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Two sensational bundles of pure talent, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland formed a perfect screen team with their engaging personalities, abundant energy and obvious devotion to each other. Fast friends for most of their lives, the pair became one of America's most-loved screen couples in a series of "Let's-put-on-a-show" musicals for MGM. Girl Crazy (1943) is the ninth of 10 movies in which both Rooney and Garland appear, and the last in which they were co-starred. (A final film appearance together was as guest stars in 1948's Words and Music.)
Originally a George and Ira Gershwin stage hit, Girl Crazy had been filmed by RKO in 1932, starring Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey in a version that put the emphasis on comedy and gave short shrift to the show's wonderful songs. MGM bought the property in 1939 and considered using it as a follow-up vehicle for Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell after Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940). But music supervisor and Garland mentor Roger Edens had other plans, convincing his reluctant star (who was impatient to move on to adult roles) that this was a perfect vehicle for one more re-teaming of her and Mickey as rambunctious teens. Girl Crazy casts Rooney as an irresponsible young playboy who's sent to a Western mining school where Garland, as the dean's daughter, helps straighten him out. Together they save the financially strapped college by staging a rodeo/beauty contest/musical extravaganza. Garland's character, called Ginger Gray, was played onstage by Ginger Rogers.
The Mickey-Judy version of Girl Crazy, produced by MGM's prestigious Arthur Freed unit, restores the show's entire score and adds "Fascinatin' Rhythm" from another Gershwin musical, Lady Be Good. Rooney and Garland are at their irrepressible best on "Could You Use Me?" and "I Got Rhythm," while Garland solos (or sings with the chorus) on "Bidin' My Time," "Embraceable You" and a heart-rending "But Not For Me." June Allyson, then at the beginning of her MGM career, energetically partners Rooney on "Treat Me Rough." Rooney, quite impressively, plays piano with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra during "Fascinatin' Rhythm."
Busby Berkeley, who had previously directed Rooney and Garland in their biggest co-starring hits, Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940) and Babes on Broadway (1941), also was signed to direct Girl Crazy. But he was removed from the film after staging only one number, a typically elaborate finale built around "I Got Rhythm." Berkeley clashed over staging ideas with Edens, who complained of the director's "big ensembles and trick cameras... with people cracking whips and guns and cannons going off all over my arrangements and Judy's voice." Garland also had grown resentful of Berkeley's demanding ways and would later say, "I used to feel as if he had a big black bull whip and he was lashing me with it. Sometimes I used to think I couldn't live through the day."
Happily, the director brought in as Berkeley's replacement, Norman Taurog, had a calmer approach that allowed more attention to be focused on the talent at hand and less on frenetic production numbers. Film historian Frank N. Magill has written that "Taurog's direction and staging of the musical numbers" in Girl Crazy "reflected the beginnings of a new style in film musicals." This new, "integrated" approach allowed the songs and dances to express character development. The performing room given Rooney and Garland was reflected in the reviews, including Theodore Strauss's comment in The New York Times that "the immortal Mickey... is an entertainer to his fingertips. And with Judy, who sings and acts like an earthbound angel, to temper his brashness, well, they can do almost anything they wish, and we'll like it even in spite of ourselves."
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: Fred F. Finklehoffe, Dorothy Kingsley, William Ludwig, Sid Silvers, from play by Guy Bolton and Jack McGowan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: William H. Daniels, Robert H. Planck
Costume Design: Irene Sharaff
Editing: Albert Akst
Original Music: George and Ira Gershwin
Choreographer: Busby Berkeley
Principal Cast: Mickey Rooney (Danny Churchill Jr.), Judy Garland (Ginger Gray), Gil Stratton (Bud Livermore), Robert E. Strickland (Henry Lathrop), Rags Ragland (Rags), June Allyson (Specialty Solo), Nancy Walker (Polly Williams), Tommy Dorsey (Himself).
BW-99m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe