03 February 2008

The Harvey Girls

One of my favorite Judy Garland movies is The Harvey Girls. It also starred other familiar names such as Ray Bolger and Angela Lansbury. I've seen it at least five times and it never gets old for me. It is a perfect example of what I love in movie musicals.

The story is a fictionalized account of the opening of a new Harvey House restaurant in a frontier town, and the lives of the waitresses (Harvey Girls) that worked in it. Harvey Houses really existed; they were the first restaurant chain and in a way, an early version of fast food. The chain was started by Fred Harvey to provide quick and tasty food to railroad travelers during the short water stops that trains would take. Back in those days, the trains didn't have restaurant cars. People had to pack their own food or eat in dirty roadhouses that had rancid meat and stale coffee. Harvey Houses improved tourism in the western US by providing fresh food in a clean atmosphere, all served in time for you to eat before the train left. They employed young single girls and dressed them in black uniforms with starched white aprons to drive home the image of cleanliness and civility.

In the movie, Judy Garland plays a woman who goes west to the frontier town of Sandrock to marry someone she met in a lonely hearts ad. When that doesn't work out, she joins up with the Harvey Girls to earn some money. The Harvey Girls are setting up a brand-new Harvey House in this town, but it doesn't go smoothly. That's because the saloon girls, headed up by Angela Lansbury's character, see the Harvey House as competition. Matters are complicated further when the saloon owner, who seems to be Angela Lansbury's guy, falls for Judy Garland.

This movie combines so many elements that make it re-watchable for me.

--It was filmed in that glorious Technicolor that has fallen out of favor these days. The YouTube clip above doesn't do the cinematography justice.

--Along with the saturated colors, the costumes and hairstyles definitely satisfy me when I am in the mood for eye candy.

--Ray Bolger and Cyd Charisse both have wonderful dance numbers.

--Angela Lansbury is known to most of today's generation as sweet Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. It is fun to go back and see her in a not-so-gentle role.

Best of all, the movie is clean and has a happy ending. It is a movie that I can watch with my daughters without cringing. It is also an escape from the all-too-realistic movies of today. That's what makes me go back to The Harvey Girls again and again.
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