CineChat

Top 10: Judy Garland

Judy Garland Top 10

Judy Garland is without a doubt my favourite entertainer, I have been drawn to her performances and her music since I was a teenager. She has a magnetism and charisma that made her one of Hollywood’s greatest stars and the biggest talent of the Golden Era Musicals.

Garland is still considered a superstar for performances in some of the best-loved musicals of all time, her voice is unsurpassed. But she was also an amazing dramatic actress and was not used to her full potential by the studios.

Wildly mistreated and a victim of the studio system, she has become one of Hollywood’s great victims. However, despite this legacy, she has left us with a wealth of performances that bring such joy to audiences. Here is the list of my favourite of her performances and films.

10. Girl Crazy (1943)

Judy Garland: Girl Crazy

Running Time: 1 Hour 35 mins
Genre: Musical/Romance
Director: Norman Taurog/Busby Berkeley
Stars: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, June Allyson

The fourth and last in a series of backyard musicals directed by Busby Berkeley and starring opposite Mickey Rooney), Girl Crazy tells of a young man Danny (Rooney), rich on life and girls who is sent to a remote boy’s school in the west by his despairing father. Being the only girl Danny is immediately drawn to Ginger (Judy) but she is tough and has no time for this city boy.

With great songs and set pieces, this is an adorable movie. This really shows how great Garland was with comedy and she is hilarious dealing with Rooney’s lovestruck oaf.


9. For Me And My Gal (1942)

Judy Garland: For Me And My Gal

Running Time: 1 Hour 45 mins
Genre: Musical/War
Director: Busby Berkeley
Stars: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy

Remembered largely for being Gene Kelly’s first film, he credited Judy with teaching him how to behave on camera. Gene and Judy are Harry Palmer and Jo Hayden, two vaudeville actors who end up partnering and eventually falling in love. But they are interrupted by the War, Harry injures himself in a cowardly attempt to get out of being drafted, which works. But in the process, he loses Jo, he goes out of his way to get to the front the only way he now can, by entertaining the troops. Garland and Kelley have fantastic chemistry probably more so than any other romantic lead partner, they made three movies together. Great music and a sweet ending, nice and simple plot, priceless.


8. In The Good Old Summertime (1949)

Judy Garland: In The Good Old Summertime

Running Time: 1 Hour 40 mins
Genre: Musical/Comedy
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Stars: Judy Garland, Van Johnson, S. Z. Sakall

The second of three takes on the script (the first The Shop Around the Corner (1940) with James Stewart, last You’ve Got Mail (1998) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan). It is the story of 2 shop employees who cannot stand each other. Both are having romances by mail not realising that they are writing and in love with each other. This is a charming and hilarious take on the simple romance with a number of musical numbers performed brilliantly by Garland.


7. Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)

Judy Garland: Judgement at Nuremberg

Running Time: 3 Hours
Genre: Drama/War
Director: Stanley Kramer
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland

Only a small part in an all-star cast about the trials of the German judges after the end of World War II. Garland plays a German woman who in her youth was persecuted for having a relationship with an older Jewish man, which was against German law. She is called to the stand as a witness against the injustice and is one of the most harrowing and outstanding performances I have witnessed. She is violently pushed by the defence lawyer, played by Maximillian Shell, who won an Oscar for his part. She told him to really hit her so she could really feel it and he did as asked, even going off-script until she broke down. Afterwards, she sent him a bunch of flowers with a sweet note in thanks. Judy was Oscar-nominated for the film, (she should have won). At 3 hours it is a long film and Judy is a small but memorable cameo, however, it is worth seeing for her unbelievably moving part.


6. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Judy Garland: The Wizard of Oz

Running Time: 1 Hour 40 mins
Genre: Musical/Fantasy
Director: Victor Fleming/George Cukor
Stars: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger

The most-watched film of all time for many years, it remains a classic musical for all generations. It is as popular now as when it was released 82 years ago, with a timeless tale of good vs evil it is loved by all ages.

A young girl Dorothy Gale is transported in her house by a twister from her farm in Kansas to the magical land of Oz over the rainbow. She meets many new friends and unsavoury characters in her attempt to make it home. Fantastic cinematography, classic songs, and a great moral message, what else can you say about this film, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who hasn’t seen it. It deservedly made Judy a star and she got better and better.


