Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


FOR ME AND MY GAL (1942)


Directed by Busby Berkeley. Script by five writers. Cinematographer, William Daniels. Editing, Ben Lewis. Art direction, Cedric Gibbons, Gabriel Scognamillo. Sets, Edwin B. Willis, Keogh Gleason. Music director, George Stoll. Choreography, Bobby Connolly, Gene Kelly. Cast: Judy Garland, George Murphy, Marta Eggerth, Gene Kelly, Ben Blue, Horace McNally, Keenan Wynn, et al.
The movie is the result of the collaboration of two musical-movie greats: director-choreographer Busby Berkeley and producer Arthur Freed. Producer and lyricist Freed is synonymous with all those famous, big and lavish MGM musicals. Among them: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, EASTER PARADE, ON THE TOWN, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, ROYAL WEDDING, SHOW BOAT, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, GIGI.

"For Me and My Gal"is a backstage picture about vaudevillians, mostly Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. It has lots of flag-waving since it was made during World War II and deals with the WW I period. Kelly is a draft-dodger, who, you guessed it, gets redeemed. Basically this is routine nonsense, but made with oomph, brio and strong production values.

The young Judy Garland has some charm and cuteness, though her voice is no great shakes. Curiously, Berkeley does not stage any chorines doing his celebrated ensemble dancing. The picture is generally appreciated by lovers of musicals, although it cannot rate at the top of the genre. However, it should be quite appealing to connoisseurs and film historians for the additional reason of its two debuts. This was Gene Kelly's first major movie role as well as the first American film of Marta Eggerth.

In Europe, the Hungarian-born star was the undisputed queen of Austrian and German musicals, essentially filmed operettas. The king of that category was her husband and usual partner, Polish-born tenor Jan Kiepura.

In the late 1930s, after the Nazis had annexed Austria, both singers,still very much at the height of their popularity, fled the violently anti-Semitic "Greater Germany." Yet, even though they were household names in Europe (something like the Continental counterparts of America's Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald) they did not do all that well in the USA.

Kiepura at least did sing opera. Eggerth made only two pictures: "For Me and My Gal" and, the following year, again with Judy Garland, "Presenting Lily Mars."

How sad was Madame Eggerth's professional situation in America can be measured by her all too brief role in "For Me and My Girl," despite her being listed third in the screen credits. Early on she sings her one and only song, inside a special railroad car equipped with a grand piano. The voice is lovely and beautifully controlled. Those few minutes make the movie well worth watching. Yet, somehow, Hollywood must have decided that her box-office appeal was small or nil.

Following World War II, the couple returned to Europe where they made three films together, always in the same, light, operetta-ish format. Madame Eggerth was also in a fourth, but without her husband. None of those movies was particularly good or a real comeback for the singers who soon after retired.

Kiepura died in 1966. Eggerth remained in New York. A few years ago, a friend who teaches German film in an Eastern college, invited her to one of his yearly film festivals. She impressed all with her youthfulness, naturalness and charm. (Edwin Jahiel)


Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel