Easter Parade Review

When his dancing partner Nadine (Ann Miller) walks out on him to star in her own show, she leaves Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) with 6 months of engagements to fulfil alone. Taking to the bar to drown his sorrows, Don plays down the significance of Nadine’s departure, telling his buddy Johnny (Peter Lawford) that he could pick any girl out of a chorus line and make her as big a star. The girl he picks is Hannah Brown (Judy Garland), a singer in that very bar. It’s Easter Sunday in New York and Nadine is turning heads as she promenades down the street with all the other ladies in their finest Easter bonnets. Don promises Hannah that in a year’s time it will be Hannah who is causing a stir on Fifth Avenue. But it won’t be as easy as he thinks – Nadine’s star is still rising and there are romantic entanglements that haven’t yet been ironed out.

It’s a storyline that has become more familiar through Funny Face and My Fair Lady right up to Pretty Woman as Don metaphorically lifts Hannah up off the streets, buys her clothes and promises to fulfil all her dreams, while simultaneously fulfilling the male fantasy of moulding a woman to his own needs. Easter Parade doesn’t follow through on this premise and is a little bit more wishy-washy than any of those films, settling for a rather simpler and more wholesome playing out of events. It’s a thin storyline, nothing really more than is needed to showcase the seventeen Irving Berlin musical numbers – seven new songs and ten classics. The romantic complications aren’t too complicated and there is no real heartbreak either, just a few mild bruises to the ego. While Judy Garland can pull off the feisty underdog with some conviction (despite the rather cheesy dialogue she is saddled with), Astaire really doesn’t have the weight or authority of Rex Harrison or even Richard Gere needed to make his grooming of Garland’s character work. But, by heck, he can dance and that more than makes up for it. The opening sequence of Astaire doing his Easter shopping is followed by the spectacular sequence in the toyshop for “Drum Crazy” - so fluid it gives the impression of being a single shot. Astaire continues to shine throughout, even though he had already officially retired before agreeing to star in this film as a replacement for Gene Kelly.

Unfortunately, Fred Astaire does dance better with Ann Miller in the film than he does with Garland, and it’s understandable that her character’s nose is put out of joint when Don dances with Nadine to “It Only Happens When I Dance With You” – the key romantic song in the film – with flowing ease and a true sense of chemistry that is not evident in his routines with Garland. It could be argued that this is perhaps the point of the scene – that how well they work together isn’t the issue so much as the feeling that lies beneath it. Unfortunately, like Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, as far as I’m concerned there’s little credibility in the romantic attraction, but the music goes a little way towards making you want to believe it.

This is a musical of course and a lot of the success or failure of the film must rest on Irving Berlin’s compositions and although there are a couple of classics, overall they are not outstanding. “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” with it’s wonderful ragtime jazz rhythms is the film’s centrepiece, but it’s a showcase only for Astaire, not Garland and Astaire. Other than the “Alabama Choo-Choo” audition song, “A Couple of Swells” is the only full Garland and Astaire routine in the film (there is the vaudeville montage, but it’s hardly memorable), and while it’s a bit of a standard now and a well-known routine, I can’t help but agree with Nadine’s maid assessment that their tramp routine lacks the glamour and prestige of the best musical tradition. Some of the other songs in the film are rather cheesy in setting and in their rhyming – “I’m just a fella, a fella with an umbrella”, “I was born in Michigan, and I wish and wish aga’n”, but these songs are differentiated from the show songs and do actually sound like someone was making them up as they went along, arising spontaneously out of the scene – “I love the piano/I love to hear somebody play on the piano/It carries me away”. They are not great songs, but simple and effective and thoughtfully integrated into the storyline. And that’s about as good a summary as you could expect for Easter Parade - simple and effective - an uncomplicated romance, plenty of colour and glamour and some entertaining routines. It’s not the best musical ever made, but it’s a classic by virtue of its Hollywood star-power and its ability to thoroughly entertain almost 60 years after it was made.

