Judy Garland

Sentimental Journey: Wartime Nostalgia & Three Christmas Classics

Judy Garland Meet Me in St. Louis

If there’s anything Christmas movies are known for, it’s for having heartwarming, sentimental themes. Of course, there are some notable exceptions out there, but those themes can be found at the core of many of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. Every holiday season, millions of people get hit with a wave of nostalgia that makes them crave the wholesome, heartfelt entertainment that Christmas movies typically have to offer. While that’s a trend that never truly goes away, it can become particularly apparent when times are difficult, such as during times of war.

During the 1940s, World War II had a profound impact on the life of every American, whether they were serving in the war or back on the homefront. As the holidays approached, people were understandably longing for past Christmases that were spent together with family and friends. Even the most lighthearted movies can be a reflection of the era in which they were produced and 1940s Christmas movies are no exception. In fact, it was a driving force that helped make some of our most cherished holiday movies and songs so popular.

Bing Crosby Singing White Christmas in Holiday Inn 1942

Holiday Inn (1942)

In 1940, Paramount Studios commissioned Irving Berlin to write a series of holiday-themed songs to use in a movie about an inn that only opened on holidays. While Holiday Inn was a box office success on its release, becoming one of the most successful movies of 1942, one of those Irving Berlin songs would go on to eclipse the movie’s success.

Nearly 80 years after its initial release, Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” remains the best-selling record of all time and is widely considered one of the most significant American songs ever recorded, but Crosby initially didn’t think the song was anything exceptional. In fact, it was expected that the song “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” from Holiday Inn‘s Valentine’s Day number would be the biggest hit from the movie’s soundtrack. But while the movie was being filmed, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and moviegoers were in a different place by the time the movie was released. “White Christmas” struck a nerve with people who wanted to go back to simpler, safer times.

Considering the resonance it had with people during World War II, its prominent use in White Christmas twelve years later was much more than just an excuse to get Bing Crosby to reprise his signature song and sell more copies of it. It was a natural choice for a movie about two World War II veterans who reunite with their commanding officer.

Meet Me in St. Louis Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Judy Garland Margaret O'Brien

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

During the golden age of Hollywood, each of the major studios had their thing they were known for. Universal had their horror movies, Warner Brothers had their gritty gangster movies, and MGM had musicals. Louis B. Mayer was very big on producing wholesome entertainment the whole family could enjoy and Meet Me in St. Louis is a prime example of that.

Meet Me in St. Louis follows the lives of the Smith family over the course of a year as they face an upcoming move from St. Louis to New York at the turn of the 20th century. Given the span of time the movie covers, it’s not strictly a Christmas movie, but the scene in which Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to Margaret O’Brien is enough to make it a holiday classic.

With audiences longing to be reminded more innocent times, Meet Me in St. Louis was exactly what many moviegoers were looking for at the time, but “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” took that yearning to the next level. The version performed in the movie, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, blends a message of hope with a twinge of sadness. The original version of the song was decidedly less optimistic and included lines like, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,” until director Vincente Minnelli and stars Judy Garland and Tom Drake complained that the song was far too depressing for the scene. While the song still remains immensely popular over 70 years later, the lyrics were particularly poignant for World War II-era audiences who had been separated from their loved ones.

I'll Be Seeing You 1944 Ginger Rogers Joseph Cotten

I’ll Be Seeing You (1944)

Unlike “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” isn’t a song specifically about Christmas, nor was it specifically written for a movie. “I’ll Be Seeing You” was originally written by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain for the play Right This Way, which closed after just fifteen performances in 1938. The play may not have been notable, but “I’ll Be Seeing You” most decidedly was. The song’s melancholy, sentimental tone helped give it a whole new life a few years later after the United States entered World War II. As the war wore on, renditions recorded by Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Jo Stafford, and Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey turned the song into an anthem for those who were missing their loved ones during the war.

Although “I’ll Be Seeing You” makes no mention of Christmas, it serves as a very fitting theme song for the 1944 movie by the same name, which does revolve around Christmas. In I’ll Be Seeing You, Ginger Rogers plays Mary Marshall, a prisoner who has been given leave to spend the holidays with her family. On the train, she meets Sergeant Zachary Morgan, played by Joseph Cotten, who is on leave while he tries to cope with PTSD. During the holiday, the two develop a romance as they try to keep their respective secrets hidden from each other. Unlike Meet Me in St. Louis and Holiday InnI’ll Be Seeing You directly involves life during World War II so using a popular song of the era as the main theme not only feels natural, it perfectly captures the bittersweet, wistful tone of the movie.

What’s on TCM: April 2016

Judy Garland

Happy April, everyone! There is a fantastic month of movies ahead on TCM to look forward to, so let’s get started.

