on July 16, 2014
EASTER PARADE  [Blu-ray] One Of M-G-M'S Brightest, Cheeriest Musicals! Plus The Uplifting Irvin Berlin Score Is First Rate!
Strolling along 5th Avenue or going with a couple of bums with A Couple of Swells. Judy Garland and Fred Astaire lead a parade of music [17 Irvin Berlin tunes and an Academy Award® winning adaption score arranged by Johnny Green and Roger Edens] and gotta-dance fun [including Fred Astaire's Drum Crazy] in this never-ending delight and co-starring Ann Miller [performing a knockout Shakin' the Blues Away] and Peter Lawford [gamely crooning "The Fella with the Umbrella"] with Judy garland. Don't let this colourful Easter parade pass you by!
FILM FACTS: The film won the 1948 Academy Award® for Best Original Music Score. The writers of the film also received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical. It was the most financially successful picture for both Judy Garland and Fred Astaire as well as the highest-grossing musical of the year.
Cast: Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford, Ann Miller, Jules Munshin, Clinton Sundberg and Jimmy Bates
Director: Charles Walters
Producer: Arthur Freed
Screenplay: Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich and Sidney Sheldon
Composers: Irving Berlin, Johnny Green and Roger Edens
Cinematography: Harry Stradling Sr.
Video Resolution: 1080p [Technicolor]
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English: 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Spanish: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono, Spanish: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono, German: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono and Portuguese: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German SDH
Running Time: 108 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Studio: Warner Home Video
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: "The happiest musical ever made," this is how M-G-M's publicity machine marketed 'Easter Parade' upon its initial release in 1948, and despite the passage of 65 years, the tagline still rings true today. As light and airy as a scrumptious soufflé, this joyous Irving Berlin confection features a whopping 17 of the composer's best loved tunes, and showcases the incomparable talents of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in their only screen appearance together. Add a sizzling tap routine by Ann Miller, the charm of Peter Lawford, and an inspired comic turn by Jules Munshin, and it's easy to see why 'Easter Parade' remains a perennial holiday favourite and one of America's most treasured musicals.
Fred Astaire and Judy Garland make a marvellous team, but their dream coupling happened literally by accident, when original leading man Gene Kelly broke his ankle playing touch-football during rehearsals. At Gene Kelly's suggestion, producer Arthur Freed approached Fred Astaire as a replacement, but held out little hope of hiring him. The legendary dancer had been cooling his heels in retirement for two years, and hardly seemed eager to return to work. Yet he jumped at chance to team with Judy Garland, and despite a hefty 23-year age difference, the two enjoy a relaxed rapport during their musical and dramatic scenes that makes their fictional love affair utterly believable.
A torn ligament forced Cyd Charisse to bow out of 'Easter Parade,' paving the way for Ann Miller to join the M-G-M ranks, and though Judy Garland's husband at the time, Vincente Minnelli, was initially pencilled in as director, marital stresses between the two forced Metro executives to rethink the decision. On advice from Judy Garland's doctors, Arthur Freed dismissed Vincente Minnelli, and novice Charles Walters nabbed the plum assignment. The switch would prove fortuitous, as Walters' easy-going style better suits the movie's casual nature, allowing it to seamlessly juggle its cavalcade of musical numbers and the plot's substantial romantic complications.
Those complications begin almost at once, as snappy vaudeville dancer Don Hewes [Fred Astaire] is unceremoniously dumped both professionally and personally by his ungrateful partner, Nadine Hale [Ann Miller], so she can star solo in a Ziegfeld Follies revue. In a fit of pique, a lovelorn Don Hewes randomly selects the unassuming, insecure, yet beguiling Hannah Brown [Judy Garland] from a saloon chorus line to groom as Nadine Hale's replacement, and vows within a year to make her the sensation of both the 1912 Broadway season and New York's famed Easter Parade. But instead of highlighting Hannah Brown's down-to-earth personality and potent pipes, Don Hewes insists she mimic Nadine Hale's more refined, sophisticated image. Following a string of disastrous performances (and a comical tête-á-tête with Nadine Hale), Don Hewes realises his mistake, revamps the act, and begins to recognises Hannah's talent, beauty, and spirit.
