Sunday 9 February 2014

Movie Review: Easter Parade (1948)

A musical stacked full of singing and some dancing, Easter Parade is mildly enjoyable as a talent show but awfully thin on the ground in terms of plot and characters.

Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) has a falling out with dance partner Nadine Hale (Ann Miller), when she accepts a starring role in a big-budget Ziegfeld-produced musical. The furious Don vows that he can turn any girl into a dancer to replace Nadine, and he plucks singer Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) out of a cheap diner routine and starts training her as his new partner.

With Nadine's career enjoying the spotlight, Don and Hannah struggle to establish themselves. Hannah falls in love with Don but he still has feelings for Nadine while his friend Johnny (Peter Lawford) lusts after Hannah.

Easter Parade had a troubled production, Astaire coming out of a short-lived screen retirement to replace Gene Kelly after Kelly had broken his ankle, and Ann Miller rescued from B movie obscurity to replace Cyd Charisse, after Charisse broke her leg.

With an endless parade of songs by Irving Berlin, Easter Parade is not as much a movie as a disjointed stage show. The 14 musical numbers are thrown at the screen in exhaustive fashion, the plot elements treated as rude interruptions between costume changes. The film reveals its intentions early, as Astaire gets to perform the opening two numbers, Happy Easter and Drum Crazy, before a single word is spoken, director Charles Walters signalling that the characters and story are very much a secondary concern.

When the personalities behind all the singing are sketchily introduced, they are unusually unlikable. Don Hewes is obsessed with his dancing and treats Hannah with disdain, using her to get back at Nadine. Garland does deliver the most engaged performance, but there is no chemistry between her and Astaire, and any reasons for Hannah to fall in love with Don start and stop at childish infatuation. Don never convincingly reciprocates any feelings, leaving the central romance a lopsided jumble.

Nadine is portrayed as cold and manipulative, Miller stuck with a plastic smile throughout, while Johnny is abandoned with no character development whatsoever, Lawford stranded as a the blandest of second-fiddle lovers.

The enjoyment does come from the better musical numbers, all making use of sparking colours. Drum Crazy is an energetic Astaire romp through a toy store, Miller rocks the joint and steals the movie with machine gun tap dancing in Shakin' the Blues Away, while Astaire and Garland enjoy their best moments in A Couple of Swells.

Easter Parade is a musical overburdened with the music, not lacking in talent but skipping too many ingredients essential for a well-rounded movie experience.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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