When movie fans think of Judy Garland, her three most famous films might come to mind: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) or A Star is Born (1954). Or maybe one of her many movies with Mickey Rooney.
But the late 1940s and early 1950s might show her at her most versatile, when she worked with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Van Johnson in several bright, funny entertainments.
Easter weekend of 2006 brought one of these MGM classics to the Redford Theatre. Appropriately, it was Easter Parade (1948), co-starring Astaire, Ann Miller and Peter Lawford. The big screen and Technicolor detail showed Judy and the others so vividly that you could almost feel the emotions that they must have experienced as they made this movie.
Judy’s voice and sweetness first brought her fame, but films like Easter Parade show how incredibly funny she could be. Her facial contortions alone were enough to make the Redford audience explode with laughter.
A highlight of the movie was Judy’s comic duet with Astaire: “A Couple of Swells.” These two legendary performers dressed up in rags and swayed back and forth across the screen, singing about all the high life activities that are just out of their reach. The music behind their singing had a depth and richness that warmed the audience with the feeling that they were seeing a unique moment in movie history.
And Easter Parade itself stands out as a unique combination of many talents. It was the beginning of Astaire’s comeback with MGM that would lead to other classic musicals like Royal Wedding (1951), The Band Wagon (1953) and Silk Stockings (1957).
Easter Parade also was a breakthrough film for Ann Miller, whose dark-haired glamor contrasted well against Judy Garland’s down-to-earth charm. Ann sizzled in several dramatic dance numbers; one year later she would light up the screen in On the Town with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
So went another fun night at the Redford (April 15, 2006). A young girl danced in front of the stage to the smooth melodies of organist Gus Borman, who acknowledged the crowd’s applause with his signature thumbs-up. Stage announcer Gregory Sumner (a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy) helped the crowd settle into their holiday weekend with his humorous, friendly introduction of the night’s entertainment.
And Bugs Bunny also made an appearance, in the 1947 Warner Brothers cartoon Easter Yeggs.
Copyright 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.