Darlings, Jesus just doesn’t want us to recap The Harvey Girls. We went to two videostores. Neither had it – and the film student working behind the counter at the second one informed us that it hadn’t even been released on DVD! Stupid clerk. Some day, darlings.
But Jesus knew what he was doing because it’s MUCH more appropriate to rip on Easter Parade the week before Easter, so let’s get started! It’s what Jesus wants!
Our story opens with Fred Astaire and the fabulous Ann Miller as world-famous hoofers, “Nadine & Hewes.” It’s the day before Easter in 1911 and Fred arrives loaded with gifts for the entitled little bitch. She allows him a cheek kiss before informing him that she’s breaking up the act. Now, if you’re Fred Astaire and your girl is telling you she’s outta here, what do you do?
She swoons – what woman wouldn’t? – but she still tells him “No dice.” He’s Fred Astaire, so he stomps off petulantly, but not before Peter Lawford (back when he was gorgeous) shows up.
He meets up with Fred at what passes for a strip joint in 1911. Fred Astaire was always a joy to watch, but whenever he had to play it a little rough – smoking, drinking, “Dames. What are they good for?” – it always came off a little silly. It’s not that he was effeminate at all but you have to admit, he was the very picture of “effete”. Stick to the spats and top hats, Fred. It’s what you were born for.
Anyway, in a drunken moment of “I’ll show HER!” He brags that he can pick any lowly girl out of that chorus and make her as big a star as Nadine ever was.
Also, meet plot.
And of course, Ann Miller is there looking fabulous. This bitch knew how to make an entrance. Judy is agape at the sight of her but Fred tells her that when he’s done with her she’ll be even more fabulous than Ann. Color us skeptical.
The next day Fred meets Ann for lunch. Just look at her. Fabulous. Ann is pissed and claims all her friends are laughing at her because “that little seamstress” he’s got dancing for him is ripping off her schtick.
From now on, whenever a woman pisses us off, we’re going to refer to her as “that little seamstress.” “That little seamstress got my order wrong!” “Did you see what that little seamstress did? She gave me the finger!”
Meanwhile, the little seamstress meets up with Peter Lawford. She politely stands there and doesn’t laugh at him as he painfully attempts to warble his way through the one song he’s required to sing. He’s nuts about her but she can’t bring herself to be with such an untalented lunk.
And while it’s always fun (and easy) to make fun of the clothes, we’re going to go further out on that limb and declare that not everything that Irving Berlin wrote was a masterpiece. Seriously, “Snookie-Ookums?” Painful.
It’s astonishing to watch her in a piece like this because she’s only 26 years old and not only is she dancing with Fred Astaire in a fairly intricate and fast-paced tap routine, not only is she holding her own step for step, but she’s also BELTING out a song at the top of her lungs at the same time. It’s really something when FRED ASTAIRE is not the one you’re paying attention to in a dance routine.
Good god, that dress is ugly. Judy wasn’t conventionally pretty but she certainly wasn’t ugly. Why is it that when Hollywood was at the very apex of its glamour-making skills, those legions of lisping costumers and makeup people could never really make her look good – or look her age?
Ann shows up in yet another jaw-dropping outfit and pays the little seamstress a backhanded compliment. We worship Ann. Dimwitted Judy puts two and two together and realizes that the lady they saw at the Easter Parade was Fred’s former partner and that he didn’t see fit to inform Judy of that. She’s pissed.
Later that night, she goes on a date with Peter and instead of sleeping with him (which, well, look at him. It’s the only thing that makes sense) tells him that she’s in love with Fred. Okay, you know what? We have to slap you now. Fred’s great but he’s old enough to be your father AND he’s still in love with someone else. You ain’t the prettiest girl on the lot and you’ve got the hotness of a twentysomething Peter Lawford trying to get into your crinolines. Then again, Judy wasn’t exactly known for wise personal decisions.
Someday, we’re going to write a treatise on the crazy hats women wear in musicals. We propose that because there was so much sexual repression in these films, the outrageous hats are supposed to represent vaginas on top of their heads. It’s why so many of the men had walking sticks too.
Think about it.
And speaking of vaginas, Ann shakes hers all over the stage in another eye-popping dance routine “Shakin’ the Blues Away.” This is probably her most iconic performance on film. She looks stunning and the dancing is absolutely amazing. It kills us that there’s not one clip on YouTube from this film.
Anyway, Fred takes Judy to dinner and informs her that they have a new show opening. She’s all “But I wore this really ugly dress just for you!” And he’s all “Fine. Here.” Not exactly the most passionate kiss in the history of the silver screen.
So their new show opens and Fred treats us to another eye-popping dance routine in the also somewhat iconic “Steppin’ Out with my Baby” number. This number unfortunately bears the weight of too much cultural referencing and it’s virtually impossible to watch the sequence without thinking of Michael Jackson, who ripped it off from top to bottom in countless videos.
It’s interesting watching Astaire over half a century later. Unlike Gene Kelly, his style doesn’t always age well and a lot of his best work has a quaint feel to it which really isn’t fair, because when he pulls it out, he REALLY pulls it out. We’ll always be partial to Gene Kelly because his was a more modern, sexy, masculine approach to dance but there’s no denying that Fred, if he didn’t own the top spot (which many would claim he did), he at least shared it with Kelly. You can freeze frame any moment during this number and no matter what Fred is doing, his body is always perfectly arranged, composed even. Every limb, every joint, every digit – it’s all serving the act and it’s all in perfect position at all times.
Later they both sing the “Couple of Swells” number and we, little fags that we are, find this number really frustrating. We just want to travel back to 1948, take her aside and say “Look, your rival in this picture is Ann Fucking Miller, bitch. Fine, you want to let them stick you in ugly dresses for two hours, be our guests, but do NOT let them black out your teeth. Are you crazy?”
Whenever we feel less-than-pretty, a little Ann Miller swirls around in her heads, spewing maribou feathers and reminding us that if you’ve got the right attitude, men will fall at your feet.
The next morning (which is Easter), Judy’s really going for the Oscar by not wearing any makeup and Peter’s all “Holy shit, I wanted to tap THAT?” Scared of the prospect of actually having to follow through on his earlier declaration of love, he smacks her around a little (figuratively speaking) and knocks a little sense into her.
Except for Ann Miller, but then again, she probably got tagged by Peter Lawford and that’s not so bad, is it? Unless you’re Marilyn Monroe, but that’s another story.
Next week, there’s a bright golden haze on the meadow, bitches! It’s Oklahoma!