Summer Stock, 1950, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Judy Garland, Gene Kelly. Directed by Charles Walters. Technicolor, 109 minutes.
Jane Falbury (Judy Garland) owns the family farm along with her sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven), although Abigail is seeking a career in show business. Much to Jane’s chagrin, she shows up one day with a song-and-dance troupe, led by Joe Ross (Gene Kelly). The performers plan to put on a show in the Falbury farm barn. Eventually, Jane is persuaded to allow them to continue, but insists they take on some chores while they’re there, something the company is ill equipped to do.
In the meantime, Jane’s weak-willed fiancé, Orville Wingait (Eddie Bracken) and his overbearing father are troubled by the idea of a performance on the Falbury farm, and fully intend to shut the whole thing down. But that’s nothing compared to the real problem the cast faces when Abigail, the show’s female lead, takes off without notice for an acting role on Broadway.
Suddenly, it’s up to Jane to save the day.
Summer Stock was originally intended as a reunion film for Garland and Mickey Rooney, but Rooney was no longer the draw he had been, so the studio replaced him with Kelly. It was the last thing Kelly wanted to do, but his loyalty to Garland, who had supported him early in his career, won out. The two had become friends during the production of For Me and My Gal, the first film for Kelly.
Production was plagued by Judy Garland’s state at the time. She was both emotionally and physically fragile, and struggled with the production schedule. At one point, producer Joe Pasternak went to Louis B. Mayer and suggested they scrap the film, something he believed Mayer would be glad to do. Mayer, however, surprised him by saying shutting down production and cutting their losses would cause irreparable harm to Garland’s career. She had done so much for the studio, he said, and it was time for them to support her and complete the film.
This was the last film Judy Garland did for MGM, and while production may have been difficult, it ended on a high note. Garland took some time off and retreated to Carmel, California, where she recovered emotionally and lost twenty-five pounds. Upon her return to MGM, studio executives asked her if she would be willing to do one more number. She said she would, but stipulated that the number be “Get Happy” and that she would only spend a week on it. Director Charles Walters later recalled that a mere three takes were required when shooting, a remarkable feat given the difficulties Garland had been dealing with throughout filming. “Get Happy” became a signature song for Garland.
Summer Stock is a fun film with a seasoned supporting cast doing exactly that, supporting the leads in their performance. While the plot may have been a bit outdated at the time, the movie has stood up over the years as one well worth the watch.