For Me and My Gal
This is Gene Kelly’s first movie, and I have to say it’s weird to see him getting third billing after Judy Garland and George Murphy. Gene would soon be a star as big as Judy, and bigger than George. It’s a tired old tale of vaudeville backstage rivalries. Many if not most of the early movie performers got their start traveling the small towns of America in vaudeville shows. It often seemed like most of the people in the country wanted to “get in the act,” meaning work in show business. Our modern equivalent would be shows like American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent. Back then, just as now (and probably ‘twas ever thus), most of the people who wanted to perform were pretty bad. Only the more talented made it onto the stage, and only the cream of the stage made it into the movies.
Judy and George have an act that’s okay, but not going anywhere. Gene dances as a raggedy-ass tramp. He wants to form a new act with Judy. George is in love with Judy, but too decent to tell her, since he sees she is falling for Gene. Then when Gene gets a chance to pair up with a big female star, Judy is too decent to tell him she is in love with him. Oh, BTW, Judy is in show biz to make money to send her puppy-dog like little brother to medical school, but he gets sent off to fight the Hun in WWI … I mean, gee whiz, everybody in the picture is so goddam decent I just want to puke.
You want more? Gene and Judy have finally agreed they love each other and are about to perform at the Palace in New York, the Carnegie Hall of vaudeville, when he gets his draft notice. He injures himself by breaking the bones in his hand, as some men did. The Army won’t take him. Hooray! Only Little Brother has just died in the trenches, and now Judy hates him.
Even more … Gene tries to redeem himself by joining up, but of course he has permanently crippled his trigger finger. But by golly, he can still sing and dance up a storm! So he joins a YMCA touring company (this was before the USO) and suddenly finds himself in a massive bombardment. But he heroically saves a bunch of ambulance drivers!
That’s not enough! The picture ends with the most massively gung-ho patriotic montage ever, with thousands of brave doughboys listening to Judy and singing along as Gene rejoins her and they perform a superbly choreographed dance number, impromptu, to the cheering troops. Well, it was a year after Pearl Harbor, and Hollywood was at war.
If there is a cliché the writers missed, I can’t think of it. But the singing and dancing are pretty good, especially Judy. It was directed by the great Busby Berkeley.