Most musicals feature a love triangle of some sort, but 'Easter Parade' goes a step further by creating a love square. Hannah silently pines for Don Hewes, who still carries a torch for Nadine, who aggressively pursues Don Hewes's best friend Johnny [Peter Lawford], who instantly falls for Hannah when they meet by chance during a downpour (and sing the sweet but silly ballad "A Fella with an Umbrella"). Amazingly, all the tangled relationships iron themselves out in the end, as the film deftly blends the vagaries of human emotion with the ebullience of musical comedy.
Judy Garland once again combines heart-breaking vulnerability with impeccable comic timing (just watch how she proves to Fred Astaire she's a sexy dish) to create a totally unaffected portrayal. Whether she's confessing her unrequited love for Don, venting her anger over his obsessive attitude toward work ("You're nothing but a pair of dancing shoes!"), or expressing joy at the prospect of Broadway success, Judy Garland is always completely genuine, and that all-too-rare quality as much as her peerless voice puts the audience in the palm of her hand. Her readings of the nostalgic "Michigan," plaintive "Better Luck Next Time" and ebullient title tune are letter-perfect, and although many cite "A Couple of Swells" (a classic number in which Judy Garland and Fred Astaire cavort as lovable tramps) as the picture's musical highlight, in my book, a medley of Irving Berlin standards capped by an exhilarating rendition of "When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam" displays Judy Garland to even better advantage. Sure, Judy Garland's no Ginger Rogers, but she more than holds her own with Fred Astaire, and their dances together possess an infectious enthusiasm that more than compensates for the simplistic steps.
Never fear, Fred Astaire tackles more complex moves during his solo routines, with typically thrilling results. He shows off his trademark agility and dexterity in the opening "Drum Crazy" number, and creatively employs special effects for "Steppin' Out with My Baby" in which he dances in slow motion in the foreground (a gimmick that spotlights his supreme artistry), while the chorus performs at regular speed behind him. He also elegantly partners Ann Miller, who almost steals the film with her deliciously bitchy (yet endearingly comic) portrayal of the haughty Nadine Hale, and her show-stopping interpretation of Irvin Berlin's "Shakin' the Blues Away."
One of the most enjoyable musicals ever made, 'Easter Parade' is a full-bodied experience, integrating songs, comedy, romance, and heartache with such panache it's no wonder it was M-G-M's top-grossing film of the year and a crowning achievement for the Arthur Freed Unit. The studio, of course, quickly tried to duplicate the magic by re-teaming Judy and Fred on two subsequent occasions, but, sadly, illness prevented Judy Garland from completing either 'The Barkleys of Broadway' or 'Royal Wedding.' Although it's impossible not to rue such missed opportunities, they make us doubly appreciate the pair's appearance in 'Easter Parade,' and the energy, style, and expertise Judy Garland and Fred Astaire bring to this enduring Hollywood musical classic. Definitely a couple of swells, indeed.
Blu-ray Video Quality - Easter Parade is all about colour, especially pastels in particular and with a sparkling, beautifully modulated with his stunning 1080p encoded image transfer, 'Easter Parade' looks as bright and lush as a freshly decorated holiday egg. The costumes (designed by Irene) sport a plethora of plumes, but the richly saturated hues never bleed. The yellow gloves and skirt Miller wears during "Shakin' the Blues Away" and the blazing red feather boa she brandishes throughout "The Girl on the Magazine Cover" possess exceptional vibrancy, and such subtle accents as Fred Astaire's colourful socks grab our attention like never before. Although primary hues burst forth, the more muted pinks, lavenders, and pale greens possess equal depth and richness, making this a stellar representation of three-strip Technicolor.
