Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


PRESENTING LILY MARS (1943). Director: Norman Taurog.

"Peter Pan! Macbeth! The Follies!"

Lily Mars (Judy Garland) is a talented singer, but for some reason she decides to audition for Broadway producer John Thornway (Van Heflin) -- who comes from the same small town and whose father delivered her -- by doing a scene from Shakespeare, in which she stinks. Lily follows Thornway to New York, where he's staging a new show starring Isobel Rekay (Marta or Martha Eggerth). Is Lily a desperate and naive amateur or a coldly calculating, rather pushy worldling who knows full well what she's doing? In this simplistic movie in which the key to Broadway stardom is to become an annoying pest and vamp the producer, we're supposed to believe the former, but I'm not so sure. In any case, things don't work out so smoothly for Lily until the Hollywood happy ending. Presenting Lily Mars was originally a novel by that fine American writer Booth Tarkington, whose books Alice Adams and The Magnificent Ambersons, among others, were turned into pretty good movies. While I've read the first two excellent novels, I've not read Presenting Lily Mars, but it had to be better than this treacle, which is simply a standard Judy Garland Movie when it could have been a whole lot more. That being said, Lily Mars is by no means a bad movie, with Garland in her reasonably effective cutesy mode between child and adult, and Van Heflin, as good as ever, managing to play quite well with her.

The movie has many charming elements. The brother (Douglas Croft of the Batman serial) who steals and collects doorbells. The younger sisters who sob along with Judy/Lily whenever she's upset [they are a cute bunch]. In an early development Judy does a scene outside Thornway's home which causes some of his associates to think he knocked her up and abandoned her, and there's the eyebrow-raising scene when Thornway has playwright Owen Vail (Richard Carlson) stand in for Isobel in a love scene. When Owen keeps it up after the scene is over Thornway tells him to stop kidding around. "Who's kidding?" says Owen, in a scene meant as a joke but which probably caused some fluttering among nervous censors. [Lily watches all this wide-eyed and confused.] Connie Gilchrist [A Woman's Face] makes her mark as an ex-actress who does a number with Judy, who also nails "Tom the Piper" and "When I Look at You." My favorite scene has Isobel giving her black maid, Rosa (Lillian Yarbo of Between Us Girls), a hat that she no longer wants because Lily wears a copy of it. When Isobel sees the maid wearing it, she commands her to throw it out. Later both of them see a chimp wearing the hat, which infuriates Isobel even as the maid, having the last laugh, smiles behind her back.

Spring Byington is wonderful as Lily's mother, as is Ray McDonald as her boyfriend, whom she discards early on. Fay Bainter is also notable if a bit wasted as Thornway's mom. Bob Crosby and Tommy Dorsey also make appearances. Despite a fairly nice if unspectacular voice, Eggerth doesn't make much of an impression, which may be why she was hired -- this, after all, is a Judy Garland Movie and nobody better get more attention than her.

Verdict: Silly but enthusiastic twaddle with a dignified Heflin and energetic Garland. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

Miss Garland at her most manic, but also looking quite lovely. I prefer her MGM films with Rooney or Kelly to this one, though...your review is right ont he mark as usual!

William said...

Thank you! I basically watched it because I have always liked Van Heflin and was surprised how smoothly he fitted in with Garland.