Though quite enjoyable in an undemanding way, "Easter Parade" is an efficient rather than an artistic musical, and, as has been noted elsewhere, is hampered by an extremely trite plot line, and B movie dialogue that makes the self congratulatory tone of the DVD documentary on Sidney Sheldon's script improvements rather ludicrous. One shakes one's head in disbelief--for all the talk--you would think they were discussing Noel Coward. And Noel Coward this ain't.
Nonetheless, the union of Mr. Astaire and Misses Garland and Miller on the screen together is auspicious in and of itself, and for this reason, if no other, the film merits particular consideration.
Curiously, (especially given that Garland had just completed the artistically accomplished, "The Pirate") "Easter Parade" is shot much like a Hardy movie, with a series of flat, uninspired, head on stationary camera set ups, in a series of hotel room and restaurant settings. All very pro-forma.
Worse, apart from Miss Miller's glorious "Shakin the Blues Away," and her number with the plume, "The Girl on the Magazine Cover"--both of which feature lovely liquid boom camera work, (not to mention the scrumptious Miller)--the musical numbers are shot in much the same unimaginative way.
This is especially odd when compared with Garland's prior work in "For Me and My Gal," which is also set during the same time frame and also with a vaudeville background. Note how, in that earlier film, Busby Berkeley, (with William Daniels on camera) "opens up" the proscenium with a floating boom camera, as in "By the Sea," and "Ballin the Jack." Would that someone had done the same here in "Easter Parade" ! What was Harry Stradling thinking! Or was he just fatigued?
Film scholar Douglas McVay in his treatise on the musical film, has also remarked on the sorely missed absence of Minnelli's decorative flair in this film--particularly as it relates to his then wife, and the film's star--Miss Garland. This deficiency is most obvious during "Better Look Next Time," where Miss Garland's visual presentation of the song is compromised by indifferent lighting, (a mistake Mr. Minnelli would never make!)
Nonetheless, she manages to wear nearly a score of elaborate, (and mostly flattering)coiffures, not to mention some lovely gowns, most notably the off the shoulder green velvet during the New Amsterdam sequence.
As to the dancing, Miss Garland had already executed far more ambitious routines than she is given here, with no less than the film's director Charles Walters! Given what she had already accomplished, (with great brio and elegance too) in the finale of "Presenting Lily Mars," why did it occur to no one, (particularly since she would be dancing with no less than Fred Astaire!) to give her a similarly elegant routine here? Apart from "When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam" very few dancing demands are made on her. Given the charming grace of her footwork--what a missed opportunity! "Snooky Ookums," and "Ragtime Violin," look like something out of a June Haver picture--all shtick and forced grins.
Ann Miller, by contrast, after her long confinement at Columbia, really comes into her own here. No wonder many contemporary 1948 critics felt she walked off with the picture.
One minor blooper to watch for. When, late in the story, Miss Garland and Mr. Astaire argue in the corridor outside her hotel room door, the wall to the immediate right of the door, (behind Miss Garland) is bare. The next morning when Peter Lawford arrives to awaken her, a framed engraving hangs in the same spot that had been previously bare the night before. Note too, that the audience/reaction applause shot after "Couple of Swells" is lifted from "Till the Clouds Roll By" (guess even Metro had their budget conscious moments).
Despite these minor quibbles, an Arthur Freed picture from MGM in 1947 is a pretty high recommendation in and of itself. And it must be said John Green's orchestrations are superb, and the Technicolor, (some nifty mauves here)is very pretty. All in all, enjoyable but seldom brilliant. One can only wonder what Mr. Minnelli could have done for it. Sadly, we will never know.
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