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In the Good Old Summertime

Once you get past the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with summer (most of the movie takes place around Christmastime), In the Good Old Summertime (1949) proves to be a sweet, nostalgic bit of musical fun. Set in turn-of-the-last-century Chicago, the film is essentially a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 classic The Shop Around the Corner (later remade again as You've Got Mail in 1998), with Judy Garland and Van Johnson stepping in to play the unwitting pen pals who sigh over each other's love letters at night and bicker like hens during the day. Andy Larkin (Johnson) is the top salesman at a music store run by the rotund, excitable Mr. Oberkugen (S.Z. Sakall). When he and Veronica Fisher (Garland) meet-cute at the post office — he accidentally bumps into her, then proceeds to demolish her hat and umbrella and tear off her skirt with his bicycle — he has no idea that she's the beloved correspondent he writes to every day. And when she comes to the music store and demands a job, Veronica never guesses that her new boss is actually the Prince Charming who sends her such lovely epistles. The two rub each other the wrong way from the start, but anyone who's ever seen a romantic comedy (or a sitcom) knows that hate is just a few plot twists away from turning into love, and In the Good Old Summertime is no exception to the rule. But that doesn't mean it's not fun watching the lovers find their way to each other. Garland is full of zest and vigor (despite the fact that she's already looking a little peaked at the ripe old age of 27) and throws herself wholeheartedly into her musical numbers. Interestingly, for a so-called musical, Summertime actually has very few songs, and — even more of a rare occurrence — all have a logical context within the movie's world (e.g. Veronica sings songs for store customers who want to know how they sound, and she performs at a party for Mr. Oberkugen). The always-wry Johnson is a pleasant enough hero, though his early-1900s hair makes him look a bit like an overgrown member of the Lollipop Guild. Comic legend Buster Keaton makes the most of his small role as Oberkugen's nephew Hickey, and the rest of the supporting cast is spot-on (with the possible exception of the over-earnest Marcia Van Dyke as Andy's friend Louise). Harmless and charming, In the Good Old Summertime is an excellent example of post-WWII escapist cinema, and it's nice to see it making its DVD debut. Warner offers the film in its original full-frame, Technicolor format (the transfer is strong) with monaural English audio (English, Spanish, and French subtitles are available). Extras include a trivia-filled introduction by Garland expert John Fricke, two vintage short films about Chicago, and trailers for Summertime, The Shop Around the Corner, and You've Got Mail. Snap-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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