Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

I Could Go On Singing

(UK/USA, 1963)

I Could Go on Singing (UK/USA, 1963) I yield to no one in my admiration of the late, great, John D. MacDonald. I know several people who love his writing as much as I do, but none more. And I’ve never heard of another writer who doesn’t admire him. I have read every book he ever wrote … except two. One is Weep For Me, his second book, that until recently had never been re-printed, as all his other books (save one) have been. I’m pretty sure it was because he wasn’t proud of it. It’s always been hard to find, and expensive, and I decided I could do without.

The other was the novelization of this movie, the only time he did that. So far as I can tell, this one has never been re-printed. I used to have a copy on my shelf, but I never got around to reading it, since I knew JDM didn’t like it, either.

But when I saw it listed at Turner Classic Movies, I thought I’d take a look. The movie itself didn’t get good reviews, either, but I thought, Judy Garland, how bad could it be?
Answer: Not as bad as I’d feared. The story is pretty hackneyed. Judy is a big singing star (surprise!) who had an affair with Dirk Bogarde, M.D., when they were younger. Result: young Matt, now around 12, living at one of those fancy British boarding schools. She had agreed to give him up when he was an infant as she couldn’t fit him into her busy concert schedule. Now she wants to see him again. Just once, she pleads, and I’ll go away. I promise. But one thing leads to another, and soon they are larking about all over London. Matt discovers she is his mother, and stern father dissuades him from flying off to Paris with her. She sings a song. Heartbreakingly. The end.

Not going to set the world on fire, but … it’s Garland, okay? This was her last movie, though she did do a one-woman concert a few years later, as rather mercilessly chronicled in William Goldman’s wonderful book The Season. Then she was dead. So this is the last we have of her. Is her voice in top-notch shape? No. But with Judy, on her worst day she was still one of the best. I don’t think anyone, ever, could sell a song as well as Judy Garland, though Liza Minnelli tried. By the time she got to the end of a song, she was wrenching her soul right out of her chest and holding it out there in her hands. She does four numbers here, all of them alone on a huge stage, and she grows from a tiny, lost figure, until you figure she’s going to need a bigger stage. Again, these are not the best songs she ever sang (the best one is “By Myself,” by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, which Fred Astaire did in The Band Wagon), but even with sub-par material and at the very end of her career, she is something to behold. Really, this is a case of a movie being well worth seeing just for those 20 minutes or so. I’m glad I saw it.