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For Me and My Gal

For Me and My Gal(1942)

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teaser For Me and My Gal (1942)

For Me and My Gal (1942) is very much the "forgotten" Judy Garland classic.Although a big hit in 1942 (bringing in $4.8 million on an investment ofjust over $800,000), it is not as often revived as films like The Wizardof Oz (1939), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) or even her two other pictures with Gene Kelly, The Pirate (1948) and Summer Stock (1950). Nor is it currently available on DVD. Yet it plays an important part in her career, markingthe first time she would receive billing above the title and her mostambitious dramatic role to that time. It also gave her two numbers thatwould become staples of her later concert appearances, the title song(usually done in concerts as a sing-along) and "After You've Gone." Asicing on the cake, it marked Gene Kelly's film debut. His role as a heelwho's reformed by his love for the leading lady would become a standby for thedancing star.

Like most of MGM's best musicals, For Me and My Gal was a product ofArthur Freed's production unit. Often hailed as the man who brought tasteand sophistication to the film musical, Freed benefited from a strong eyefor talent and stories and his openness to the advice of others. In thiscase, that openness would pay off big time. The original script, called"The Big Time," had unscrupulous song-and-dance man Harry Palmer involvedwith two women, a singer (the role intended for Garland) and a dancer, withthe latter carrying most of the dramatic scenes as the woman he marries andbetrays. At the time, legendary stage star and acting teacher Stella Adlerwas working at MGM as a production assistant, and Freed asked her to reviewthe script. She suggested combining the two female roles and givingGarland, whose work she had admired for years, a chance at her mostdramatic role ever. She also suggested that he cast the as-yet-unprovenGene Kelly as the leading man. Freed ended up going with both ideas, whichmeant moving contract hoofer George Murphy, originally scheduled for thelead, into a smaller role as the vaudeville star who loses Garland toKelly.

Freed had actually been interested in Kelly since he'd seen him in WilliamSaroyan's Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Time of Your Life in 1939.At the time, however, Kelly wanted to establish himself with stage work.A year later, Kelly was the acclaimed star of the musical Pal Joeyand had just choreographed Best Foot Forward, and MGM came callingagain. This time Louis B. Mayer offered him a contract after seeing PalJoey and telling him he didn't need to do a screen test. Then througha communications snafu, Kelly was told he would have to test, so hedeclined to sign the contract. Instead, he signed with independentproducer David O. Selznick. With his limited production slate, however,Selznick had no projects in line for Kelly, who spent his first year inHollywood doing nothing. When Freed pushed MGM to cast Kelly in For Meand My Gal, over the objections of studio brass who didn't want to takea chance on an unproven film star, Selznick simply handed over his contractto the studio.

Garland had also pushed for Kelly in the lead, and when he started on thefilm, she went to bat for him whenever he had a disagreement with directorBusby Berkeley, whom she loathed. She also helped him adjust to acting forthe camera. For her part, the role offered her a welcome chance to growup. Her only prior shot at an adult role had been a few scenes as a womanwho dies in childbirth in Little Nellie Kelly (1940). For the rest of thefilm, she had played the woman's teenaged daughter. Now she would spend anentire film as an adult, something she was already doing off-screen, whereshe had recently married composer David Rose. Garland also loved thefilm's patriotic elements. She had been touring military bases and raisingfunds for the Allies even before the Pearl Harbor attack that pulled theU.S. into World War II. Now she got to entertain the troops on screen in aseries of classic pop numbers including "When You Wore a Tulip" and "PackUp Your Trouble."

The biggest problem with the film, however, was the characterization of theleading man, who not only betrays his wife, but injures his hand to avoidservice in World War I. Even before the U.S. entered the war, using adraft dodger as a romantic lead was questionable. After the start of thewar effort, it seemed almost deluded. During production, Berkeley added ascene in which Garland sends her brother (future director Richard Quine)off to war to the tune of "Till We Meet Again," but that only underlinedHarry's cowardice. When the film previewed, audiences overwhelminglyexpressed their disapproval of Kelly's character, saying that Garlandshould have ended up with Murphy at the film's conclusion. Mayer blamedMurphy for being too likable and even told him, "You spoiled the picture."He ordered three weeks of re-takes that would give Kelly more of aconscience and cut down on Murphy's presence. He even had the finalere-shot, without Murphy (the original footage is lost, though thesoundtrack is available on CD). As disappointed as Murphy was, For Meand My Gal became a hit, clearly establishing Kelly as a film star and pavingthe way for more ambitious roles for Garland.

Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Busby Berkeley
Screenplay: Richard Sherman, Fred Finklehoffe, Sid Silvers
Based on the story "The Big Time" by Howard Emmett Rogers
Cinematography: William Daniels
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Gabriel Scognamillo
Music: George E. Stoll
Principal Cast: Judy Garland (Jo Hayden), George Murphy (Jimmy K. Metcalf),Gene Kelly (Harry Palmer), Marta Eggerth (Eve Minard), Ben Blue (SidSimms), Richard Quine (Danny Hayden), Keenan Wynn (Eddie Milton), Horace[Stephen] McNally (Mr. Waring).
BW-104m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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