First of all, we have Judy Garland as Star of the Month. Her movies will be paying every Friday night in April. There’s also a spotlight on John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore with a Best of the Barrymores spotlight every Monday night. Between those two movies, there’s a lot of great stuff to look forward to.

I’m also very excited about the From Caligari to Hitler spotlight on films from Germany’s Weimar era, which will be running on Wednesday nights starting April 13th. Since I’m a huge fan of many movies from this era such as Metropolis, Diary of a Lost Girl, The Blue Angel, and M, I’m so looking forward to this. Plus there are a few movies in that schedule that I’ve never seen before, but have been wanting to see for a long time. Should be great.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s a night of Sophia Loren coming up on April 28th. This night’s schedule includes the premiere of an interview she taped at the 2015 TCM Film Festival. I had the privilege of being able to attend the taping of this interview and I can safely say you’re in for a real treat. Since Robert Osborne was unable to attend the festival last year, Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti filled in for him, making this a totally unique interview. They’ll also be playing Human Voice, which is a short film she starred in in 2014. Her performance is absolutely incredible in it; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Without further ado, let’s get on to the rest of the schedule!

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The Clock (1945)

The Clock 1945 Poster

When soldier Joe Allen (Robert Walker) arrives in New York City to start his 48-hour leave, he happens to meet secretary Alice Maybery (Judy Garland) when she trips over his foot and breaks her shoe. After he helps her get her shoe taken care of, Alice and Joe spend the afternoon together, visiting New York landmarks such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Before they part, they make a date to meet later that night underneath the clock at the Astor Hotel.

Back at her apartment, Alice tells her roommate about the soldier she’s just met. While Alice is thrilled about the new man in her life, her roommate cautions her about picking up strange soldiers. But she ignores her roommate’s advice and keeps her date with Joe. They share a wonderful night together that results in them losing track of time and missing the last bus of the night. But with a stroke of luck, they end up catching a ride with milkman Al Henry (James Gleason). The young couple accompanies Al on his milk deliveries, which don’t end until the very early hours of the morning.

As Alice and Joe start their second day together, their minds move towards marriage. They want to be married that very day, before Joe has to go back on duty. However, they fail to account for the time it would take to get the mandatory blood test. But Joe and Alice are nothing if not persistent and they spend the day running around town trying to get their blood test rushed and manage to get it done just in the nick of time. The judge marries them right there in his office. However, the experience feels so rushed that Alice hardly feels like she’s really married. As they leave, they pass by a church where a wedding has just ended and step inside to repeat their vows. This time, it feels more real for Alice and when Joe leaves the next day, they part feeling like a real husband and wife.

Not only was The Clock the only non-musical film Judy Garland made during her time at MGM, it was one of the few movies of her entire career she doesn’t sing in. When it was released in 1945, it wasn’t a hit with audiences because they were disappointed in the lack of singing. It’s too bad audiences were so unwilling to give it a chance at the time, because they missed out on a really sweet story. Judy Garland and Robert Walker had surprisingly good chemistry together and it’s easy to be charmed by them. Lack of singing aside, I can see how some people might be frustrated by this movie, though. A lot of people really like movies to have firmly defined endings and The Clock‘s ending is left quite open. I don’t mind open endings, but part of me wishes there was a sequel to The Clock just because I think a movie about Joe returning from the war and how he and Alice adjust to life as a married couple after their whirlwind courtship could have been just as interesting as The Clock was.

What’s on TCM: June 2014

Rock Hudson Doris Day Pillow Talk

Happy June, everybody! On the TCM front, June looks like it will be a bit of a quiet month, but there’s still plenty of good stuff to set your DVRs for. Rock Hudson is the Star of the Month; his movies will be featured every Thursday night this month. The Essentials, Jr. series will make its return on Sunday nights at 8:00 PM. Actor and comedian Greg Proops is the host for Friday Night Spotlight this month and he will be featuring some of his favorite pirate movies.

If you were at the TCM Classic Film Fest this movie and missed out on seeing Written on the Wind, The Pawnbroker, or The Italian Job, you’re in luck because each of those are on the schedule this month.

Without further ado, let’s get on to the schedule…

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Girl Crazy (1943)

Girl Crazy PosterDanny Chuchill, Jr. (Mickey Rooney) has been living the high life as the son of a wealthy newspaper publisher.  But when his father gets tired of Danny’s scandalous behavior making headlines, he decides to send Danny out west to Cody College to teach him a thing or two about hard work.  And, most importantly, Cody is an all-male college so there won’t be any women to distract him.

But when Danny gets to Cody, he discovers there is one woman around — Ginger Gray (Judy Garland), the dean’s granddaughter.  It’s love at first sight for Danny, but Ginger isn’t as impressed with him.  Danny doesn’t fit in with the other students, he has a hard time adjusting to Cody’s strict schedule and rugged activities and would like to go home, but the prospect of getting together with Ginger motivates him to stay.  After Ginger turns down a marriage proposal from one of the other students at Cody, Ginger starts to warm to Danny.

