Easter Parade (1948)
In honor of the season, I present Easter Parade, starring Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson, and Red Skelton.
Not really–this movie stars Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Peter Lawford, and Ann Miller. But according to a Hollywood Reporter article published in February 1947, MGM considered a Sinatra/Kelly version. That was just one of their casting configurations; Garland and Astaire seem pretty perfect, but that wasn’t MGM’s original plan.
This movie was supposed to re-team Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. They had starred together on Kelly’s first movie, For Me and My Gal (1942), and Garland, who by that time was a seasoned veteran, had been extremely helpful to Kelly as he transitioned from stage actor to movie actor.
More recently, the pair had worked together on The Pirate (1948), directed by Garland’s then husband Vincente Minnelli. The Pirate was shot between February and August 1947, with retakes extending into the fall. Easter Parade started up in November, and the two films were released within a month of each other in 1948, with The Pirate premiering in June and Easter Parade in July.
MGM wanted to make Easter Parade with Minnelli, Garland, and Kelly because the studio had high hopes for The Pirate. They thought that putting the trio back together would allow them to capitalize on the success of The Pirate. (But they were wrong. The Pirate is now something of a cult classic, but it fell flat when it was released. It is an elaborate, ridiculous-even-for-MGM-musical that drips with camp. It’s fun, but you can tell why audiences weren’t entirely enamored with it.)
Anyway, MGM’s best laid plans for Easter Parade went awry. Garland had a nervous breakdown during production of The Pirate, and spent some time in a sanitarium. Her psychiatrist felt that Garland’s problems and her conflicted relationship with MGM were due mostly to working with her husband. So Minnelli was removed from Easter Parade after just five days of rehearsal, and the film was re-assigned to Charles Walters.
Walters was a former dancer who was relatively new to the director’s chair. Prior to Easter Parade, he’d directed Ziegfeld Follies (1946) and Good News (1947), but he would go on to a very successful career churning out such musicals as Summer Stock, High Society, Dangerous When Wet, Easy to Love, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
After Minnelli’s exit, Easter Parade seemed set with Kelly, Garland, and Cyd Charisse. Though of course this cast wouldn’t last, either.
First, Cyd Charisse seriously injured her knee filming a dance in On an Island With You (1948), and producer Arthur Freed replaced her with Ann Miller. Miller had been making movies since the mid 1930s, but this was her first big A-picture.
Then Gene Kelly broke his ankle. He told the studio he hurt it during rehearsals for the film, but he actually hurt it playing football. MGM wasn’t sure what to do. Gene Kelly was hard to replace. But Kelly suggested that the studio try to get Fred Astaire out of retirement. Astaire had retired from movies in 1946, but after MGM and Gene Kelly explained the situation, he agreed to come back. (Although Kelly and Garland missed this chance, they would make one more movie together, 1950’s Summer Stock, which also happened to be Garland’s last film at MGM.)
Thus, through a series of unfortunate events, the Kelly-Garland-Minnelli project envisioned by MGM became the Astaire-Garland-Walters film. This makes Easter Parade similar to most films in that the people who show up in the credits were not necessarily those originally chosen. And typically it all works out. Despite the bumps to get there, I think the cast that shows up onscreen in Easter Parade is pretty perfect.
As you can see in the main title card, this is “Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade.” Berlin wrote eight songs especially for the movie, but the rest were old tunes, many of which had lived long and varied lives. For example, Berlin wrote the melody for “Easter Parade” way back in 1917. It had originally been a song called “Smile and Show Your Dimple,” but he re-worked it into “Easter Parade” in 1933 for a stage show called As Thousands Cheer.
The use of old songs in a new musical was very typical in this era. Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and Arthur Freed all had songs from their vast catalogs revived in movies. Screenwriters took tunes from past decades and wove them into a story to make Roberta and Lovely to Look At, Singin’ in the Rain, Funny Face, White Christmas, An American in Paris, and The Band Wagon, among many others.
Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were tasked with writing a script around Berlin’s songs. This married screenwriting duo was behind The Thin Man, After the Thin Man, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. They also penned The Pirate. They can’t all be winners.
Producer Arthur Freed was afraid that the Goodrich-Hackett script was a little too dark, so he brought in Sidney Sheldon (who would go on to create “I Dream of Jeannie”) to lighten things up. This wasn’t at all uncommon–many, if not most films from the classical era had several writers contribute to the script. The studios viewed scriptwriting as a highly collaborative and specialized art, and didn’t hesitate to assign many different writers to one project.
Screenwriters with a special talent for dialogue might be brought in just to work on the conversations, while others skilled at plot trajectories could be called in to re-work an ending. This makes attribution very difficult, as not everyone gets screen credit or even any credit at all, and it’s hard to know who exactly did what, but it was the way things worked.
On Easter Parade, for example, Sheldon claimed that he made substantial changes to the Goodrich-Hackett script, though they insisted that he only added one scene.
Anyway, the script was written, the cast was (finally!) set, and the movie got underway. It spans Easter 1911 to Easter 1912, and the title refers to the high society parade down Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday, when ladies and gents would put on their fanciest Easter bonnets and strut.
Fair warning: like many classic “Christmas movies” that don’t actually have much to do with the holiday, Easter Parade doesn’t really deal with Easter. The parade down Fifth Avenue becomes a convenient marker of time, and there are some bunny rabbits and lilies, but otherwise it’s not about Easter. Certainly not in any religious sense. Cue the “War on Easter” montage, Fox.
To the film! We open on the day before Easter. Don Hewes (Astaire) strolls around New York buying extravagant Easter gifts for his dancing partner/love, Nadine (Ann Miller). He wants to buy a stunning new chapeau for Nadine to wear in the Easter Parade. Which means we get a musical fashion show to the tune of “Happy Easter,” a new Berlin song.
Don chooses the last hat, that white beaded number with a tuft of feathers.
Then he goes on his way. A pink bunny in the window of a toy store catches his eye. Unfortunately, a mother is in the process of buying the stuffed animal for her little towheaded son. But Don has no scruples when it comes to Nadine, so he distracts the child with a classically Astaire routine to the song “Drum Crazy.” His dancing is as mesmerizing as always.
The child is awestruck as Don turns everything he sees into a prop in his virtuosic dance. His rhythm and precision is astounding. Don finishes the number by rather cruelly loading up the small boy with drums, (a strategy reminiscent of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor‘s treatment of the vocal coach in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), grabbing the bunny, throwing down some cash, and serenely dancing out of the shop.
You can watch it here. A few years later, Astaire would do another drum dance in Daddy Long Legs (1955), though without the child-cheating element.
Anyway, Don arrives at Nadine’s apartment and present her with his gifts. She doesn’t seem moved, though. And after all he went through to get that pink bunny!
Nadine has some bad news. She has been offered a solo headlining act in a new show, and she’s decided to take it. She doesn’t return Don’s love, and has no problem dismantling their successful dance team. “You can dance with anyone,” she tells a bewildered Don. She’s confident that he’ll find another partner and be just fine.
Even Don’s graceful attempt to persuade her that they are more than just dancing partners doesn’t work. She whirls around the apartment in her tangerine feathers to the lovely strains of “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” but rejects him just as firmly afterwards.
Robert Alton staged and directed the dance sequences, (Astaire always choreographed his own) and he must have been busy with this movie! There are a lot of musical numbers.
When their friend Johnny (Peter Lawford) arrives, it’s clear that Nadine is far more interested in him than in Don. We also learn that Nadine collects dogs the way that other women collect purses. She’s thrilled with Jonathan’s gift of a little bulldog because it matches one of her dresses perfectly!
Then she hands the poor puppy off to her maid, Essie. We don’t like Nadine.
Johnny is as shocked as Don to hear about Nadine’s solo plans, but she stays firm.
Brief tangent: this is another of those “historical films” that makes very few concessions to the setting in terms of fashion. Besides some longer, straighter skirts, it is very easy to forget that this movie is set in 1911, not 1948. It’s just like in The Harvey Girls when the ladies are coiffed and made-up in 1946 styles instead of 1880’s looks; you won’t find much in this film that is historically accurate to 1911. And that’s fine–we want our stars looking beautiful, and Miller and Garland look gorgeous according to 1948 standards.
Anyway, poor Don is heartbroken and drowns his sorrows at a bar with Johnny and a chatty bartender (Clinton Sundberg, whom you may recognize as the butler in Duchess of Idaho). Don drunkenly tells Johnny that he turned Nadine into a star and can do the same thing with any another woman!
To prove his point, Don randomly selects Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) from the chorus line and tells her to show up at a rehearsal hall the next morning. He has decided that she is going to be his new partner. Hannah assumes that Don is just another drunk spouting nonsense, and rips up his card.
She’s not going to quit her steady, $15 a week job for some crazy guy, even if he did promise her the princely sum of $150 a week!
Then the bartender tells her who Don is–and she frantically pieces the card back together!
After this disconcerting meeting, Hannah composes herself and hops onstage for “I Want to Go Back to Michigan.” The song is all about wishing she was back on the farm; the apron tied over her showgirl outfit lets us know she is serious.
It’s important to note that Don has already left the bar by the time Hannah starts to sing. So he doesn’t realize that his new partner is a talented singer. He thinks she’s just a chorus girl.
Hannah’s song and her costume provide a telling contast to Nadine. Hannah looks ill at ease in her short dress, and seems thrilled to pull the feather puffs off of her hair and dress when she changes into the apron. Remember this: feathers are not Hannah’s style.
Then she sings very earnestly about roosters and milk pails, and you feel as though maybe she really does want to go back to Michigan!
By contrast, Nadine wears feathers even when she’s relaxing at home. She’s the height of sophisticated, glamorous chic, and you can tell she loves it.
And Nadine could never pull off a song about a farm. Don sure has picked a different kind of woman to be his new partner.
You can watch the Michigan song here. It’s Garland at her earnest best. She’s beautiful and extra-cute in this movie.
Fun fact: speaking of costumes, the pink dress worn by Garland and her fellow dancers in this scene first appeared in Easy to Wed (1946) on Lucille Ball‘s backup dancers. Then Garland wears it in Easter Parade, and it shows up yet again hanging in Garland’s dressing room in Summer Stock! Easter Parade is a goldmine of recycled costumes, and boy, do I love finding them!
The next morning, a flustered Hannah dressed in drab, feather-less brown just to further illustrate her contrast with Nadine, shows up at the rehearsal hall. She looks rather like a bell hop, actually.
Don was hoping that she wouldn’t show, as he is regretting his booze-fueled offer. He’s even less enthused when he learns how inexperienced she is. He says, smugly:
Her quick answer shames him, so they give it a try. Don has very low expectations, especially after Hannah admits that she isn’t sure which is her right leg and which is her left. She was left-handed as a child, but the doctor said that she might “grow up to be a very dangerous criminal!” so they forced her to use her right hand, and now she’s very confused!
She usually wears a garter when she dances to help her remember, but, as she whispers, terribly embarrassed, “I haven’t got a garter today!” Don hands her a rubber band, and they get started. Though they have to stop when the rubber band starts cutting off her circulation. It’s not a great first rehearsal.
You’ll notice that the choreography is similar to the steps that Don and Nadine performed in her apartment. Don still thinks Nadine is the ideal, so his plan is to mold Hannah into another Nadine: sophisticated, refined, and a little snooty. In fact, he’s still hoping that Nadine will return to him, at which point he’ll cast Hannah aside without a second thought.
After the rehearsal, Don and Hannah walk down Fifth Avenue and encounter Nadine strutting her stuff in the Easter Parade with two wolfhounds as adoring photographers capture the spectacle.
Irene (Lentz) supervised the women’s costumes, and Valles took charge of the men’s. Here’s a costume sketch of this walking outfit. There’s something thrilling about seeing the design on paper and then seeing it draping the form of an actress as she strolls or twirls.
But sometimes the thrill is false, because the sketch is not always the actual design from which the dress was created; sometimes it’s the other way around.
Costume departments often created and archived sketches drawn after the costume was finished so that the sketch would perfectly match what was onscreen. There could be many iterations between the original idea for an outfit and the final product, and I suppose they thought it wasn’t as satisfyingly perfect to see the original sketch if it looks nothing like the finished garment.
So be wary–sometimes the sketch you see is based on the garment, and not the other way around. And sometimes the famous costume designer did not draw the design at all, but had one of his or her minions do it and then just signed it. For example, Edith Head was not a good sketch artist, so she rarely did her own. The sketch for Ann Miller was done by Virginia Fisher for Irene.
Back to the movie. Don takes Hannah shopping as part of his quest to re-make her in Nadine’s image.
There are some funny moments when the saleswoman shows Don and Hannah two gowns, and they both point to different ones. The same thing happens with purses. But Don, of course, has the final say. When Hannah nervously tells Don that none of the things they bought seem very “her,” Don insists that that is the point.
He wants to turn her into the kind of woman who men stop and admire when she walks down the street.
So they do an experiment: Hannah walks a few feet in front of Don so he can observe men’s reactions to her.
When Hannah attempts to catch men’s eyes with her charm and beauty, she fails. So she tries another method, which succeeds wildly! Don congratulates her, having no idea that she captured male attention by impersonating a blowfish.
Fun fact: the scenes set on New York City streets were filmed on MGM’s huge “New York Streets” set. It was ten acres in all, with seven different “streets” or sections that could stand in for different neighborhoods and even cities if necessary.
This scene was shot on the “Fifth Avenue” street, which appears in dozens of films. For example, you can see it masquerading as London in Royal Wedding (1951) below.
Fifth Avenue was one of the larger sections in the complex, and its “buildings” (just facades) were the tallest, with some extending five stories high. This made the set the highest commercial district on any studio’s backlot. (This information comes from the fascinating book MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. I highly recommend it!)
Now that Don has changed Hannah’s style, he changes her name, too. She’s “Juanita” now, which suits her as poorly as the ostrich-feather trimmed dress Don chooses for their first performance.
The show is a disaster. Hannah loses herself in the choreography, nearly strangles Don in a twirl, and gives him a face full of feathers whenever he gets close.
The ostrich feather gown comically shedding its feathers all over Astaire and the stage, is a reference and a parody of the gown Ginger Rogers wore in Top Hat (1935) for the “Cheek to Cheek” number.
Rogers’ dress had even more ostrich plumes, and the feathers kept coming loose as Rogers twirled and dipped. It drove Astaire crazy; all these little feathers kept getting in his face, sticking to his tuxedo, and floating around the set. Astaire later said that “Feathers started to fly as if a chicken had been attacked by a coyote…They were floating around like millions of moths.”
Astaire asked Rogers to wear a different costume for the scene, but she loved the dress and refused to change. So, the feathers were individually re-sewn to the dress, and they finally got through the number, though you can still see a few stray plumes float through the air. Astaire nicknamed Rogers “Feathers” after this incident, and sent her a gold feather charm for her charm bracelet with a note reading, “Dear Feathers, I love ya! Fred.”
Easter Parade parodies this incident. You can watch the original “Feathers” dance here:
After “Juanita and Hewes” poor performance, the movie shifts to a fancy restaurant where Johnny and Nadine are lunching. (Meanwhile, in another illustrative contrast, Hannah is grabbing a sandwich at a drugstore.)
Nadine is after Johnny, but he rebuffs her more obvious romantic overtures, and lies that he won’t inherit any of his father’s money until he is 55 due to a quirk in the will. Nadine certainly isn’t pleased to hear that, but she doesn’t give up, either.
Then Don shows up, and it turns out that Johnny only invited Nadine to lunch in an effort to reunite the dance team. It’s a classic trick, and when Don arrives, Johnny scoots, leaving Nadine and Don alone.
Don wants her to come back as his partner, but she refuses. She’s especially angry because she’s been hearing through the grapevine that “Juanita” is imitating her, and she wants it to stop. Eureka! Suddenly Don realizes why “Juanita” isn’t working. He’s been trying to turn Hannah into Nadine, and that’s never going to happen. Never mind that Hannah has been trying to tell him that since they met…
Don rushes off to talk to Hannah at rehearsal. But Johnny gets there first. He literally runs into Hannah as she waits outside the drugstore for the rain to let up so she can walk to rehearsal. Johnny falls for her immediately (he doesn’t know it’s Don’s Hannah!) and buys an umbrella off a vegetable cart so he can stroll with her.
And so we segue into “A Fella With An Umbrella.” It’s a charming scene with a fun backstory. See the red feather plume on Hannah’s hat? When it got wet in the “rain” during filming, the red dye began to drip down Garland’s face. It was not a good look. The costumers desperately tried to think of a solution, and ended up coating the feathers in vaseline. It stopped the dye from running, but the vaseline makes the feathers appear darker and much smaller. Compare the pre-Vaseline hat in the drugstore with the umbrella shots.
Hannah eventually makes her way to rehearsal at Don’s apartment. Once there, he explains his epiphany and asks her to sing for him. And Don realizes that it’s okay if he can’t turn Hannah into Nadine, because Hannah is immensely talented in her own way. Duh, it’s Judy Garland.
And so they switch from the feathers and sophisticated dances to high-energy, even comic numbers under the name “Hannah and Hewes.” Montage time! We cross-dissolve into their stage show.
We see three different performances and then an important audition, showing how they’ve worked their way up the ranks of vaudeville all the way to Ziegfeld!
At the audition, they perform “When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam'” and are a grand success!
Hannah wears a dusky blue diamond dress without a single feather:
They are about to sign the contracts when a certain someone slinks up the aisle. Don didn’t know that Nadine was headlining the new Ziegfeld show. Hannah senses some love vibes zinging from Don to Nadine. She asks Don if he was in love with his former partner, and he stutters an awkward reply, so Hannah takes off running. She’s fallen hard for Don.
Outside the theater, Hannah meets Johnny, the fella with the umbrella. They set a dinner date for that night.
When Don finally shows up that evening, he explains to Hannah that he refused Ziegfeld’s offer because Hannah is far too good to perform as one of Nadine’s supporting acts. Then Johnny arrives. It’s a surprise for Don because he had no idea that Johnny and Hannah knew each other, nor that they were courting. It gets awkward.
Costume appreciation break. I love this white and green ombre robe:
Hannah changes into a soft grey suit and they head to the same fancy restaurant where Johnny ate with Nadine. The same waiter (Jules Munshin in his first film appearance) takes charge of their table. They ask about getting a salad, and the waiter performs an expressive routine about his famous family recipe. He even cries as he describes slicing the onions!
It’s the best salad-mime you’ll see anywhere. And it’s funny because even after all that, Hannah and Johnny nonchalantly decide not to order it!
The conversation turns to Don, and as Hannah talks, both she and Johnny realize that she is hopelessly in love with her partner. It’s a bummer, because Hannah is certain that Don doesn’t return her feelings. Poor Hannah.
And poor Johnny! The girl he wants is in love with someone else, and the girl he doesn’t want (Nadine) is relentless in her pursuit!
But we don’t feel too sorry for Johnny, because he is a very wealthy perpetual student. He once told Nadine that although he is almost finished with law school, he has decided to become a doctor, instead! Also, he doesn’t seem that in love with Hannah.
After all this unrequited love stuff, the pair lose their appetites and leave without eating a bite. Just as the waiter predicted.
Next thing we know, it’s Nadine’s opening night! Don goes to see the show.
She wows with the solo number “Shakin’ the Blues Away.” This song was one of Berlin’s old ones revived in this film. It was originally part of the “Ziegfeld Follies” of 1927, which is cool because Nadine is performing it as part of the “Ziegfeld Follies” of 1912. Even cooler, you can listen to Ruth Etting’s 1927 recording!
Nadine’s costume is great: she starts the song with a long skirt, but with one clever tug, she pulls it up and to the side, revealing the black floral design on her stockings at her thighs. The strong yellow and shimmery black match the big song and choreography, too.
And nobody can work a skirt like Ann Miller. This is one of my favorite numbers in the film, and it’s so typically Ann Miller with the bold, high-energy, straight to the camera performance, and fastest-feet-in-the-world flourishes. Despite the fact that she is out there alone, Miller dominates the stage. She had a huge presence.
You can watch it here. And you can watch Doris Day perform the same song in Love Me or Leave Me (1955), here:
Fun fact: the stage scenes, including the vaudeville numbers and Nadine’s performances, were shot in MGM’s permanent theater set housed in Soundstages 5 and 6. Stage 5 was the seating portion of the theater, complete with balconies for extras, and Stage 6 was the actual stage. It was enormous, bigger than any Broadway theater, and was equipped with everything a working stage needed, including hydraulic lifts and water tanks. There were even opera boxes perched on the sides. Just about every “stage performance” in MGM’s musicals, including the ones in this film, were filmed in Stages 5 and 6.
Nadine’s show is a hit, and Hannah is concerned that Don regrets turning down their chance to be in it. But he waltzes into her apartment with grand news: he’s arranged for Hannah and Hewes to have their own show to rival the Follies. They open the day before Easter!
Don invites Hannah to dinner at his apartment to celebrate, and she thinks that he is finally falling in love with her. She buys a new dress and arrives with high hopes. Which are immediately dashed when he starts talking about ideas for some new numbers. It’s not a date, but a rehearsal.
Hannah gets upset. She says that he isn’t even a human being, just a pair of dancing shoes. And she dares him to tell her the color of her eyes. She doesn’t think he can because he’s never paid enough attention!
But then he kisses her and says, softly, “They’re brown.” And she melts. Then she sings “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” the song Don and Nadine danced to in her apartment months ago…
You can watch it here. Costume appreciation break. The shimmery belt is a fun choice.
We skip to opening night.
Don is up first with “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” another song Berlin wrote just for this movie. Astaire dances with three ladies and then performs the magical feat of dancing in slow motion while the ensemble dances behind him in real time.
MGM publicity claimed that this was the first instance of slow-motion photography that was synchronized with sound. It’s underwhelming today when we’re used to CGI making anything appear, but it was a big deal in 1948. It’s interesting because you can see the tiny movements that you typically miss when watching Astaire in real time, but otherwise it’s a very weird sequence. It’s also diegetically impossible because this number is supposed to be happening live in a real theater. Though that rationale never stopped anything in a Hollywood musical. You can watch the first four minutes of the number here, and the slow-motion part here.
One reason that I like this number is that several costumes from The Harvey Girls (1946) show up on the dancers. Costume Departments reused costumes, especially those worn on extras, more frequently than you might think.
Also, I think the slim purple skirt on the woman in the long yellow gloves first appeared on Cyd Charisse in On An Island With You:
As a bonus, the yellow dress from “Steppin’ Out” inexplicably shows up hanging on a rack in Nadine’s dressing room the same night as the performance!
After Don dances to “Steppin’ Out,” it’s time for “A Couple of Swells” with Hannah and Don in tramp costumes. It’s a very funny, enjoyable number. It’s not often we see Garland and Astaire with blacked-out teeth and dirty, patched clothes!
You can watch it here.
Oddly enough, “A Couple of Swells” became one of Garland’s signature tunes. She first performed it in 1951 at the Palace with Charles Walters (this film’s director), and she sang it often after that. She usually followed it with “Over the Rainbow” while still in the tramp costume, which made for an extra poignant performance. You can watch her sing it on TV here.
“Steppin’ Out” and “A Couple of Swells” are the only numbers we get from the show, unfortunately. Garland recorded and filmed a solo number called “Mr. Monotony, ” to balance Astaire’s solo, but it was cut from the final film. The footage exists, though:
You can see that Garland is wearing her famous costume of a tuxedo jacket and black stockings. She would wear the same costume for “Get Happy” in Summer Stock (1950).
Fun fact: “Get Happy” was filmed about three months after Garland had shot the rest of her Summer Stock scenes, and she’d lost twenty pounds in the interim.
The difference in her appearance is very noticeable compared to the rest of Summer Stock, so people thought that this number had been taken from MGM’s archives, not filmed especially for Summer Stock.
Her costume fed these rumors, because she had first worn it for “Mr. Monotony.” With the weight loss and her now-iconic tuxedo jacket and fedora, people thought for years that “Get Happy” was the song that had been cut from Easter Parade.
Back to the movie! Hannah and Hewes are a smash hit! To celebrate, they go to the rooftop at the Follies. Nadine hears about their success and crafts a clever plan. But first, she has to perform “The Girl on the Magazine Cover,” one of many songs glorifying cover girls.
Richard Beavers sings to several pretty girls (some of whom were also hat models at the beginning of the film).
Then it’s on to cover girls posing in giant magazine covers.
Before we get a creepy twin visual. I think the “painter” might be the same actor who played the “pianist” way back at Hannah and Don’s first rehearsal.
Irving Berlin got to meet these ladies on set:
And finally, Nadine herself in Harper’s Bazaar.
It all reminds me of the big production number in Cover Girl (1944) starring Rita Hayworth:
Nadine emerges from her magazine cover for a genteel dance with a giant red fan and a bunch of men in white tie. You can watch it here.
Her dress is a stunning ombre, feathered concoction with diamond straps. It looks a little sad on the mannequin, but Miller makes it glorious.
Nadine puts her plan into action. She returns to the dance floor and publicly asks Don to dance with her. The song is “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” of course. Hannah watches, worried, and eventually flees the restaurant. It sure looks as though Don still has feelings for Nadine.
Fun fact: Miller, who was 5’7 to Astaire’s 5’9, switches from heels to flats between the “Magazine” number and this dance so that she is a more appropriate height for Astaire. There would not have been time in reality–she barely has a moment to remove her tiara between performances–but that’s movie magic for you!
Hannah flees to the bar where Don found her. She talks to the bartender, and then sings a very sad song called “Better Luck Next Time” about how Don is the only man for her–there isn’t going to be a “next time.” It’s a very poignant scene, brought to life brilliantly by Garland.
She finds Don waiting for her at her apartment, but she refuses to let him in. Ah, dear. All seems lost.
The next morning, which happens to be Easter, a purposefully tired and pale Hannah gets a visit from Johnny. Their conversation sparks an idea, and off she flies to win Don back!
Gifts start arriving at Don’s apartment, including a top hat and a live rabbit…remember how Don tried to win Nadine by sending her Easter-themed presents? This time, it’s Hannah smothering Don with bunnies and hats.
Hannah waltzes into the room in her white dress and pink gloves as though their fight didn’t happen. She takes a look at Don in his Easter hat, and winks. It’s my favorite moment.
And then of course the obligatory song n’ dance to express that everything is indeed sunny and bright between them…
…before they stroll down the Avenue to the strains of “Easter Parade!” There’s even a proposal!
The camera pulls back to show us “Fifth Avenue” stocked with over 700 extras for this scene. Fun fact: Although the other exterior scenes were filmed on existing sets, MGM built a 1912-style “Easter Parade Street” just for this film. It was about two blocks long, and they used it for the “Easter Parade” scenes. After the movie was finished, the street was moved to the “New York Streets” section of the backlot.
Another fun fact: the song “Easter Parade” includes the lyrics “the photographers will snap us, and you’ll find that you’re in the Rotogravure.” “Rotogravure” is a printing system used to print magazines, but it also referred to the inserts in newspapers and magazines with photographs of special events and people. So a celebrity team like Hannah and Hewes in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue would have appeared in the Rotogravure. And when this movie was made, people would have gotten the reference!
After all the casting issues and other delays, this movie missed an Easter opening, and instead premiered on July 8, 1948. It cost about three million dollars to make, but raked in almost seven million just in its initial release! That made it MGM’s top grossing picture of 1948. It also won the Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of a Musical).
Bosley Crowther at The New York Times found the story “slim” but “…since the song and dance routines are plentiful and varied in tempo and design the picture runs its close to two-hour course with only an occasional slip from high to low gear.”
“Fred Astaire, who has no peer, is dancing at the top of his form and let’s hope that he’ll never again talk about retiring as he did after Blue Skies…Although Judy Garland gets the top billing, she also gets stiff competition from the long-legged Ann Miller, who does an especially graceful ballroom dance with the master. Miss Garland is a competent trouper, nimble on her feet and professionally sound vocally, but somehow we feel that Miss Miller pairs better with Astaire.” That’s a sound, but obvious conclusion. Of course the professional, brilliant dancer Ann Miller dances better with Astaire.
But I love spunky, earnest Garland next to the seen-it-all, cynical Astaire. Their comic routines are especially wonderful, and even Crowther agrees, noting that “A Couple of Swells” is “one of the best numbers in the show.”
Crowther concludes that “Easter Parade may not strike the perfect balance between song-dance interludes and story, but it’s an appealing show just the same.” It is indeed! Here’s the trailer–enjoy!
As always, thanks for reading! For more, follow me on Twitter, tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook, and you can buy this great musical here.
Great review as always, and terrific photos. I love the detail you put into your posts which show a lot of research.
I love Easter Parade and will see it on the big screen for the first time this Easter weekend.
Thank you, Vienna! I do put a lot of time and effort into the posts so I am glad you think it shows! Have fun watching Easter Parade on the big screen!
Holy smokes! You never fail to deliver the goods, kid. Thanks again.
Thanks, Charles! You made my day!
Love that Shakin’ the Blues number. This is probably the only Fred Astaire movie where the best dance in the film doesn’t involve him.
Awful fact: in a TCM interview, Ann Miller said that a year or so before filming, she was in a horrible marriage. She was several months pregnant when her husband threw her down the stairs and broke her back. She had to audition for Easter Parade doing a dance number in a steel brace. I can’t imagine the pain.
She also mentioned that sometime before the film, she dated Louis B Mayer and he proposed to her. She turned him down and he tried kill himself with sleeping pills that very night. Must have been awkward around the MGM commissary.
I agree–“Shakin’ the Blues” is my favorite, too! I know, it’s so sad to learn about Miller’s personal struggles before and as she made this film. Mayer was very infatuated with young Miss Miller…But she said he was always a gentleman…Thanks for your comment, as always!
What an amazing article! I’ve seen this movie a zillion times, but thanks to your diligent research I watched it again with fresh eyes and renewed appreciation. Thank you!
Thank you! I’m so glad my article made you enjoy Easter Parade even more! Thanks for reading!
I love “Steppin’ Out,” but that diegetically impossible aspect always bothers me too!
Now I’m interested to know what that “darker” original script was like. Considering that Astaire’s character is already kind of a jerk for most of the movie we have now, I can’t imagine . . .
I know–how interesting! Thanks for stopping by!
This is what a blog post should be. WOW. Stopped by here while researching “Couple of Swells,” and simply could not leave until I’d read the whole thing. Very generous research on behalf of your readers, and careful writing as well…
Thanks so much!
Wow, thank you! This made my day! I am so glad you enjoyed my post and like what I’m doing! I pour a lot of time and effort into my blog, and I absolutely love doing it. Comments like this one mean a lot!
One of my fav musicals. It is not a masterpiece but it is close. Ann Miller in her yellow dress is amazing
Is the dress Judy wears in the scene they fond out Haha and hewes gets thier own show the same dress she wears in the final scene of in the good old summer time?
I don’t think so because it looks like the SUMMERTIME dress doesn’t have a dark skirt, but they do have similar tops!
Thanks so much. This has long been one of my favourite films, and so I already know a lot about it, but you’ve managed to give me a new perspective on a beloved classic!
Thank you! So glad I could give you something new about a beloved movie!