Easter Parade is released in the United States as a 2-disc Special Edition. You should however be aware that there are differences between the US and Canadian editions of this Region 1 disc, so care should be taken about which edition you are purchasing. The Canadian release, reviewed here, is reduced to a single edition, losing the Judy Garland documentary on Disc 2, presumably for licensing reasons. By all accounts, the Garland documentary on second disc is certainly a fine extra feature and it may be worth seeking out the US edition for that, but there are plenty of other extra features on the single disc edition directly related to Easter Parade. The disc supplied for review by Loaded247 is the single-disc edition.

They don’t make colours like this anymore – the Technicolor tones in Easter Parade are vivid and eye-poppingly bright. The film looks simply spectacular – everything a good Hollywood musical should be. However, it’s not quite as close to perfect as Warner’s restored Singin’ In The Rain DVD. Colours tend to fluctuate ever so slightly, reds warming and cooling – an inevitable consequence of the original 3-strip Technicolor process. Also evident, if you look closely enough, are mild edge-enhancement and macro-blocking artefacts creating additional flicker in the image – this could be a consequence of squeezing onto the one disc a number of the extra features that were on Disc 2 of the US edition. None of these problems however are glaringly obvious or intrusive. There is a low level of grain visible, but little sign of print damage and the level of detail in the image is breathtaking. The overall impression certainly is of a striking, colourful film.

The audio track is presented in the original Dolby Digital 1.0 mono, channelled through the centre speaker. There has been no attempt thankfully to remix or artificially enhance the sound. The original track performs admirably with a pleasant tone and a reasonable dynamic range. Singing voices are particularly warm and vibrant. There is a low level of background hiss and it strains slightly on some high notes, but it doesn’t dampen the overall tone of the track. The Canadian edition also includes a French Dolby Digital 1.0 dub.

English hard of hearing subtitles are included, as are French and Spanish subtitles on this edition.

Commentary by Ava Astaire McKenzie and John Fricke
Garland biographer John Fricke and Astaire’s daughter Ava, provide an amiably chatty commentary track. Fricke is full of facts and interesting observations about the old studio system and the people involved in the making of the film, Astaire contributes with anecdotes and little known facts about her father and his filmmaking associates. For a film like this, this is a fabulous, worthwhile commentary track.

Easter Parade: On The Avenue (34:20)
A documentary covering the history of the making of the film, this includes contributions from Fricke, Astaire McKenzie, screenwriter Sidney Sheldon and the wonderful Ann Miller.

Mr. Monotony Outtake (21:16)
A three minute routine, this is shown here through numerous run-throughs . Garland never looks totally at ease here, and the song isn’t great – you’ll be quite sick of it by the end of this – but it looks as good as anything in the film proper.

Audio Vault
This contains an obviously scripted Radio Promo (4:24) interview with Fred Astaire, and a 3/11/1951 Screen Guild Playhouse Broadcast version of Easter Parade with Astaire, Garland, Lawford and Monica Lewis (standing in for Ann Miller). It’s a little bit rough and the songs particularly sound a bit wobbly, but it’s a fascinating document.

Theatrical Trailer (1:56)The trailer promises “The Happiest Musical Ever Made” and it’s not far wrong.

Easter Parade isn’t the greatest musical ever made, but it’s an entertaining one, a colourful spectacular of comedy, glamour, romance and music – an all-singing, all-dancing entertainment with talented and charismatic star-power the like of which is rarely seen today (compare Garland and Astaire here to Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge for example and there is really no contest). Films like this will continue to be enjoyed for many years and deservedly so while they still look as good as Easter Parade does on this fabulous (and inexpensive) DVD edition from Warner. Fans will want the 2-disc edition for the additional Judy Garland material and probably slightly better transfer, but the single edition is inexpensive and almost as impressive.

7 out of 10
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out of 10

Last updated: 25/05/2018 11:06:19

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