A star since childhood, Judy Garland experienced more in her early years than most people have to deal with in a lifetime. She'd appeared in 22 feature films for MGM between 1939 and 1950, at which point chronic illness, depression, and drug abuse had taken a toll on her work her last year at the studio, the 27-year-old Garland was suspended several times before she and Louis B. Mayer agreed that it was best for her to move on. When she left MGM, she had already begun production on Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun, filming two production numbers before handing the role over to Betty Hutton. Her last completed picture for MGM was Summer Stock (1950), co-starring Gene Kelly. The film was well received, less for its innovation as a musical (the reviewer for Time magazine called it "no great shakes") than for the public's immense affection for the troubled Garland. In a surprisingly honest letter to her fans published in Modern Screen three months after the film's release, Garland acknowledged her battle with depression, writing, "It's perfectly normal for people to have their ups and downs. I know that now, but a year or so ago, these depressions of mine used to worry me, and the more I worried about them, the lower I felt. Anyway, all of that is gone and done with. The slate of the past is wiped clean. Insofar as I'm concerned, the world is good, golden and glorious. My best years and my best work lie ahead of me, and I'm going to give them everything I've got."
Summer Stock is your standard let's-put-on-a-show musical constructed around a handful of pleasant songs. Garland is Jane Falbury, struggling to keep her family farm afloat. Engaged to a local milquetoast, Orville (Eddie Bracken), she's outraged when her actress sister, Abigail (Gloria De Haven), descends on the farm with an entire Broadway company stagehands, sets, chorus girls, and all with the intention of mounting a musical in the barn. Jane butts heads with Abigail's beau, the show's director Joe Ross (Kelly), and she insists they all leave but she quickly relents, on the proviso that the troupe help with the farm work. After an impromptu dance-off between Joe and Jane, she discovers a hidden love of performing so, wouldn't you know, she ends up starring in the show. And (surprise!) Jane falls for her sister's fella, leading to additional complications.
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While not one of the very best MGM musicals, Summer Stock is still a charming entertainment with a top-notch cast. In addition to Garland, Kelly, De Haven, and Bracken, there's Marjorie Main as the farm's cook, Phil Silvers as a wise-cracking member of troupe, Hans Conreid as the pompous leading man, and the great character actor Ray Collins as Jane's future father-in-law. Much of the picture's humor is derived from watching the big-city actors wrassle pigs and chickens, while Garland and Kelly's chemistry is undeniable. The songs, by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, include "Howdy Neighbor," one of the few numbers shot on location, with Garland happily greeting the locals as she drives her new tractor; Garland's stock yearning-for-love number, "Friendly Star"; and the very funny song-and-dance production "Heavenly Music" with Kelly and Silvers as hillbillies with giant prosthetic feet. The film's most famous number, though, is Garland's iconic "Get Happy" shot a month after the film had completed production, the singer looks rested and weighs 20 pounds less than she did during principal photography, lending the entire segment an oddly disconnected quality, as if it came from another movie altogether. Nonetheless, it remains of Judy Garland's signature tunes.
Warner's DVD release of Summer Stock part of their "Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory" collection is bright, colorful, and very clean, with only a few scenes marred by slight specks and scratches, and with some segments appearing slightly soft. But overall, the full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) is very good. The Dolby 1.0 audio (with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles) is also clean, bright, and clear. Extras include an interesting, if rather blandly directed, new featurette on the making of the film, which was originally conceived as a reunion vehicle for Garland and Mickey Rooney (16 min.), the Tex Avery cartoon "The Cuckoo Clock" (7 min.), the humorous live-action short "Did'ja Know?" (8 min.), an audio outtake from the song "Fall in Love," and the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.