film features: pigskin and singing

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Pigskin Parade, Everybody Sing

Film Events at the Walter Reade Theatre
Judy Garland: All Singin’, All Dancin’, All Judy!
July 30 & 31, 2011 [festival runs July 26-August 9, 2011]
165 West 65th Street
event web site:  http://tinyurl.com/3f4yz2q

Biographies of Garland and John Fricke’s informative and enthused introductions of Pigskin Parade (1936) and Everybody Sing (1938) remind us that Judy is under contract at M-G-M for a time before appearing in full length movies.  Her immense talent is stunningly clear but the studios scramble (or systematically search, who knows) to find appropriate vehicles for her — the young teenager from Minnesota who sings like a middle-aged woman with a storied past and has enough charisma to wipe the memory of every other player off the screen whenever she is present.  As Garland says herself on her December 1962 appearance on the Jack Paar television show, in a well-practiced and delightfully delivered take on this earliest era of her studio career:

“They didn’t know what to do, actually, with thirteen year old girls.  Twelve year old girls.  There was no such thing.  You either had to be a munchkin or you had to be eighteen.  Or something.  There was no, no in-between.” [Note: Garland’s delivery and hand gestures delivering these lines are worth looking up this 1962 television appearance.  As always, she wins.  Garland wins.]

In Pigskin Parade (on loan from M-G-M to 20th-Century Fox, the studio that gets the credit for putting Garland in her first full length motion picture) Garland has just turned 14, and asks at least three times a version of this question: “I can sing, you want to hear me?”  The reward of that singing is what keeps this movie alive at all.  By 1938 and M-G-M’s Everybody Sing, the ruse is no longer used, audiences are primed to hear the Garland voice, and she leads us all in song.  Note that in this particular coupling of cinematic adventures, Garland is early matched up with two actors (Jack Haley and Billie Burke) with whom she will soon be working with Munchkins, wizards, witches, more farm hands, and flying houses.

Saturday July 30: Pigskin Parade (1936)

Sairy Dodd in adorable pigtails, with a Yacht Club Boy to the left of the image and Fred Kohler Jr. to the right.

Small Texas college is invited to a Yale football invitational game by mistake, vaudeville veterans Jack Haley and Patsy Kelly are the new coach and his wife (who appears to know a lot more about football than her husband), and earnest and comic collegiate hijinks ensue.  Garland plays Sairy Dodd, a farm girl younger sister of a strapping melon throwing brother who is enlisted to play for the Texas college team.  A favorite non-Garland number for me (political lefty than I am, and fan of witty lyric play) is the close harmony Yacht Club Boys number “Down With Everything” with memorable lyrics such as:

“Down with everything / That’s the burning slogan of / The anti super pooper duper commu-bolsha radical”

Favorite dialogue lines from the balance of the romp (and yes the Texans beat the Yalies):

  • “I like music with my touchdowns.”
  • “I love you so much it makes me quiver all over.”
  • “I’m Sairy Dodd and I can sing.  You want to hear me?”

Sunday July 31: Everybody Sing (1938)

Judy Bellaire leads her classmates in “Swing Mr. Mendelssohn”. The joy is contagious.

I have a special place in my heart for the odd and farcical You Can’t Take It With You-esque theatrical family (and house in perpetual chaos) in Everybody Sing. From the first moments of Judy Bellaire (Garland) as a school girl causing a bit of music class havoc turning a Mendelssohn ditty into a bit of swing fever, we’re hooked.  Judy’s penchant for swing gets her thrown out of school and a return to a household with a playwright father, actress mother (Billie Burke) and sister (Lynne Carver), and a cook with a performing past (Fanny Brice, the great and masterful).  Little Judy’s singing talent will win the day and resources to keep the family afloat.  Some songs hit, some songs miss, some acts lead your mind to wander.  And still, this charms.

And not long ago I purchased a copy of a working script (then called “Swing Fever”) that belonged to Lynne Carver, the actress who plays Judy’s older sister Sylvia in this bit of fluffy entertainment.  It is a wonder to see what a studio and brilliant creative people can make out of a sketchy outline of a script draft on paper.

Favorite dialogue lines:

  • “I don’t know why but when I hear music it does something to me.”
  • “I find myself awaken in the middle of the night and make guttural little howls.”
  • “If there’s anything we don’t need in this house it’s more monkeys.”

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 3, 2011)

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