Thursday, April 24, 2008

A DATE WITH JUDY (MGM 1948) Warner Home Video

One of MGM’s most perennially charming and effervescent, minor musicals, Richard Thorpe’s A Date With Judy (1948) is a tuneful winner starring MGM’s resident teenage chanteuse Jane Powell as a precocious young girl in love. After misappropriating Deanne Durbin’s contract to Universal in 1933, MGM began its own search for another young soprano to add to their ever expanding roster of young talent. Powell fit the bill; a pert and plucky, bright-eyed child whose vocal abilities easily outshone her years. Viewed today, almost all of Powell's early musicals at MGM are suspiciously similar in plot. 

MGM musicals from this vintage in general may have repeatedly borrowed on the tried and true principles for their assembly line bread and butter, but no one can deny that when it came to assembling a diversionary song and dance spectacle, no studio hit their mark quite so regularly – or with as much spellbinding perfection on display – as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; the studio with “more stars than there are in the heavens”. A Date With Judy's screenplay by Dorothy Cooper, Dorothy Kingsley and Aleen Leslie is light on plausibility and heavy on the schmaltz – always a recipe for success, especially with Hungarian Joe Pasternak producing.

On this occasion Powell is Judy Foster, a winsome teenager whose world is turned upside down with the arrival of handsome, Stephen Andrews (Robert Stack) – newly installed at Pop Scully’s (Lloyd Carrigan) Drug Store; a popular teen hang-out. After a misunderstanding between Judy and her beau, Ogden ‘Oogie’ Pringle (Scotty Beckett), Judy decides to take Stephen to the local school dance instead; thereby creating a bit of homespun jealousy. The lure backfires however when Stephen takes a very active interest in Judy’s close friend and Ogden’s sister, Carol (Elizabeth Taylor at her most smolderingly sinful).

Carol and Ogden come from a wealthy background. Unfortunately, their widowed father, Lucien (Leon Ames) has become so engrossed in establishing a family fortune to leave his heirs that he’s quite forgotten how to be a caring parent. Meanwhile, at the Foster home, Judy’s father, Melvin (Wallace Beery) has decided to take private rumba lessons to surprise his wife (Selena Royle) for their pending 20th wedding anniversary. With only two left feet as his guide, Melvin employs South American singer, Rosita Cochellas (Carmen Miranda) to ease him into the celebrated Latin rhythms.

The wrinkle in the plot arises when Carol – discontented with Stephen’s mis-perceived lack of interest in her – tells Judy that all men suffer from mid-life crises that can lead to discourse and even infidelity in what was once a solid relationship. Shortly thereafter, Judy accidentally walks in on her father with Rosita hiding in the closet and jumps to the worst of all possible conclusions. Her father is having an affair!

Given that MGM’s debut starring vehicle for Powell had been the lavishly mounted super production, Holiday In Mexico (1946), the musical repertoire for A Date With Judy plays it remarkably safe; relying on standards ‘Love Is Where You Find It’ and ‘Through the Years.’ So too is the scope and lavishness of this follow up minor by direct comparison. Nevertheless, A Date With Judy contains the only Oscar-winning Best Song to be featured in any Powell movie, the forever remembered, ‘It’s a Most Unusual Day’ – sung as bookends to the narrative. Xavier Cugat is in this one too, playing – what else? - himself, this time engaged to Rosita.

It must be stated for the record that there are musicals and then there are MGM musicals. Only MGM could offer us such a delightful melding of talents into one utterly cozy classic such as this. A Date With Judy may not be spectacular, but it hits the high notes where so few movie musicals do – in our hearts.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is just a tad above average. The Technicolor image is remarkably resilient in spots – with vibrant colors, warm flesh tones and a crisp solid appeal. However, there are whole portions where the color falters, or that is to say, is weaker than expected. Age related artifacts are kept to a bare minimum and there are no obvious examples of Technicolor shrinkage creating those appalling halos we’ve all seen elsewhere in Warner’s Technicolor product of this vintage (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex 1939, Dodge City 1939 and That Midnight Kiss 1949 come immediately to mind).

Flesh tones look remarkably natural at times, then pasty and overly orange. With all the digital tools at our disposal today, there ought to be a cost effective way of restoring Technicolor movies on DVD without performing new and expensive dye transfers so that future generations will be able to enjoy these movies as originally intended. The audio is mono as originally recorded and presented at an adequate listening level. Extras are limited to two short subjects and a theatrical trailer. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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