'Easter Parade' first arrived on DVD in 2005 as one of Warner's flagship ultra-resolution offerings, and the results were largely fantastic. This Blu-ray edition seems to be a recycled version of that transfer, with slightly heightened resolution and more intense contrast upping the ante just a bit. Background elements are even more distinct this time around, especially the toys in the opening 'Drum Crazy' number, and accessories, like the aforementioned feathers and furs, possess striking levels of detail. The texture of fabrics is also more visible, as is the clarity of the rain in the "Fella With an Umbrella" sequence, lending the image additional presence and impact. Black levels are strong and inky, white variations in the gowns are easy to discern, and flesh tones, while leaning a smidge toward the rosy side, are generally true.
Like the DVD, faint grain provides a lovely film-like appearance, and only a couple of errant specks dot the pristine print. A few shots seem slightly overexposed, but such instances are few and far between. Typical of Warner classic releases, no digital enhancements disrupt the picture's purity, nor do imperfections such as banding, noise, or artefacts rear their ugly heads. Though it's not perfect (it doesn't quite match 'Singin' in the Rain' or 'An American in Paris'), this rendering of 'Easter Parade' still ranks as the best yet, and it's tough to imagine this classic musical looking any better than it does here. Musicals fans should be pleased as punch.
Blu-ray Audio Quality - Because none of the 'Easter Parade' pre-recordings survive, Warner Bros. was unable to fashion an authentic 5.1 re-master at the time of the film's 2005 DVD release. That also means no 5.1 mix for the 2013 Blu-ray, but the 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is included provides well-scrubbed, distortion-free audio with plenty of tonal depth. A faint bit of hiss can be detected occasionally, but for the most part the sound is clean and pure. Subtle accents such as street noise, footsteps, and rain are crisper here than on the previous track, and more musical nuances in the underscoring can be detected.
Dialogue remains clear and comprehendible throughout, and song lyrics are always easy to understand, too. The musical sequences benefit from solid fidelity, from the strings on "Ragtime Violin" to the heavy brass that permeates "Steppin' Out With My Baby." The percussion on "Drum Crazy" possesses fine resonance and some palpable bits of boomy bass, while Miller's taps are snappily distinct and Garland's powerhouse vocals enjoy marvellous dynamic range and exude lush tonal depth. Whether singing a simple ballad, such as "Michigan" or letting loose on "I Love a Piano" and "When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam," the vocal purity and engaging warmth that distinguish Judy Garland's performances come through beautifully here.
The 'Easter Parade' track doesn't possess as much oomph and zing as those accompanying more modern musicals, but it more than suffices, and allows us to savour the magic of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.
Blu-ray Special features and Extras:
Commentary with Ava Astaire McKenzie and John Fricke: A delightful audio commentary by affable and supremely knowledgeable Judy Garland historian John Fricke and Fred Astaire's daughter, Ava Astaire McKenzie, is chock-full of fascinating information. At its best (which is pretty often), the informal, free-flowing track makes one feel like a fly on the wall at a cocktail party, eavesdropping on John Frick and Ava Astaire McKenzie (pronounced Ah-va) as they swap stories about Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. Some of the charming anecdotes include how the two stars devised their wardrobe for the immortal "A Couple of Swells" number; what happened when Irving Berlin tried to gently coach Judy Garland on how to perform one of his songs; and how Fred Astaire's reputation as a stern taskmaster initially intimidated Judy Garland. Ava Astaire McKenzie recalls her father's perfectionism, explains the evolution of the Fred Astaire name, and shares her early memories of Irving Berlin phoning her home, while John Fricke provides a comprehensive overview of the film's production intertwined with biographies of the cast and crew. He divulges that Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, and Red Skelton were once considered for 'Easter Parade' supporting roles, details the excruciating back pain Ann Miller endured during the shooting of her dance numbers, and often quotes from the much darker and melodramatic original script that was wisely overhauled. Both John Fricke and Ava Astaire McKenzie have pleasant speaking voices, and their relaxed conversation and insightful observations make the track fly by.
