For Me and My Gal, 1942, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, George Murphy. Directed by Busby Berkeley. B&W, 104 minutes.
It’s 1916, and vaudeville holds a prime spot in the world of entertainment. One of its top performers in Harry Palmer (Gene Kelly), and no one thinks higher of Harry than Harry himself. It’s in one small town that Harry finds himself sharing a stage with the team of Jimmy Metcalf (George Murphy) and Jo Hayden (Judy Garland). Both acts dream of performing at that ultimate theater for vaudevillians, The Palace.
Harry approaches Jo, and in his typically brash manner, proposes that the two work together. Jo is initially dismayed by Harry, but after he shows her some of his music and the two dance together, she comes to believe in the potential of their act. After talking to Jimmy, who says he wants to go out on his own, she does indeed pair up with Harry.
However, it’s Jimmy who achieves success while Harry and Jo struggle. In addition to their failing attempts to grow their act, Jo struggles with her love for Harry, who seems enchanted by another. It’s when Harry’s loyalty to Jo is tested by the other woman that he realizes he shares Jo’s love. The two plan to marry. Their luck has changed in love, and suddenly it’s also changed for their act. They are invited to play at The Palace.
But the war in Europe is raging, and war has a way of changing all plans. Due his some missteps on his part, it’s up to Harry to make their dreams come true.
For Me and My Girl marked a first for both its leading man and leading lady. It was Kelly’s film debut and Garland’s first major adult role. Kelly had established himself on Broadway, having starred in the production of Pal Joey to great acclaim. It was there he first earned his reputation for an unending search for perfection in his performances, particularly his dancing. It was also during his tenure on Pal Joey that he was offered a contract with MGM, although he eventually signed on with David O. Selznick instead. Selznick, however, had no projects to offer Kelly. Eventually, when MGM wanted to cast him in For Me and My Gal, Selznick agreed to loan Kelly to the studio and ultimately handed over his contract to them–at a decent price.
Kelly and Garland had first met when he was starring in Pal Joey and she invited him to join her and a few others for dinner after his performance. He was delighted to do so, of course. They ended up going to the Copacabana, where they danced and sang until early in the morning. Garland then asked her mother for permission to take a walk with Kelly. Her mother agreed, and the two walked through Central Park for about two hours (this was clearly a different era; it was relatively safe then to take such a walk in the middle of the night). The bond they established then carried through the making the For Me and My Gal, when Garland was Kelly’s biggest ally. He needed one, as he had frequent conflicts with director Busby Berkeley.
In previews, audiences didn’t respond well to the ending, in which Kelly and Garland’s characters end up together. They felt that Harry, Kelly’s character, was too arrogant and unpatriotic, while Jimmy, Murphy’s character, was honest and loyal. Producer Arthur Freed ordered three weeks of more shooting to make Harry a more sympathetic person.
For Me and My Gal received one Academy Award nomination, for Best Score. Kelly also won a Best Acting award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
This film is maudlin in parts and totally predictably in most, but the score and performances, particularly the onscreen chemistry between Kelly and Garland, make it worth watching. The sentimental nature of the story can be forgiven when put in perspective. Released in 1942, audiences responded well to patriotic themes. While it’s not the first musical to be recommended to classic movie fans, it is a film worth seeing.