powered by AFI
In the 1930's, Warner Brothers had set the standard for movie musicals with their Busby Berkeley extravaganzas. Other studios, notably MGM, tried to emulate the success of Warners' backstage musicals by making them even bigger and more lavish, thereby destroying their charm. But even those overblown spectacles produced occasional gems. Among them was Judy Garland's star-is-born MGM feature film debut in Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937).
MGM had won an Oscar® with its first talkie backstage musical, The Broadway Melody (1929). They had another hit with Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), which was tap dancer Eleanor Powell's first MGM film, and featured matinee-idol co-star Robert Taylor and a tuneful score by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. In 1937, they reunited the winning team to try to repeat that success.
In 1935, the studio had signed a 13-year old singer with a remarkably mature voice. They put Judy Garland into a short film called Every Sunday (1936) with another teenage singer, Deanna Durbin. But even though the studio dumped Durbin and kept Garland, they didn't do anything with her. Instead, they loaned her out to 20th Century Fox for a small role in the college musical, Pigskin Parade (1936). Then, in February of 1937, MGM threw a birthday party for the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable. Garland was to sing at the event, and her mentor, composer and arranger Roger Edens, discouraged her from singing an Ethel Merman torch song. Instead, Edens selected "You Made Me Love You," with a prologue he'd written for Garland to sing to a picture of Gable. It was called "Dear Mr. Gable," and in it Garland confesses her love for the screen idol as she writes him a fan letter. The number was a sensation, and plans were made to add Garland to the cast of Broadway Melody of 1938. She would play the daughter of veteran vaudevillian Sophie Tucker, who runs the theatrical boarding house where Powell lives.
Critics had a few kind words for Powell's dancing, but found Broadway Melody of 1938 a pale imitation of its predecessors. Although the cast included hoofers George Murphy and Buddy Ebsen, and comedians Robert Benchley and Billy Gilbert, the reviews virtually ignored most of the other stars, and raved about Garland and (to a lesser degree) Tucker. Variety said that the two, "with much less to do than the others, stand out like traffic lights....Judy sings a plaint to Clark Gable's photograph which is as close to great screen acting as pictures have furnished." The Hollywood Reporter agreed. "The sensational work of young Judy Garland causes wonder as to why she has been kept under wraps these many months." She wouldn't be under wraps for long. Within a year, Garland had appeared in four more films, and was about to be cast in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Over the years, Garland would sing "Dear Mr. Gable" many more times, and always delighted in telling the story (which may or may not be true) that an embarrassed Gable finally begged her to stop singing it.
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Producer: Jack Cummings
Screenplay: Jack McGowan, based on a story by Jack McGowan and Sid Silvers
Cinematography: William Daniels
Editor: Blanche Sewell
Music Director: Georgie Stoll; songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown
Principal Cast: Robert Taylor (Steve Raleigh), Eleanor Powell (Sally Lee), George Murphy (Sonny Ledford), Binnie Barnes (Caroline Whipple), Buddy Ebsen (Peter Trot), Sophie Tucker (Alice Clayton), Judy Garland (Betty Clayton).
BW-111m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri