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Astaire, Garland, Irving Berlin, and Movie Magic
on April 8, 2002
Originally intended as a re-teaming of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, EASTER PARADE ran into trouble when Garland's doctors advised against her working under the direction of her husband, director Vincent Minnelli--and no sooner did director Charles Walters take the helm than Gene Kelly broke his leg. Out of such confusion are movie musical miracles born: although a bit old to act as Garland's leading man, Fred Astaire was coaxed out of retirement. He and Garland had tremendous chemistry, EASTER PARADE was a box office smash, and Astaire unexpectedly found himself reborn as an MGM star.
Set in 1900s New York, the film's story line is flimsy but enjoyable. After long-time dance partner Ann Miller abandons the act, Astaire hires chorus girl Garland and attempts to recast her in his former partner's mold--a situation which offers Astaire and Garland considerable comedy and gives Astaire the chance to parody several of his own famous dance of the 1930s. Garland eventually convinces Astaire that she needs to be herself, and once the act is revamped they become a hot ticket--and, once their several romantic complications are resolved, romantic partners as well.
Astaire is every bit as charming here as he was in his Ginger Roger days, and his choreography retains his signature sharpness, wit, and elegance. Although Garland isn't really a dancer, she holds her own with Astaire and she tears strips off a brillant score of Irving Berlin favorites. Both are well supported by Anne Miller, who gives a brilliant turn with 'Shakin' the Blues Away,' and Peter Lawford, who is quite charming as one of Garland's admirers. Although this really isn't as inspired as the truly great MGM musicals of the late 1940s, director Walters keeps it going at a smart pace, and the star power, clever script, memorable score, and those legendary MGM production values elevate it well above the pack. Musical fans will be in for a treat! Recommended.