Documentary: Easter Parade: On the Avenue [34:25] This slickly produced, informative feature chronicles the film's production history through clips, photos, studio logs, and interviews. Writer Sidney Sheldon (yes, that Sidney Sheldon) discusses his extensive contributions to the script and how he successfully lightened the original screenplay's tone, while Ann Miller matter-of-factly recalls how an abusive husband kicked her down a flight of stairs when she was nine months pregnant, resulting in a stillbirth and causing the horrible back injury that plagued her throughout filming. In addition, John Fricke and Ava Astaire McKenzie offer their perspective on the movie, but the documentary's biggest surprise is the appearance of Jimmy Bates, who, as a child, clutched the stuffed rabbit Astaire so desperately covets in the "Drum Crazy" number. Now an esteemed choreographer, Bates remembers his awestruck impressions of Astaire, Garland, and filmmaking in general, and the special gift Astaire gave him at the conclusion of shooting. Other great anecdotes from Sidney Sheldon, John Fricke, and Ava Astaire McKenzie spice up this typically fine Warner Bros. documentary.
"Mr. Monotony" [Musical Outtakes] [3:09] First seen in 'That's Entertainment III,' this simple yet potent Judy Garland performance finds the star dressed in the identical outfit she donned for her iconic 'Get Happy' number in 'Summer Stock' two years later. With her patented magnetism, Judy Garland sexily struts her stuff to Irvin Berlin's odd but infectious melody, building to a thrilling climax. Trust me, it's anything but monotonous!
Mr. Monotony [Dailies] [18:11] 'Mr. Monotony' was quite a find when it was discovered in the M-G-M vaults, but an equally wondrous treasure is the extensive collection of dailies from which the finished product was culled. These alternate takes provide a fascinating look at the filmmaking process and the incredible effort that goes into performing and documenting a seemingly simple song and dance. An array of long shots, medium shots, and close-ups from various sections of the song, as well as Judy Garland's numerous curtain call attempts, are included. Watching Judy Garland clown around while she waits for the playback, then chime in on cue, and muster the same energy level and pitch-perfect execution in take after take after take makes one appreciate her talent, professionalism, and vivacious personality all the more. As icing on the cake, both the completed number and all the dailies have been magnificently restored, so they look and sound terrific.
Radio Promo [audio only] [4:24] Dick Simmons conducts an obviously scripted interview with Fred Astaire, in which the classy hoofer talks about his retirement, how the charms of 'Easter Parade' lured him back to the screen, his early vaudeville days with his sister Adele, and the importance of dance in everyone's daily lives.
Vintage Radio Adaptation Broadcast [audio only] [54:00] This 1951 radio adaptation of 'Easter Parade' allows Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, and Peter Lawford the chance to reprise their film roles, while Monica Lewis fills in for Ann Miller. Peter Lawford narrates this truncated version, which deletes a few songs "A Couple of Swells" among them, and shifts the order of others, and substitutes "How Deep Is the Ocean" for "Shakin' the Blues Away." The story's essence, however, remains intact, and it's fun to hear how Judy and Fred interpret the slightly different script. Unfortunately, the audio quality is just a hair above atrocious, yet we're lucky the 54-minute adaptation exists at all, and Warner Bros. deserves kudos for including it, despite its compromised quality.
Theatrical Trailer [2:00] The re-release preview for 'Easter Parade' rounds off this disc supplements.
Finally, 'Easter Parade' isn't just for Easter; it's a year-round celebration of the movie musical and the incomparable talents of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. With a cavalcade of fine Irving Berlin tunes, top-flight vocals, elegant dancing, a breezy plot, and sumptuous Technicolor, this captivating Arthur Freed production remains one of M-G-M's crown jewels in the musical realm. Excellent video and audio transfers spruce up the release and despite the omission of an Emmy Award-winning Judy Garland documentary, a fine array of rare and entertaining supplements enhance our appreciation of this timeless classic. Though its reputation may not be as lofty as some of M-G-M's iconic musicals, in its own way, it's every bit as good. That is why I am so proud to add this to my ever increasing Judy Garland Blu-ray Collection. Very Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller - Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom