Thursday, July 7, 2016

Movie Review: In the Good Old Summertime (1949)


In the Good Old Summertime (1947)
starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson

And here is the 1st remake of The Shop Around the Corner (my review here)!

Once, many, many moons ago when I was quite young, I did watch In the Good Old Summertime and I remember not liking it, but also, I remember not having the intellectual development to discern my exact reasoning.

To be fair, it's a tough act to follow Jimmy Stewart. I wouldn't want to do it, ever, and I don't envy Van Johnson for having to make the attempt. So, I'll try to be kind about what didn't work and be honest about what did work for me.

First, I'm a little shocked at how very close of a remake this is to the original; it has a lot of the same dialogue. I'm not sure what was wrong with the idea of placing the remake in 1949 when it was made, but they chose to plop it into the turn of the century instead, which almost worked, but not quite. More on that later.

The basics of the plot are these: still a little shop, still handwritten letters signed "Dear Friend," still a guy and a gal who can't stand each other in real life, but are writing those letters in private. The differences are that the shop is not in Budapest but Chicago, it's not 1940 but 1900, and the shop owner's wife is not having an affair because he isn't even married yet.

Van Johnson plays Andrew Larkin and Judy Garland plays Veronica Fisher.


Next, I love Judy Garland, and I love Van Johnson. But not together. Judy possessed such an intense film presence that she required a leading man who could stand up to her vivacity. Van Johnson is NOT that man, I'm sorry to say. MGM would have been better served to have either used Judy and a different leading man or Van and a different leading lady. Because a different pairing either way would have worked. The two just don't mesh well, and I was never convinced that they could possibly fall in love.

It's hard to love a guy who brings Judy to tears. Jimmy Stewart managed to be gruff, but still lovable. Van just ended up off-putting in his scenes with Judy, poor guy. Again, with the not envying him having to remake a Jimmy Stewart classic.

Now for costuming. This is the turn of the century, as in 1900, as in still mostly Victorian. What happened with the costuming for In the Good Old Summertime?! Judy wears skirts that are mid-calf and flowing a lot of the time whereas the women around her have skirts to their ankles. The best and most accurate gown she ever wore was at the very beginning in what was probably the best scene where Van Johnson trips her and proceeds to accidentally destroy her hat, parasol, and ends taking her skirt with him . . . caught in the wheel of his bicycle. It's a hilarious scene and the outfit was Victorian.


Then you have this gown. It's a 1949 red special, honestly, with a full, flowing skirt that only goes mid-calf and would have been absolutely SCANDALOUS at a party in 1900. My goodness, how she would have been shunned for wearing that get-up. It's lovely, don't get me wrong, but in completely the wrong setting.

One of the things that did really work was the casting of Spring Byington and S. Z. Sakall as Nellie and Otto Oberkugen (the owner of the music shop where Veronica and Andy are employed). They added a charmed element to the film that I hadn't anticipated and I ended up investing more in their romantic relationship that had developed over 20 years than I was in the biting, cross give-and-take between Andy and Veronica.

Also, who should show up but Buster Keaton. My only experience with the man is Benny and Joon where Johnny Depp's character styles himself after Buster. So I didn't even know Buster was in this film until the credits came on the screen. He's goofy, crazy, and he planned out the slapstick bits in the film. I guess you could say that he added a bit of levity.


Now comes my question of why a musical?

I don't mind musicals, but I honestly felt that the singing detracted from the plot with this one. On the plus side the singing mostly had to do with Veronica's job, working in a music store and all that, but I do believe that more could have been done without all that singing. And why have Judy sing 2 songs at Otto and Nellie's engagement party? Still, that's my personal preference and nothing more.

I really think In the Good Old Summertime would have been adorable . . . had it been set in 1949. In fact, I would have LOVED seeing it set in the era in which it was filmed. There's even a good chance that Judy and Van might have worked up better romantic synergy had the era been different. As it was, you have him, a traditional fuddy duddy of 1900, and her, a woman who sings "I Don't Care" at the top of her lungs at an engagement party. I realllllly don't see that ever working.

Still, this film was considered a massive box office success by MGM. Fans loved it. This was the era of the nonsensical musical like Singin' in the Rain and others of its ilk, so I can't expect In the Good Old Summertime to be anything different. But it was a bizarre reminder to me why I prefer movies made between 1930 and 1945.

In the end, In the Good Old Summertime doesn't live up to its predecessor, The Shop Around the Corner. But I can still see why people love it.

Although, can anyone tell me why they spend 70% of the film in winter and the movie is called In the Good Old Summertime? I'm pretty sure they could have chosen a different song for the title of the movie!

If you do give it a look-see, isn't little Liza Minnelli ADORABLE at the end (not that the scene advances the plot in any way, but still)? ❤

6 comments:

  1. Haha, I really appreciate the section where you talk about the inconsistent costumes. That sort of thing always bothers me to no end. This doesn't sound like the kind of version I'd like so much either. Unessessary musicals isn't my thing, and I like Judy Garland alright, but the male lead is more important to me. ;) Buster Keaton being in this is interesting though! I've never seen him in anything but I heard a bit about him and have always wanted to see him since. One of his older films would probably be a better idea though. Great review Carissa! :)

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    1. I admit the singing bored me. I love musicals when they're full-fledged musicals, but the span of time when regular movies were also musicals does test my patience sometimes.

      I'm curious about Buster Keaton too, now! Apparently he'd been banned from the studio for over a decade so this was sort of a comeback for him. So weird! And I did like him, rather along the same lines of liking Charlie Chaplin.

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  2. I have to be in the right "mood" for a musical. Much as I respect so many being considered classics, the spontaneous bursts-into-song aren't always "my thing." Either way, I'll have to try and see this one sometime. I did enjoy some of Judy Garland's other well-known musicals, so it might be fun to see this one too. :)

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    1. I know exactly what you mean. And when I am in the mood for a musical, I want it to be one that's all out, like State Fair or Hello, Dolly!. Not a movie that could just as easily have done without the singing.

      Judy Garland is stunning though, as always. I've yet to see her give a bad performance, and every time I see I just love her all the more.

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  3. Awww! I love this movie. I really love all of the versions of this story (Jimmy Stewart's Shop Around the Corner, Good Ole Summertime, and You've Got Mail). It really is interesting how similar the screenplay is. I'm assuming they made it a musical since they had Judy starring in it. The part about the costumes had me laughing - I have no idea how I never really thought about that before! Her red dress is totally not early 20th century lol. They really should've gone for a modern version, definitely would've made me sense. :D

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    1. Oh yes, it would have been brilliant if it had been set in its own era, and I likely would have loved it! I'd even forgotten that it was a turn of the century setting until I watched it again. That red dress just threw off my memory so completely and I've learned a lot about historic clothing since my first viewing so I noticed the glaring inaccuracies. Sort of sad, really.

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