Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

THE HARVEY GIRLS ** 1/4 (1946)

Directed by George Sidney. Produced by Arthur Freed. Written by Edmund Beloin, Nathaniel Curtis, Harry Crane, James O'Hanlon, Samson Raphaelson based on a story by Eleanore Griffin and William Rankin, from the novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Photography, George Folsey. Editing, Albert Akst. Art design, Cedric Gibbons. Set design, Edwin B. Willis, Mildred Griffiths. Music by Lennie Hayton, Harry Warren. Music director Lennie Hayton. Choreography, Robert Alton. Costumes, Helen Rose Valles. Cast: Judy Garland, John Hodiak, Ray Bolger, Angela Lansbury,Preston Foster,Virginia O'Brien, Kenny Baker,Cyd Charisse, et al. An MGM film. 101 min.
Mid-budget, undemanding MGM movie about young ladies who are sent West, ca 1870, to waitress in a railroad restaurant of the huge Fred Harvey chain, and who also help civilize the uncouth..Very slim stuff in every respect, including the act-by-numbers performances.

There are pleasant bits here and there no doubt, but the movie lacks the kind of unity and concentration that give such productions strength and lift them from the episodic to a whole with character.

I can only guess that the main reason for this is the large number of writers -- too many cooks spoiling the broth, screenplay by committee, and all that. In fact, the only writer's name that stands out is Samson Raphaelson's, the playwright (some of whose stage works became movies, notably the landmark "The Jazz Singer") and class A screenwriter who worked much with the great Ernst Lubitsch and shared with him a sense of irony, wit and naughtiness. I would bet that had Raphaelson been "The Harvey Girls" sole scribe the movie would have gained significantly.

This musical's best feature is the Oscar-winning "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" by Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren, one of the classic choo-choo songs. Its vigorous nature and imaginative staging make of it an interesting break with the typical numbers of earlier musicals, including movies with Garland. It announces a new style, especially that of musical "Westerns" like "Oklahoma !" or "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers ."

This number occurs very early in the picture. After that, it's downhill most of the way, including much feeble music, though some people may like "In the Valley When the Evening Sun Goes Down," sung by Judy Garland.

Note that Angela Lansbury's fine singing voice is her own (as it is in other pictures) but Cyd Charisse's is dubbed.

[Written December 1988 with 1997 additions]

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel