Today is Sunday, so it is time for another article in our weekly Code film series, 52 Code Films. This is my first article in this series in June. As a matter of fact, it is my first article of any sort this month, since it is just June 2! Every week in 2019, I have agreed to watch at least one movie from the Breen Era of Hollywood (1934-1954) which I have never seen before. At the end of the week, I write about that film, the first I saw if I watched more than one during the week. I created this series to expand my knowledge of Code films and to encourage others to seek out and watch classic films they have never seen before. What new Code films have you seen so far this year?
This week’s topic is For Me and My Gal from 1942. This MGM movie, which marked the screen debut of Gene Kelly, is all about vaudeville entertainers who are trying to make it big in show business. I chose this movie as my topic for a blogathon which I decided to join this weekend, The Second Annual Broadway Bound Blogathon, which Rebecca Deniston of Taking Up Room is hosting again this year. When trying to find a film with which to participate in this blogathon, I looked through our large VHS collection to see if I could find a movie I hadn’t seen before which would qualify. I found this movie, which my parents discuss frequently but which I had never seen for myself. Since this film is all about performers trying to make it to The Palace in New York, Rebecca said that it qualifies. I watched this movie on Wednesday for the first time, and now I bring it here to you!
A vaudeville show arrives in a small town to put on their act. The show consists of a leading man, a comical assistant, and several ladies. One of these girls is a pretty young lady with whom the genial, generous leading man is secretly in love. As soon as they arrive in town, a solo dancer on the bill starts flirting with the young lady, but she quickly rebuffs him. She likes her group, and she wants to continue pursuing a career for more than just her own love of performing. Since her parents have died, she is funding the medical training of her beloved brother. Her brother catches her show that evening, and she sees him to the train station. On her way back to the hotel, she bumps into the fresh dancer again. He asks her to start a duo with him, but she refuses. He eventually persuades her to have a cup of coffee with him. As they sit in a cafe together, he tells her that he bought an arrangement of a song for the two of them, and they try it out together. Both are thrilled by how good it sounds, but the young lady remembers her commitment to her friend’s act. Back at the hotel, her friend tells her that he heard her singing in the cafe with the dancer, and he encourages her to start a partnership with him. Although she is reluctant at first, she gives into her real desire when the leading man tells her that he was planning on breaking up the show anyway. Together on the road, the twosome sing and dance, hoping that they are headed for success. However, the breaks don’t come their way quickly. Little does the self-centered hoofer know that his pretty female partner is falling very much in love with him. While they are on a train headed for Chicago, the young man accidentally stumbles into the private boxcar of a famous singer, who is beautiful as well as successful. He quickly flirts with her, thinking that she may get him someplace. In Chicago, the young lady reunites with her old friend and former performing partner, who quickly sees that she has unrequited love for her new fellow-player. She fears that her beloved may be taken away from her by the lovely French singer. When she confronts the singer, the other woman vows that she doesn’t want to steal her beloved, but she says that she will offer him a solo job just to help the young lady realize how shifty and selfish the young man is. The dancer is thrilled by the offer to perform in the Palace in New York, but he feels sheepish about telling his partner. She tries to make things easier for him by claiming that she has had an offer from her old vaudeville partner, but she finally starts crying at the thought of leaving the man she loves. At last the hoofer realizes that she loves him, and he declares his love for her, too. He turns down the offer from the singer and vows to succeed with the girl he loves. However, all their problems are not behind them. The Palace is still a long way off, blocked by disappointments and trials. Meanwhile, the Great War looms on the horizon. The duo will never be able to succeed as long as the young man is still selfish in his heart.
The young lady who is pursuing a career in show business is Jo Hayden, played by Judy Garland. The performer who is secretly in love with her is Jimmy K. Metcalf, played by George Murphy. The shifty hoofer who forms a duo with Jo is Harry Palmer, played by Gene Kelly. Jo’s brother who is working to become a doctor is Danny Hayden, played by Richard Quine. The glamorous singer who entrances Harry is Eve Minard, played by Marta Eggert. The comedian in Jimmy’s act is Sid Simms, played by Ben Blue.
This film was directed by Busby Berkeley. It was produced by Arthur Freed. The production company was MGM. The screenplay was written by Richard Sherman, Fred Finklehoffe, and Sid Silvers. The story was by Howard Emmett Rogers, based on the real lives of vaudevillians Harry Palmer and Jo Hayden. The score is comprised by a large number of songs, most of which are from the World War I era or earlier. Only one song was written for this movie, “The Doll Shop,” the lyrics and music of which were supplied by Roger Edens. This movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. The National Board of Review gave Gene Kelly a Best Acting award for his performance.
This is a perfect Code film. It is very intense and dramatic at times, but it never violates the standards of decency. For years, I had heard about the dreaded scene in which Harry incapacitates himself for the draft, but I trusted that the Production Code Administration prevented undo violence. My faith was justified, since nothing was shown, and a cut was taking at just the right moment to avoid making the audience empathetically uncomfortable. What I found most interesting from a Code standpoint was the first scene in which Eve Minard is seen. The actress’s neckline was slightly low, but it didn’t really reveal her chest when she was standing. Then, she sat down at the piano to sing a song for Harry. In this shot, I noticed that her chest above the dress’s neckline was slightly blurry. At first, I thought that it was just a film imperfection because of the movie’s age. However, when my father pointed out the same blurriness, we deduced that it was not a defect but a purposeful film tactic to hide Marta Eggert’s revealed figure. This hypothesis was confirmed when the blurriness disappeared in a different shot but reappeared when it cut back to Eve at the piano. I am certain that this was not a decision by MGM but an order from the Production Code Administration. Perhaps it was the studio’s idea for a cheap alternative to re-filming the scene after the PCA said that her neckline was unacceptable. On the other hand, it could have been a friendly suggestion from the PCA on how to save the scene without a huge cost. Either way, it was brilliant! The neckline wasn’t always indecent, so it was suitably fixed by the subtle blurriness. I’m glad that that tactic was used to keep this wonderful film from being marred by an indecent costume. In addition, the one battle scene is very exciting without being distastefully violent or disturbingly grotesque. All of this is enhanced by the wonderfully patriotic message which this film supplies. It teaches the hard but important lesson that duty to one’s country comes before personal gain. The lesson which Harry learns in this film is just as pertinent and vital today as it was in the early World War II days of 1942.
I really enjoyed this film. I found it to be very entertaining. Now that I have seen it, I’m amazed that I didn’t watch this marvelous musical earlier, since it has been in our collection for years! I’m glad that this series and this blogathon encouraged me to watch it at last. The acting is excellent. I really enjoyed seeing Gene Kelly in his first film role. He had a much stronger East Coast accent in this film than he did in later movies. It was interesting to see how different he seemed in this movie, fresh off his Broadway success as the title character in Pal Joey. He is surprisingly but convincingly shifty and unlikable at times in this role. However, he shows a great transformation of his character which wins us over. All along, Gene Kelly is too charming to keep us from liking him at least a little bit all along. Judy Garland gives a great performance in this movie. She is very pretty, and she shows great emotions in this role. I was very impressed by the scope and depth of her acting in this film. George Murphy is very good in his role as the other man in Jo’s life. This actor isn’t as famous now as the other two leads, but he was a very talented and likable actor who made a lot of great movies. I loved the musical numbers. I thought that Gene Kelly and Judy Garland worked very well together in their numbers. Their voices blended so beautifully, especially in the title song. Judy did a great job of matching Gene’s tap dancing. “Ballin’ the Jack” is an adorable number, as is the “Doll Shop” sequence in which George Murphy sings “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” to Judy Garland, who is playing a life-sized mechanical doll. I’ve never heard that song make so much sense before! Marta Eggert is a lovely addition, since she has a beautiful operatic voice. Although her character could be a villain, she surprises us with the sweetness of her heart as she speaks tenderly to Jo. I was impressed by this lovely actress, of whom I hope to see more in the future. This film’s World War I setting is very moving, particularly the entertainment of the troupes. I really loved this movie.
I highly recommend this film, especially to musical fans. However, it isn’t a light, fluffy little musical. Although I love the many lighthearted musicals which MGM made, that wasn’t the only type of entertainment which that studio produced. I appreciate the drama and the serious content that is in this film. This movie has a very stirring plot and moving conflict between the leading man and the leading lady. It isn’t a movie in which everything goes right for the leads. As a matter of fact, it seems that everything is going wrong for most of the film. This story is told with true, deep emotion, sensational acting, and stunning black-and-white cinematography in addition to riveting musical numbers. There are plenty of fun and comical moments as well, giving enjoyable contrast. The love scenes between Miss Garland and Mr. Kelly are very believable and very emotional, although extremely proper. Near the end of the film, there is even a brief war scene, which action-loving viewers will enjoy. I heartily recommend this film to all my readers!
For the Blogathon
This movie is all about a pair of young vaudeville performers and sweethearts who are bound for the Palace in New York! This iconic theatre was built on Broadway in New York City in 1913. For years, it was a legend for vaudevillians as the greatest booking in the country. Thankfully, this monument of the old entertainment world still stands, and it is one of the largest theatres on Broadway. Although officially called the Palace Theatre, performers lovingly called it just “the Palace.” As manager Eddie Milton (Keenan Wynn) points out, he wouldn’t call the Palace “the Palace Theatre in New York.” The country was filled with theatres which claimed royal status with that common name. There is even an old movie palace called the Palace Theatre on Los Angeles’s Broadway. However, the real Palace needs no other identification. It was called the Palace because its stage could only be graced by the kings and queens of show business.
This movie teaches important lessons about the value of fame and the importance of generosity and selflessness. Everybody wants to reach the Palace, but it doesn’t mean anything if you do it by being a selfish, cruel fraud. It only has value if you have character as well as talent. The Great White Way shone with the lights of people who did more than entertain for themselves. Would you spend the best years of your life toiling at an act and performing for hours every day in drafty theatres covered in heavy grease paint just to please yourself? No, you would do it for a greater purpose. You would do it for love of art and respect for the theatre. Most importantly, you would do it because you care about your audience enough to endure pain, inconvenience, and misery to bring them a few hours of joy through your talent. That is the tradition of the theatre. That is the spirit of the Palace!
Why do Jo and Harry work so hard to reach the Palace rather than some other theatre? Why would Harry risk everything for that chance? I think a quote from Jack Haley, a vaudevillian famous for playing the Tin Man in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz from 1939, sums up the whole spirit of the Palace and this film: “Only a vaudevillian who has trod its stage can really tell you about it … only a performer can describe the anxieties, the joys, the anticipation, and the exultation of a week’s engagement at the Palace. The walk through the iron gate on 47th Street through the courtyard to the stage door, was the cum laude walk to a show business diploma. A feeling of ecstasy came with the knowledge that this was the Palace, the epitome of the more than 15,000 vaudeville theaters in America, and the realization that you have been selected to play it. Of all the thousands upon thousands of vaudeville performers in the business, you are there. This was a dream fulfilled; this was the pinnacle of Variety success.” Do Jo and Harry ever get to play the Palace? Watch the film to find out!
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