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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

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.

Victor/Victoria

Ring a Ding Ding

Victor/Victoria (1982)

     I have never been a Julia Andrews fan and have avoided her movies because of a certain grudge I hold*, so Victor/Victoria has never been given any attention before now. As I am discovering an overt love for Director Blake Edwards, however, I decided now was the time to sit down with the gender-bending musical.

     Going in I was oblivious of the year in which this flick was made, and so from the opening scene on I was taken aback by the sexual taboos featured therein that are absolutely alien to the classics I am used to. And given the movie was released in 1982, it really does not fit my definition of a classic, but I have always given TCM the benefit of the doubt. The opening sequence to which I refer involves two men waking together in bed. From there forward, the open discussion of gay lifestyles and terms such as “queer” and “faggot” work their way throughout the plot. I am anything but trying to imply a personal discomfort on the subject, but given the extent to which classic films make up my movie knowledge, I was a bit surprised to find the subject in what I thought was a classic film.

     Homosexuality and cross dressing are the central theme of Victor/Victoria, which was based on a 1933 German film, Viktor/Viktoria. When Andrew’s Victoria is unable to use her awesome voice to secure singing jobs in 1930s Paris, a chance meeting with equally poor, gay cabaret singer Toddy (Robert Preston) sparks the idea to have Victoria market herself as a man who impersonates women. Victoria, now Victor, instantly lands an agent and job at a major club where he is the toast of the town. He also makes an impression on Chicago mobster King Marchan, played by James Garner, who finds it hard to believe the female impersonator is not actually a woman.

     Some snooping by King allows him to discover Victor is indeed female, so he later puts the moves on the manly dressed Victoria at which point she reveals to him alone her true identity. What ensues are some complications with King having to endure the appearance of being gay, which causes some upset among his fellow mobsters.

     Victor/Victoria is one of several films Edwards did with wife, Andrews, during his career. The flick certainly has bits of the director’s typical physical and dry, dialogue humor, but none of that is perpetrated by Andrews. Instead a private detective bears the brunt of physical abuse –umbrella struck by lightning, “you should be careful…that stool is broken”, etc.– while Lesley Ann Warren, who plays King’s moll, silently argues to herself while on a train before flashing her undergarments off the rear of the observation car. I suppose the recurring joke of Victoria being able to break glass with her high notes could be attributed to Andrews, but I did not find the joke that funny. Certainly not as humorous as some of the repeated gimmicks used in the Pink Panther films.

     This movie is funny, but it is not quite as absurd as the other Blake work I have seen, which tends to tickle my funny bone. Being a musical, however, Victor/Victoria does not really need to leave the audience in constant stitches. The songs, with music by Blake standby Henry Mancini, are wonderful and the acting is great. I did, however, find it a bit sad to see Preston, whom I loved in The Music Man, at such an advanced age. I also appreciated that the plot very quickly established the cross-dressing ruse so that the subsequent fun could occupy the majority of the film (contrary to the approach in other gender-switching movies, such as Mrs. Doubtfire). Victor/Victoria is truly enjoyable and probably a must for musical lovers. 

  • Victor/Victoria is set for 2:15 a.m. ET Feb. 14 on TCM.

*Julie Andrews played Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway version of My Fair Lady. When they made the movie, Andrews was considered too unknown to take the major role, so it was given to Audrey Hepburn (my favorite). Come Oscar time 1964, Hepburn was snubbed for Best Actress with the award going to Andrews for Mary Poppins with many saying it was the Academy’s way of awarding the true Eliza Doolittle. Also it did not help that Marnie Nixon’s uncredited role as Audrey’s singing voice was leaked to the public, voice substitutes being a common practice but not one favored in award consideration.

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