Friday, 4 July 2014

Movie Review: Summer Stock (1950)


A lightweight musical romance, Summer Stock ambles along with happy music down on the farm, and never threatens to be anything other than a routine vehicle for the talents of an energetic Gene Kelly and a mostly unconvincing Judy Garland.

Jane (Garland) is struggling to keep her farm financially viable. She borrows money and a tractor from local businessman Jasper Wingait (Ray Collins), who wants to make sure that his dorky and allergy-prone son Orville (Eddie Braken) marries Jane.

Returning to the farm with her new tractor, Jane is shocked to find showman Joe Ross (Kelly), sidekick Herb (Phil Silvers) and their large troupe of singers and dancers setting up in her barn to practice for a new musical show. Joe is the boyfriend of Jane's flighty sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven), who is hoping to be the star of the production. Jane and Joe initially clash but soon make up, and despite Herb and the dancers nearly wrecking the farm, the show begins to take shape. Inevitably, a romance also starts to blossom between Jane and Joe, much to the horror of Orville and Jasper.

A colourful song and dance film with no ambitions except to be a colourful song and dance film, Summer Stock is directed by Charles Walters with the innocent enthusiasm of an amateur high school play. There is no depth in any of the 109 minutes, nor any intention to inject any. This is simplistic feel-good entertainment which just about achieves its modest objectives.

Summer Stock proved to be Garland's final movie for MGM. The studio finally ran out of patience with her disruptive lack of reliability, and her contract was terminated.

Towards the end, long after most of the plot elements have been discarded and after the movie settles down to a series of unconnected climactic musical numbers, Summer Stock does boast Garland performing Get Happy. Filmed several months after the rest of film wrapped, Get Happy finds Garland looking noticeably slimmer, having received treatment for the weight issues which clearly hamper her throughout the rest of the film.

And Get Happy is a standout 150 seconds. While the male support dancers deliver the aggressive choreography, Garland not so much dances as moves with angular and pinpoint precision, dressed in the distinctive and enduring image of black jacket, black hat, and dark tights. It's an appropriate farewell performance for the studio that made her a star, and a reminder of her abundant talent.

The rest of the film has some sporadic enjoyable moments, including Kelly's solo tap dance accompanied by a creaky floorboard and an old newspaper, and the clever collision of old and new dancing in the Portland Fancy number. But Summer Stock also serves up plenty of forgettable musical numbers, and romantic entanglements that fail to generate any heat. Eddie Braken and Phil Silvers try for funny but achieve irritating instead, and the plot about putting on a show in the rural middle of nowhere is remarkably limp even by genre standards.

Yielding many weeds but also some delicious produce, Summer Stock ploughs a mixed field.






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