Presenting Lily Mars (1943) is a rather abysmal hiccup in Judy Garland’s illustrious career. For although it features some of Judy’s best camping around as a small time wannabe, the film is much too short on the singular asset that sets Garland apart from the crowd – her singing. She warbles the romantic ‘When I Look At You’; is poignantly touching opposite Connie Gilchrist with ‘Every Little Movement’ and has a rather eclectic slam bang finish with the cropped finale that is part poetic/part garish movie-land daydream.
But apart from these all too brief moments of song and dance, the film spends far too much time featuring the rather flat and ineffectual Martha Eggerth as Broadway diva Isabel Rekay. Rekay is all set to star in John Thornway’s (Van Heflin) new show about a Russian Cossack.
Thornway is a thorny and rude small town boy-makes-good success story who all but bludgeons Lily’s dreams by doing everything in his power to wipe her off the map of notoriety. Then, in an about turn of events, he inexplicably falls madly in love with her and casts her as his star. But Lily is not equal to the task. Thornway recognizes this and woos Rekay back for the lead. Lily cries, swears off of show biz, then runs back into Thornway’s arms and voila – a tack-on ending from presumably a subsequent show produced to showcase Lily and explain that Thornway has also married her.
Director Norman Taurog and producer Joe Pasternak are usually more adept at handling this sort of boy meets girl tripe and transforming its conventions into a dazzling musical mélange. But on this occasion the talents of all concerned have been grossly wasted. Garland is undeniably the stand out. But she is given precious little to do. Eggerth has several exceedingly dull musical numbers that bring the already leaden screenplay to a stifling halt. Heflin is comedic and grouchy at the start – then gushy and inexplicably philanthropic at the end. It’s shocking and depressing to see so much talent and material go to waste so quickly in this musical clunker that simply fails to come to life.
The same can be said of Warner Home Video’s DVD transfer. As it is quite obvious little to nothing has been done to clean up this film, the picture elements radically fluctuate from reasonably presentable to utterly grainy and excessively marred by age related artifacts. Dirt and scratches are evident throughout. Fading is also evident during the sequence in which Garland pretending to be Lady Macbeth, attempts to dazzle Thornway with her over inflated thespian talents.
During the gargantuan finale, the image is at first too soft and slightly out of focus, then suddenly very crisp and nicely contrasted. The word for overall quality on this transfer is inconsistent. The audio is mono but nicely presented. Extras include several audio outtakes as well as the finale represented in a stereo remix that – quite frankly – ought to have been dumped back into the final cut of the film itself. There’s also the original theatrical trailer.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)