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What to Watch Thanksgiving: Musicals

Musicals tend to be very family friendly fare, which is possibly why Turner Classic Movies has sprinkled several throughout the day and night Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. At the top of my list is Judy Garland‘s great Meet Me in St. Louis.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

I feel like the plot of this story of a large St. Louis family in 1903 does not matter much in the grand scheme of things. The narrative is marked by the romances of Garland’s Ester with the neighbor boy and sister Rose (Lucille Bremer) hopes her long-distance boyfriend will get around to proposing. The family as a whole also struggles with the idea of moving to New York as a year goes by.

The songs in Meet Me in St. Louis are among the reasons to watch the flick. Many famous numbers we still remember today are just as enjoyable out of the context of the film as they are in. Among them is the title song, the Oscar-nominated “Trolley Song” that was filmed in one take and Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

This picture marks the first encounter of Garland and Director Vincent Minnelli. The two feuded on set until Garland viewed the daily rushes and discovered how beautiful Minnelli was making her look. The young star had all kinds of confidence issues about her appearance, some of which stem from Louis B. Mayer’s pet names of “ugly duckling” and “my little hunchback.” The woman had also been reluctant to take the part that returned her persona to that of a teenager because she had finally found success in adult roles, such as For Me and My Gal. The new-found chemistry between the star and director led to a marriage in 1945 and four subsequent films. Despite being gay, Minnelli would father Liza with Judy before the two divorced in 1951.

Meet Me in St. Louis is a great way to see Judy in one of her best roles and to sing along with the family to the memorable songs.

Musicals scheduled on TCM for Turkey Day include:

  • Meet Me in St. Louis at 10 a.m. ET.
  • The Music Man at 1:45 p.m.
  • Anything Goes at 8 p.m.
  • Shall We Dance at 3 a.m.
  • Flying with Music at 5 a.m.

Source: Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clark

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What to Watch Sunday: The Music Man

The Music Man (1962)

I think I owned the soundtrack to The Music Man before I saw the movie, but it became a fast favorite in my teenage years, especially once I put those tunes in context. This Meredith Wilson show established Shirley Jones, Robert Preston and Buddy Hackett as forever favorites in my heart, and, as a 2003 TV movie version would prove, really make the show what it is.

Preston is Harold Hill, a con man who goes from town to town in the 1910s selling boys’ bands. His scam is that he teaches each town’s young men to play invisible instruments while “waiting” for the real ones to arrive. He then skips town before anyone realizes there are no instruments. When he gets to River City, Iowa, however, he finds himself trapped after falling in love with Jones’ Marian the librarian and music teacher. Hill is also fairly fond of Marian’s little brother, played by a young “Ronny” Howard, who would grow to become that famous red-headed director.

The townsfolk and Hill’s buddy Marcellus Washburn (Hackett) are behind some of the songs featured in the film/play, with Washburn’s “Shipoopi” being a serious favorite of mine. For years in high school I dreamed of my Shipoopi. Stories set in any era before the 1920s usually have little draw for me, but for some reason The Music Man proved its worth.

  • The Music Man is set for 11:45 a.m. ET Oct. 9 and 1:45 p.m. Nov. 24 on TCM.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Dullsville

It’s a Mad, Mad,
Mad, Mad World (1963)

     I find that unfortunately, I am a person who can be easily duped into watching a movie based on an impressive cast. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is loaded full of star leads and cameo appearances, but the comedic potential for the film must have been too great a burden because the attempt falls flat.

     Although arriving two years prior to The Great Race, I felt as though I was watching a remake of that brilliant piece of comedy. Even the animated opening titles screamed of Blake Edwards. Like the Edwards’ film, Mad World involves teams of individuals racing toward an end point where riches are promised. Alliances change throughout the story, etc. Unlike The Great Race, however, this picture lacks all the charm, romance, and endearing characters that make the other movie work.
 
     The film starts with a car flying off a windy, cliff-side road and five male motorists running to the accident victim’s aid. There, they hear a delirious Jimmy Durante spout off about $350,000 in stolen money buried beneath a W in a park at the southern end of the state. The original parties total eight people in four vehicles, who try to negotiate how they will split the money before giving up and fighting each other to the finish. Some drive, some fly, but all end up at the park at the same time, at which point 12 people are now involved. Meanwhile, Spencer Tracy, as a detective who has been tracking this case for many years, has been tracking the idiots during their entire plight. He knows generally where the “treasure” is buried, but not precisely.
 
      Besides not being very funny, the greatest flaw Mad World boasts is thoroughly unlikable characters. Buddy Hackett was the best one for me because I generally like the goofy-voiced actor. Ethel Merman also makes quite an impression as an obnoxious mother/mother-in-law who gets the abuse she deserves. This is the first I’ve seen Merman on film, and I must say I prefer her acting to her singing. Mickey Rooney is in there also, but gives a greater impression by his rundown, aging look than by his performance.
     The Great Race had heroes and villains, but Mad World has neither. You loved Professor Fate for his failure as an evil force and were overjoyed by the time The Great Leslie and Maggie get around to kissing. There is no such blossoming romance in this feature; in fact, relationships crumble more than develop. Add to that the more than 3-hour run time, and I’ll advise everyone take a pass on this flick.
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