Easter Parade (1948)

Film Review

EASTER PARADE

Release Date: 8 July, 1948

Studio: MGM

Director: Charles Walters

Starring: Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Peter Lawford, Ann Miller

Screenplay: Sidney Shelton, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett; Original story: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett

Cinematographer: Harry Straddling

Synopsis

Don Hewes (Astaire) and Nadine Hale (Miller) are elegant dancers. Nadine leaves the act (and Don) for a starring role on Broadway. Disconsolate, Don gets drunk and declares that he can take any woman and make her into as good a dancer as Nadine. He picks Hannah Brown (Garland) out of a chorus line. The next day, Easter Sunday, Don and Hannah walk in the Easter Parade. Nadine walks by them, elegantly dressed and posing for many photographs. Dons says that next year Hannah will get the attention. He changes Hannah's name to Juanita and attempts to develop her into an elegant dancer similar to Nadine. Hannah tries, but she is terrible. Don realizes, however, that Hannah is a wonderful singer who can put over a popular song and light dance. Their act is named "Hannah and Hewes". Hannah is falling in love with Don, but he remains indifferent to her personally.

Hannah meets Jonathan Harrow III (Lawford), an old friend of Don and Nadine, who sympathizes with her attempts to please Don and make him forget Nadine. The night "Hannah and Hewes" have a big hit, they go out to celebrate and take in Nadine's show. Nadine steps forward, introduces "Hannah and Hewes", and gets Don to dance with her. Hannah, upset and jealous, leaves before the dance is over. The next day, Jon talks to her and convinces her that Don loves her. The day is Easter Sunday. Hannah goes to Don's apartment. She is elegantly dressed and brings an Easter bonnet for herself and a top hat for Don. They walk in the Easter Parade where Hannah is photographed frequently.

Discussion

This enjoyable, colorful musical comedy pairs Astaire and Garland for the only time in their careers. They mesh beautifully, whether talking, singing, or dancing. Garland's warm, appealing personality complements Astaire's similarly engaging, but more low key, persona. The high quality music and lyrics are Irving Berlin standards. The title song, written in 1933, was first performed by Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb in the stage production As Thousands Cheer.

In Easter Parade, Astaire adapts his dancing to the styles of his co-stars. With Miller he performs fast paced dances, involving complex steps. With Garland, the dances are simpler in design and matched to the lyrics and mood of a vocal duet. The Garland and Astaire rendition of "We’re a Couple of Swells", written by Berlin for the film, is a high point of music and comedy.

The time period of the film, 1911-1912, allows for colorful costumes and settings, especially during the Easter Parade sequences. The ankle length dresses and large hats of the period complement Judy Garland and Ann Miller. Astaire and Lawford look debonair and jaunty.

Easter Parade was originally intended for Garland and Gene Kelly. Kelly broke his ankle, and Astaire was brought out of retirement to take the role. Astaire had announced his retirement in 1945, saying that he was tired of dancing for a living. Astaire also stated that he was beginning to think the public was becoming a little indifferent to him. By late 1947, Astaire was telling The New York Times that his hiatus had been a "mental retirement"; he had desired to rest from creating new steps and ideas for dance numbers, but he was not tired of dancing. Astaire prided himself on thinking up new steps for the dances in every film, and a great deal of mental effort went into each dance. After two years of rest, he was regenerated, and ready for renewed mental and physical efforts. Although nearing fifty in 1948, Astaire's career renewal lasted for the next 10 years during which time he stared in a series of memorable musicals, including The Band Wagon (1953) and Funny Face (1957).

Garland’s career arc after Easter Parade was the opposite of Astaire's. Only 26 years old, her film career was nearing an end. Mental and physical breakdowns shortened her career and, ultimately, her life. Easter Parade was a hit, and MGM scheduled Garland and Astaire for a follow-up film. But Garland was breaking down and had to rest; Ginger Rogers was brought in to pair with Astaire in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949). After three more films, Garland's career at MGM ended in 1951 when her unreliability led to her termination by the studio. Three years later, she made her final musical, A Star Is Born (1954).

Along with the change in the leading man, Easter Parade also had a change in director, when Vincent Minelli was replaced by Charles Walters. Garland's psychiatrist had advised her not to work with Minelli, who was her husband.

Director Charles Walters first appeared on Broadway as a teenage performer in 1927. After ten years of dancing, he worked as a choreographer from 1938 to 1946. His final Broadway assignment was as Judy Garland's director for Judy Garland at the Palace, Two-a-Day (1951-1952).

Walters went to Hollywood in 1942, at the request of Gene Kelly, to direct the dance sequences for Du Barry Was a Lady (1942). He continued as a dance director for several years, including on Judy Garland's films Girl Crazy (1943) and Meet Me in St Louis (1944). His first directorial assignment was Good News (1947). Easter Parade was the second film he directed. Walters also directed Astaire's next film after Easter Parade, The Barkleys of Broadway (1949).

In all, Walters directed about 20 films, mostly musicals. He worked with the leading female musical comedy stars of the time: Esther Williams (Texas Carnival (1951), Dangerous When Wet (1953), Easy to Love (1953)), Leslie Caron (Lili (1953), The Glass Slipper (1955)), Debby Reynolds (The Tender Trap (1955), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)), and Doris Day (Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960), Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962)). His final film was Walk, Don’t Run (1966), the rather limp ending to the career of Cary Grant. After about ten years working in television, Walters retired in 1976.

Walters had a successful, if not outstanding, career as a film director. He turned out enjoyable, handsome, professionally made musical comedies. However, his films lack the significant touches that raise a film from pleasantly competent to exceptional. His leading actresses are fun to watch, but they never sparkle under his direction. Easter Parade is probably the best film he directed.

References

Astaire Plans to Retire: Dancing Star Ready to Quit But May Turn Movie Producer. New York Times. September 20, 1945

By Way of Report: Case of the Retiring (?) Fred Astaire-Miss Shearer’s Plans-Other Items. A.H. Weiler. New York Times. November 24, 1946

Astaire to Return to Acting in Films. Thomas F. Brady. New York Times. October 16, 1947

Slight Case of “Mental Retirement”. Fred Stanley. New York Times. December 14, 1947

EASTER PARADE (1948). Programming Guide. TCM Classic Film Festival, 2014