The saloon across the street with its alluring worldly-wise women offers them tough competition, fair and foul, and Susan catches the eye of the Ned Trent (John Hodiak), the distant but intense proprietor of the bar.Written by
Michael Meigs <Michael.Meigs@dos.us-state.gov>
This movie was first telecast in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Monday, March 3, 1958 on WFIL (Channel 6), followed by Los Angeles, California on July 4, 1958 on KTTV (Channel 11), by New York City, New York on August 3, 1958 on WCBS (Channel 2), and by San Francisco, California on November 9, 1958 on KGO (Channel 7). At this time, color broadcasting was in its infancy, limited to only a small number of high rated programs, primarily on NBC and NBC affiliated stations, so these movie showings were all still in black-and-white. Viewers were not offered the opportunity to see this movie in its original Technicolor until several years later. See more »
In the "Wild, Wild West" song, Alma is pounding a red hot horseshoe. She then picks it up, caresses it, and throws it in the water barrel where is gives off steam. The horseshoe would have burned her hand if it were really hot.
This is a sight gag in the film. See more »
Hey, that's a pretty good number.
It's new. Terry taught it to me.
Good work, Terry.
Thanks, Mr. Trent. It's really Em's voice that puts 'em over.
He's so YOUNG!
See more »
A significant early Technicolor movie musical; fascinating commentary track
In his commentary, director George Sidney says Judy Garland did the scene where she gets off the train in one take, with only two cuts. Take a look at it; it has very complicated choreography involving dozens of actors, with the camera panning around, requiring precise positioning to fit the framing correctly.
Every movement of Judy's is perfect. Yet, Sidney says, she saw one run through of the scene before filming, and added some touches of her own in the one and only take. I've seen some beautiful long takes, such as in Harvey, but I've never seen anything like this. Be sure to watch the extras version of the song in stereo!
And then there were the stultifying long takes in High Society, where the actors' feet were nailed to the floor while the camera just stared at them. Borrring directing by Charles Walters. Here, Sidney does many long takes during musical numbers, but the camera moves around, panning from one actress to another as they do their little choreography. The camera work on the dance number Round and Round is amazing and beautiful. But during dialog, he uses shorter, static shots. The film holds your interest.
Garland had enormous talent as a singer and actress. Many early musicals were written for her, and before that in the 30s for Fred Astaire. It's hard to imagine the development of the Hollywood musical without Astaire and Garland, and later, Shirley Jones. Sidney talks about doing the original screen test of Judy, then Gumm.
Sidney explains how the title song was written. He told Harry Warren they needed a train song. Warren said, what's that? So Sidney tapped out a rhythm of train tracks clicking, and Warren instantly came up with the basic melody and rhythm, which, amazingly, just happens to fit "Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" perfectly.
Frankly the train arrival, with its colorful costumes and catchy tune, is the highlight of the movie. And then Chill Wills kissing Marjorie Main is pretty funny. Things turn a bit awkward from there, of course. Angela Lansbury looks pretty hot. John Hodiak is no Clark Gable, but I think he does a good job of being a hybrid bad guy turned good guy.
This is basically a pleasant enough film, which is interesting in its place in the history of the development of the musical. In the 30s, most musicals were modified revues, or had a role for a musician or dancer such as Fred Astaire to make the musical numbers plausible. The Wizard of Oz in 1939 may have been the first to drop that pretense, and also starred Garland, of course. (The first true modern musical was Snow White in 1937, but it is animated.)
George Sidney's Anchors Aweigh was another, and came out shortly before The Harvey Girls; he later directed several other early musicals, including another Western Annie Get Your Gun in 1950, and the remake of Showboat, a sort of prototype of the modern musical, in 1951. And then there were Kiss Me Kate, Viva Las Vegas and Bye Bye Birdie, so Sidney helped shape the modern musical, and this was one of his first works.
The Broadway version of Oklahoma! opened in 1943, but The Harvey Girls was the first movie musical Western, as Oklahoma! didn't come to the screen until 1955. The Harvey Girls didn't begin life as a musical; it was originally written to be a Western starring Clark Gable, but it stalled, so the music wasn't as well integrated as some later musicals. But I think changing it to a musical was the right move, given the story was a bit light.
Some reviewers here rant about the weak story line, but it is no where near as pathetic as Meet Me in St. Louis, which is a bare bones skeleton of a story. The modern musical combining strong story with music and dance that is not on stage was yet to come; this was an early stab, but, yes, the story is a bit weak, but not as bad as some say.
What makes the movie especially interesting is that there really were Harvey Houses and Harvey Girls, and they were the grand-daddy prototype of all modern chain-franchise restaurants. They were created as a national chain with a uniform reputation so train travelers could have a place to eat and sleep they knew would be good, unlike some earlier establishments that took advantage of travelers to gouge them with poor quality. Some eateries would serve food too hot to eat, knowing the traveler would have to leave on the train's schedule, before it cooled down (it was then recycled).
The Harvey Houses also brought a degree of civilization to the West; the conflict with the dance hall girls is not only credible, but was symbolic of the changes that were taking place.
Listen to Sidney's fascinating commentary. He mentions that FDR died during the shooting, and they had to suspend shooting for several days. Then they had to stop shooting for a few weeks when John Hodiak caught the measles. He also talks a lot about the history of the Hollywood studio system, including what happened the time he asked MGM as a director how much his movie was costing. They never told him.
Near the end he talks about whether he would remake The Harvey Girls:
"You should never remake a successful picture. The only picture you should remake is an unsuccessful picture. Because so many times when you see people and good picture makers remake a successful picture and they say, 'I've got to change it a little bit,' it doesn't quite work. So it's better to leave it alone."
He got that right!
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