Harvey Girls [1946]

Sometimes lively, sometimes pokey, this Technicolor MGM musical inspires mixed feelings in aficionados of the form--except on one point. No viewer will question why "On the Atchison, Topeka, & the Santa Fe" won the best song Oscar for 1946. This is a brilliant, inventive song given an epic staging. Director George Sidney pulls out all the stops for this wowser--even Marjorie Main sings, an eardrum-testing sound. The real-life Harvey Girls were waitresses imported to the far-flung Fred Harvey Hotels, civilizing oases along the railroad lines out west. The fictional Harvey Girls is set in Sandrock, where the traveling waitresses are joined by a sort of mail-order bride (Judy Garland) whose prospective husband is a bust--he's a roughhewn rancher played by Chill Wills. Garland is in fine spunky form; unfortunately, her romance is with John Hodiak (as the owner of a dance hall), that uninspiring World War II-era lead. The film's other great Johnny Mercer-Harry Warren song is the unexpectedly melancholy "It's a Great Big World," performed in a lovely trio by Garland, Virginia O'Brien, and the young Cyd Charisse. The tall, deadpan O'Brien also does a comic take on "The Wild, Wild West" while shoeing a horse. With kewpie-faced Angela Lansbury as a bespangled dance-hall gal and Ray Bolger high-stepping through a dance solo, there are enough good people on board to keep the wheels a-turning "all the way to Californ-eye-yay." --Robert Horton

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