Judy Garland was one of the best loved stars from the golden age of Hollywood and is often seen as one of it’s greatest victims. It was the Wizard Of Oz that cemented her stardom as well as the Hardy family movies with Mickey Rooney. Her heavy schedule at MGM led to an addiction to pills and later alcohol that impacted heavily on the rest of her life and career. Always incredible to watch Garlands career petered out after the sucess of A Star Is Born and she died in 1969. Here though is our pick of five of her best movies.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Treasured by millions with each new screening, this colorful musical fantasy defines for many the greatest achievements of Hollywood’s classic period. MGM put every resource into the production, from dazzling Technicolor (an early use of the three-strip process; the colors astonished audiences of the day), marvelous songs from Arlen and Harburg that would become standards, a star-making performance from Garland (actually the studio’s third choice for the role), and the thousands of studio artisans who created hundreds of costumes and 70 sets for an ambitious, months-long production led by three of the studio’s most-trusted directors (and early sequences, not in the final cut, by Richard Thorpe). The result follows a Kansas farmgirl (Garland) who escapes her black-and-white life and Hamilton’s threat to do away with her beloved dog, Toto, to a Technicolor world that lies over the rainbow. After becoming the hero of Munchkin Land, Garland and Toto link arms with Bolger, Haley, and Lahr (the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion) to place each of their desires in front of the fabled Wizard, desires that they learn are really always within their reach. One of the classics that rewards each viewing. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Picture.
Directors: George Cukor, Victor Fleming, King Vidor
Cast: Ray Bolger, Billie Burke, Judy Garland, Charley Grapewin, Jack Haley Jr., Margaret Hamilton, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan
For Me and My Gal (1942)
Gene Kelly made his film debut in this boy-woos-girl classic. An ambitious song-and-dance man and a pretty singer with dreams of hitting the big time team up to work the vaudeville circuit. Their professional relationship gradually becomes romantic, but both suffer a series of setbacks and disappointments. As they finally seem poised on the verge of success, WWI breaks out and threatens to tear them apart forever.
Director: Busby Berkeley
Cast: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Stephen McNally, George Murphy, Richard Quine, Keenan Wynn
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
On nearly every list of the best Hollywood musicals of all time, Vincente Minnelli’s slice of Americana set during the 1904 World’s Fair was unusual for its failure to employ a “backstage” plot device to set up the songs. More important, it served to reestablish Garland’s career and established Minnelli (Garland’s future husband) as a major American filmmaker. The story of the well-to-do Alonzo Smith (Ames) and his family is a nostalgic portrait of an idealized happy American household, where the biggest worries concern the romantic futures of daughters Garland and Bremer and a possible move to New York. With songs like “The Boy Next Door,” “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas,” and the famous “Trolley Song,” this soon became MGM’s second most successful film, bested only by GWTW. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Screenplay; Best Song (“The Trolley Song”).
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Cast: Judy Garland, June Lockhart, Marjorie Main, Margaret O’Brien, Leon Ames, Mary Astor, Harry Davenport, Tom Drake,
The Harvey Girls (1946)
A chain of railroad station restaurants bring the frontier a touch of civilization along with a hot meal in this nostalgic musical comedy from the legendary MGM Freed unit. There’s high-wattage star power (Garland, Foster, Charisse, Bolger, Lansbury) expended on a negligible tale of an eastern gal who heads west to work in one of the elegant restaurants. The Mercer-Warren score includes the award-winning “On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe,” “The Wild, Wild West,” “It’s a Great Big World,” and many others. Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.
Director: George Sidney
Cast: Kenny Baker, Ray Bolger, Cyd Charisse, Preston Foster, Judy Garland, John Hodiak, Angela Lansbury, Marjorie Main, Virginia O’Brien, Chill Wills
A Star Is Born (1954)
A close remake of the fabled 1937 Hollywood tragedy (with aspects of Cukor’s own 1932 “What Price Hollywood?”) is elevated by Garland’s finest, most-esteemed performance. The feeling of impending doom is intensified for today’s audience by our knowledge of Garland’s own experience and career. The story follows the original, with singer Garland getting her big break by giving screen star Mason a hand onstage. The more emotional performances characteristic of the ’50s make this version somewhat overwrought, with Mason’s degradation more shocking than Fredric March’s decline. Drastic cuts made by the studio after its initial release were restored in the early ’80s, and nearly 30 minutes of additional footage are available on the laserdisc. The Harold Arlen?Ira Gershwin score introduced the Garland versions of “The Man That Got Away,” “Somewhere There’s a Someone,” “Melancholy Baby,” and “Born in a Trunk.” Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy: James Mason; Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy: Judy Garland. Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Actor: James Mason; Best Actress: Judy Garland; Best Score; Best Song (“The Man That Got Away”).
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Judy Garland, James Mason, Tommy Noonan, Charles Bickford, Jack Carson,