George Sidney’s The Harvey Girls, here under consideration, was a glimpse at the settling and taming of the Wild West inspired by the vast success of the Broadway musical Oklahoma!
The Production: 4/5
During her MGM career in the 1940s, Judy Garland, apart from her films co-starring with Mickey Rooney, made a series of Americana musicals: pictures which focused on an aspect of American life of a certain time and place: Little Nelly Kelly concentrated on the Irish immigrants making a new life for themselves in New York, For Me and My Gal looked at the lives of vaudeville performers prior to World War I, Meet Me in St. Louis focused on a typical family and their trials and tribulations in turn-of-the-century Missouri, and The Harvey Girls, here under consideration, was a glimpse at the settling and taming of the Wild West inspired by the vast success of the Broadway musical Oklahoma! Garland was the center of attention in all of these smash hit musicals, but director George Sidney and his collaborators made sure that in this movie, Judy wasn’t the whole show, sometimes, however, to an overcrowded degree.
Mail-order bride Susan Bradley (Judy Garland) arrives in Sandrock, New Mexico, with the intention of marrying H.H. Hartsey (Chill Wills) who she’s under the impression has been sending her beautiful letters expressing his love of the prairie and his desire to create something beautiful and long lasting there. Imagine her surprise when she learns that Hartsey wasn’t the writer of these poetic letters; instead, they were the work of saloon owner Ned Trent (John Hodiak) who was helping his friend and has no interest in marriage for himself. Stranded in Sandrock, Susan signs up as a waitress in Harvey House, a franchise of eateries established along the railroad lines throughout the West. The town’s lusty and covetous bigshots including Judge Sam Purvis (Preston Foster), his hired gun Marty Peters (Jack Lambert), saloon madam Em (Angela Lansbury) and Trent are none too keen on welcoming the wholesome, well-scrubbed Easterners to their town for fear its wildness and lawlessness might become a thing of the past putting them out of business, so it becomes a test of wills to see who’ll pull up stakes and leave first.
It’s not much of a story that screenwriters Edmund Beloin, Nathaniel Curtis, Harry Crane, James O’Hanlon, Samson Raphaelson, and Kay Van Riper have created (based on a book by Samuel Hopkins Adams), but it’s sprightly enough on which to hang a series of solos and production numbers to serve an overstuffed cast. In fact, you’ll note that most of the film’s musical stars apart from Judy Garland get a specialty number but then exist pretty much on the periphery of the action as the town’s do-gooders and do-badders duke it out (in Virginia O’Brien’s case, it was expedient since she was pregnant at the time so she pretty much disappears from the movie after her stone-faced comic turn “The Wild, Wild West”). Ray Bolger gets one of his gangly tap numbers during a square dance sequence, and Kenny Baker gets to apply his lilting Irish tenor to the film’s most beautiful song “Wait and See” which is then danced by Cyd Charisse (whose vocals elsewhere in the film are provided by Marion Doenges). Director George Sidney helms both the mammoth production numbers like the “Harvey Ready” montage, “Round and Round” as the citizenry is introduced to the waltz by Harvey cook Sonora Cassidy (Marjorie Main) and the stupendous, multi-part town arrival to the Oscar-winning “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” with just as much experienced skill as the movie’s prime action sequences like the all-stops-out fight between the town’s female population and the climactic fire which finally shows the town pulling together at long last.
But, of course, it is a Judy Garland musical, and MGM’s first lady of song is well served by the Harry Warren-Johnny Mercer songs: a melting ballad to start the movie “In the Valley When the Evening Sun Goes Down,” her arrival chorus of “Atchison,” and the delectable trio “It’s a Great, Big World” which she shares with Virginia O’Brien and Cyd Charisse. In the comedy and romance department, she also scores grandly as she struggles to master six-shooters as she tracks down and retakes the stolen Harvey meat supply and attempts to maneuver the rocky terrain where her crush Ned Trent likes to spend his quality time. Clark Gable was originally slated for the role of Ned Trent, but John Hodiak is certainly an able substitute, and though his song with Judy (“My Intuition”) was cut in the final edit, he had a passable baritone and might have been given more to do musically. Angela Lansbury is a hoot as tough dance hall hostess Em kicking up her heels and belting out “Oh, You Kid” (dubbed by Virginia Rees; yes, this multiple Tony-winning Broadway musical star was dubbed in her first movie musical). Lansbury doesn’t stint on the acting either as she conveys both her tough outside and her heartsick inside at being rejected by the man she loves. Preston Foster and Jack Lambert sneer effectively as the overt bad guys, and familiar faces like Marjorie Main, Chill Wills, Selena Royle, and Morris Ankrum play their parts with aplomb.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Warner Archive has done another astonishing high definition mastering of a Technicolor jewel from its library with this release with gorgeous, nicely saturated color, expert sharpness with loads of detail, and beautiful contrast to make the image look wonderfully dimensional. There are no signs of age-related anomalies to mar the viewing experience. The movie has been divided into 30 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers robust fidelity throughout. The dialogue, songs, background score, and sound effects have all been professionally combined into a single track without a trace of hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter to spoil the aural experience.
Special Features: 4/5
Audio Commentary: ported over from a previous laserdisc release is director George Sidney’s interesting but occasionally rambling reminiscence about the making of this movie and several others during his MGM career.
Deleted Musical Numbers: “March of the Doagies (3:26, HD), its reprise (1:58, SD), “My Intuition” (3:47, SD)
Audio Scoring Stage Sessions: “It’s a Great Big World” (two takes), “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” (four takes and the complete track), Training Montage (two takes), “The Wild Wild West” (two takes), Bolger Dance Track (two takes), “Oh, You Kid,” “Wait and See” (two takes), “My Intuition,” “In the Valley” (two takes), “March of the Doagies” (two takes), “Hayride” (two takes), “Round and Round” (two takes and the complete track), “In the Valley” (rehearsal with Judy Garland and vocal arranger Kay Thompson).
“On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” in Stereo (9:00, HD)
Theatrical Trailer (2:51, HD)
Song Selection: ready access to the movie’s musical numbers can be achieved through this main menu listing.
George Sidney’s The Harvey Girls is one of the more celebrated of MGM’s Technicolor musicals even if it isn’t quite in the same league with other Garland classics like Meet Me in St. Louis, The Pirate, or Easter Parade. Warner Archive has delivered a splendid high definition rendition of this musical, and it comes most highly recommended for fans of the stars of the genre.
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