Warner Bros. // 1948 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // April 4th, 2005
Don Hewes: A girl dancer has to be a peach.
Hannah Brown: I suppose I'm a lemon.
1948's Easter Parade is a treasure for many reasons: it's the first Irving Berlin musical for MGM, it stars musical legends Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz) and Fred Astaire (Top Hat), and it's presented by Warner Brothers on a fully loaded DVD with a gorgeous transfer. It's a great way to say "Happy Easter," and should be a favorite in your classic MGM movie musical collection all year 'round. It's shows all its stars in the best light, it has dazzling production values, and it's a fun story filled with great Berlin songs. Oddly, it's also a movie that was radically changed from its original concept and cast. Serendipity is often the mother of perfection; Easter Parade is a classic example of chance resulting in unexpected greatness.
Easter Parade is set in New York, during the vaudeville heyday of 1914. The titular parade was a real event that occurred every Easter, where everyone would walk down Fifth Avenue decked out in their Easter finery. The movie opens as Don Hewes (Astaire) loses his fabulous ballroom dancing partner Nadine Hale (Ann Miller, Mullholland Drive) when she gets a solo Broadway show. Down and out, Don randomly picks out a chorus girl he sees working in a bar to be his new partner, after claiming he can make anyone a great dancer. Lucky for him, he ends up singling out Hannah Brown (Garland). She may not be the world's best dancer, but he quickly finds that she can belt out Irving Berlin tunes better than he ever dreamed. Together they take the vaudeville stage by storm, and also find themselves falling in love just in time for the annual Easter Parade.
Easter Parade began development in 1946 as an attempt by MGM to lure Irving Berlin into making a musical for them. It was a dark little script that was supposed to feature Judy Garland and Gene Kelly as its stars. Also cast in the movie were Cyd Charisse and Frank Sinatra. Vincente Minelli was going to direct, and there were planned featured roles for Red Skelton and Kathryn Grayson. It was going to show the dark underbelly of the vaudeville circuit, and have a very unhappy ending where Garland ended up alone. A series of unfortunate events kept that version of Easter Parade from ever hitting the screen. First off, the studio decided that Garland and Minelli should not work together on the picture, since they were married to each other. They tapped famous dancer Charles Walters to direct. Frank Sinatra was replaced as the second male lead by his friend Peter Lawford (Ocean's Eleven). Cyd Charisse pulled a muscle, and had to be replaced with Ann Miller. The weekend before the film was to begin shooting, Gene Kelly broke his ankle during a volleyball game at his house, and was replaced by a "called out from retirement" Fred Astaire. None of the new players liked the dark script, so famous screenwriter Sidney Sheldon was brought in to turn the film into a true musical comedy. The film was shot in 1947 over ten trouble-free weeks, and it opened to rave reviews and boffo box office, billed as "The Happiest Musical Ever Made." The magic of a dancing Fred Astaire, a singing Judy Garland, and seventeen songs by Irving Berlin had worked their magic when it opened on an Easter weekend in 1948.
The movie is completely charming, and shows everyone in their best light. Astaire dances most of his numbers in his assured lighter-than-air way. He's a master of tap; we get several stunning examples of this. "Stepping Out with My Baby" shows him defying gravity and time in a special slow-motion sequence that captures him with a cane and an army of chorus dancers. Judy Garland was always one of those actresses who could dramatically sing a song and get right to its emotional core. She sings the bulk of the score, including "Easter Parade" and "I Love A Piano." Astaire and Garland get to take on a raucous comedy vaudeville number as a pair of hobos in the iconic "A Couple of Swells." Ann Miller gets to hoof her way through "Shakin' the Blues Away," and is also partnered with Astaire in a ballroom dance number, where she has to navigate the footwork in ballet slippers because of her height. It was the only way Astaire would dance with her, and she willingly complied. Lawford gets to look pretty, and croons "The Fella With the Umbrella" with Garland. It is truly a musical that combines both featured performance pieces within shows and songs the characters burst into out of the blue to relate their emotional state. Easter Parade was packed to the brim with seventeen numbers by Berlin. Eight of them are standards, with the rest being original songs he penned for the movie.
Warner Brothers packages Easter Parade with a basket of goodies on a two-disc set that should make film buffs drool with delight. First up, the transfer is luminous and stunning. The film was made in Technicolor, and it shines on DVD with amazing clarity and nary a hint of grain or digital artifacts. Even plaids, which normally shimmer on DVD, barely do so here on Easter Parade. It's truly remarkable how a film almost sixty years old looks better than some transfers I have seen of movies released last year. You couldn't ask for more, visually. The soundtrack is rendered in a distortion-free mono mix that holds up nicely for its age.
And then there are the extras, which make this feature rival any other studio offering on the market today. First up is a lively commentary with Fred Astaire's daughter Ava and Judy Garland biographer John Fricke. They playfully trade stories with each other, read reviews from old papers, and tell the story of how Easter Parade came to the screen. They are as charming together as Garland and Astaire are in the movie. Also included on Disc One are twelve Garland trailers from throughout her career. Not all of them are original, but it's nice to see them all in some form or another. Disc Two holds a brand new documentary on the making of Easter Parade called Easter Parade: On Fifth Avenue. It runs a little over thirty minutes, and details the history of the film in depth. Then there is a feature-length documentary on Garland called Judy Garland: By Myself. It's quite moving, and chronicling her entire life in her own words. There is also the long-awaited presentation of an outtake from Easter Parade, "Mr. Monotony." It was a sexy Vincente Minelli-conceived number that was cut from the film for being too modern and jazzy for a flick set in 1914, and is shown here in a form that lasts over twenty minutes, comprising several takes. Then we come to the radio portion of the disc, which includes a radio spot for the movie as well as an hour-long radio adaptation of the movie done by the film's stars. It's a wealth of extras that should sate any fan's desire for supplemental material.
It was attempted as a stage musical, but there is only one Easter Parade. It's a stunning example of MGM movie musicals and great DVD production values. Fans of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire will be bowled over at the wealth of extras included on these two discs. It's a marvelous movie that very well works year round as a shining example of what made musicals so great back in the day. All the CGI or wire-aided action in the world can't compete with the talent on display here. Easter Parade is one of those joyous occasions where I can say without reservation that it's a smart buy on DVD.
Easter Parade and Warner Brothers are free to stroll down Fifth Avenue in their Easter bonnets anytime. Not guilty of anything but delivering the perfect holiday treat for fans of musicals.
Review content copyright © 2005 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by Ava Astaire and John Fricke
* Making-of Documentary: "Easter Parade: Beyond the Avenue"
* American Masters documentary profile: "Judy Garland: By Myself"
* Outtake Musical Number: "Mr. Monotony"
* Radio Production With the Film's Stars
* Radio Pomo
* Trailer Gallery
* The Judy Garland Database
* Fred Astaire Information Site