Cody College suddenly faces a crisis when the Governor announces plans to close the school due to low enrollment.  Ginger is devastated by the news, but Danny comes up with a plan to attract new students by hosting an annual rodeo with a beauty contest.  Ginger loves the idea so the two of them go directly to the Governor to get him on board.  The Governor gives them thirty days to turn the school around, so Danny and Ginger get to work making it happen.  For Danny, that means flirting with a bunch of debutantes to get them to enter the beauty contest, which makes Ginger jealous, especially when he names another girl as Queen of the Rodeo.  But just as Ginger is about to leave, Danny goes to see her and convinces her that she’s the only one he loves. Ginger and Danny get back together, Cody College sees a big increase in student applications, and the college is saved.

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies are often accused of all being the same and, well, there’s no denying that Girl Crazy has a pretty familiar plot.  But Girl Crazy is by far my favorite out of all the movies Mickey and Judy made together.  Mickey and Judy always had very good chemistry together, but there’s something about them in this movie, I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly, that just makes them shine brighter than they did in their other movies.

Girl Crazy also features the strongest bunch of songs featured in any of their movies.  Judy’s rendition of “Embraceable You” is one of my all-time favorite songs and the big “I Got Rhythm” finale is very memorable. Plus, be sure to watch for Tommy Dorsey and June Allyson who both make appearances in some of the musical numbers.  The jokes may be silly and corny, but they always make me laugh.  This is MGM doing what it did best — making wholesome, lighthearted entertainment the whole family could enjoy.  Girl Crazy is simply one of those movies that I can’t help but be happy after watching

What’s on TCM: May 2013

Humphrey Bogart in High SierraHappy May, everyone!

Rather than have just one Star of the Month for may, there will actually be several.  Every Tuesday night this month, TCM will be spotlighting some of cinema’s greatest tough guys, so that includes people like Bogart, Cagney, McQueen, and Robinson, just to name a few.

Friday Night Spotlight will be back with Illeana Douglas as the guest co-host.  Illeana has chosen the theme of “Second Looks.”  All of the movies she’s chosen weren’t particularly well-received when they were first released, but she thinks they’re deserving of a second chance.  I agree with several of her selections and since I’m all about those hidden gems, I’m really looking forward to seeing some of her other choices.

If you’re a Harold Lloyd fan, mark May 23rd on your calendar because TCM will be playing his feature movies and short films all night long, the vast majority of which have never been shown on TCM before.

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Listen, Darling (1938)

After the death of her husband, Dottie Wingate (Mary Astor) is unable to support her children, Pinkie (Judy Garland) and Billie (Scotty Beckett), and is on the verge of marrying banker Arthur Drubbs (Gene Lockhart).  She doesn’t love him and Pinkie and Billie don’t like him at all, but she needs the financial security.  Desperate to stop her mother from making such a big mistake, Pinkie and her boyfriend Buzz (Freddie Bartholomew) come up with a plan to “kidnap” Dottie and Billie in the family camper and take her for a little vacation, hoping the vacation will help her forget about Arthur.

Naturally, Dottie is surprised by this plan, but after a little while, she relaxes and begins to enjoy herself.  However, she still plans to marry Arthur when they get back home.  Buzz and Pinkie want to prove to Dottie that she can do better so they set out to find a more suitable match for her.  As luck would have it, they end up camping near Richard Thurlow (Walter Pidgeon), who just happens to have a lot in common with Dottie’s late husband.  Buzz thinks he’d be perfect for Dottie, and when Richard suddenly leaves the campground, he gets everyone together to follow him.

They manage to find Richard again, but Richard is very annoyed by the kids when Billie gets Richard’s camera (and himself) sprayed by a skunk.  Despite that incident, Richard and Dottie start to fall in love with each other.  The kids don’t know that, though, and think Richard hates them so they keep looking for another man.  They end up meeting J.J. Slattery (Alan Hale), who adores the kids and could very easily support them and Dottie.  But as much as Dottie likes Richard, she can’t share Richard’s love for living on the road because she needs to be settled in one place for the children.  Pinkie overhears her saying this and asks Slattery to adopt her and Billie so Dottie won’t be tied down and can be with Richard.  Of course, Slattery knows he can’t take Dottie’s children, but he sees to it that Dottie and Richard get back together.

Listen, Darling is a nice bit of fluffy entertainment, but nothing great.  By far, the most memorable thing about it is Judy Garland singing “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart.”  Despite the first-rate cast, the movie is cute at best.  Judy Garland, Freddie Bartholomew, Mary Astor, and Walter Pidgeon have all starred in far more memorable movies.  But it is a pretty good example of the wholesome, family friendly movies that Louis B. Mayer was famous for making.