5. Easter Parade (1948)

Judy Garland: Easter Parade

Running Time: 1 Hour 45 mins
Genre: Musical/Romance
Director: Charles Walters
Stars: Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford, Ann Miller

Meant for Gene Kelly until he broke his ankle, this brought Fred Astaire out of retirement. He and Garland make a great team in this story of a famous vaudeville performer Don Hewes whose partner leaves him to go solo. He bitterly states he can make anyone as good as her and finds a new partner Hannah Brown (Judy) who he decides to mould into his old partner. He soon realises that Hannah has talents of her own and begins to utilise them. They also fall in love during the long hours rehearsing and performing. Excellent songs from the great Irving Berlin and great chemistry between 2 masters of their trade. This film also has two great performances from Anne Miller whose number ‘Shaking the Blues Away’ really shows her talents and Peter Lawford in a charming role. The true stand out is the ‘Couple of Swells number’ worth seeing just for that.


4. Summer Stock (1950)

Judy Garland: Summer Stock

Running Time: 1 Hour 45 mins
Genre: Musical/Romance
Director: Charles Walters
Stars: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Phil Silvers

The last film Judy made for MGM before she was fired that same year. Summer Stock tells of a young farm owner Jane Falbury who feels obligated to run her family’s farm and marry her neighbour. Until her life is turned upside down by the arrival of her sister Abigail and her boyfriend Joe (Kelly) and a full stock company intent on putting on a show in her barn. At first, she resists the upheaval but eventually, she comes to enjoy this exciting lifestyle and understands Joe rather better than her sister does. A lovely old Hollywood musical, full of great songs, amazing chemistry once again between the leads and packed full of great character actors.


3. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Judy Garland: Meet Me in St Louis

Running Time: 1 Hour 50 mins
Genre: Musical/Family
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Stars: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor

A Christmas classic, future husband Vincente Minnelli shot Garland beautifully, she was perfectly framed in every shot. She is Esther, the third of 5 children in the Smith family. The film takes the audience back to 1903 and the build-up to the world fair in St. Louis and the romantic tribulations of the two eldest Smith girls. With great songs (including the poignant ‘Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ – now an annual classic and the brilliant ‘Trolley Song’ and a charmingly simple but moving story about family this is a must-see, especially during the holidays.


2. The Clock (1945)

Judy Garland: The Clock

Running Time: 1 Hour 30 mins
Genre: Drama/Romance/War
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Stars: Judy Garland, Robert Walker, James Gleason

The first dramatic role she ever took with not a song in sight, this sees Judy’s Alice Mayberry meet a young soldier Joe Allen (Walker) on a 2 day leave in New York. Knowing nobody she agrees to show him some of the sights. They find it increasingly difficult to say goodbye and find more and more things to do together. Over the space of his leave, they fall in love and decide to get married before he returns to camp. They rush against time and many hurdles to accomplish it. A wonderfully shot film (Vincente Minnelli was brought in at Judy’s insistence) and a story which must be true to the life of many young lovers during the hard years of war. This really shows what Judy could do, both leads give great performances.


1. A Star is Born (1954)

Judy Garland: A Star is Born

Running Time: 2 Hours 35 mins
Genre: Musical/Drama
Director: George Cukor
Stars: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson

By far the greatest performance of her career, Judy was robbed of the Best Actress Oscar (by Grace Kelly) for her role as Esther Blodgett, the bar singer who is noticed by the famous actor Norman Maine. They fall in love and marry but as her star rises and she becomes the beloved Vicki Lester, his begins to fall due to his addiction to alcohol and their relationship suffers.

A moving masterpiece which is almost a one-woman show for Garland showing her trifecta of talent, singing, dancing, and acting up a storm. It was criminally butchered in editing by Warner Brothers, this should have been Garland’s big comeback to pictures but sadly it wasn’t to be. Never-the-less she is outstanding musically and dramatically, in this tale ironically close to her own life which adds a level of depth which no other iteration of the film could bring.


Summary

So that is my list, all amazing performances, perhaps surprising to some, I feel her best performances were those that required her not to sing but to dramatically act, and she was more than capable. In a career that started as a small child all the way up to her premature death (she was only 47), she was always outstanding and brought joy to thousands. Standing at only 4 foot 11″ she had a voice that could bounce off a 3-story ceiling, and those eyes could express so much without a single word uttered, she is one of the most honest performers I think that graced the screen. If I could introduce even one person to this unbelievable actress and her body of work, I consider my time well spent.

Click below to listen to episode 37 of the CineChat podcast, featuring Judy Garland

Mary Gascoyne
A qualified film studies teacher who's not teaching film but loves to share thoughts and discuss all things cinema. My absolute favourites are The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Titanic and When Harry Met Sally - always will be. Trying and failing to divide my time between my love of reading, watching movies  and avidly supporting the Pittsburgh Penguins, New England Patriots and LA Dodgers.