Many are already familiar with the classic 1948 film Easter Parade, recently released for the first time on Blu-ray. The movie musical, set in 1912, revolves around Broadway star Don Hewes (Fred Astaire, Top Hat), whose dancing partner, Nadine (Ann Miller, You Can’t Take It With You), decides to split off on her own. Frustrated, Don grabs a gal from the chorus named Hannah Brown (Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz) and tries to shape her into a suitable replacement.
Easter Parade is a light-hearted, fun romp. There is plenty of humor, perhaps than in other entries in the genre, and lots of good old Irving Berlin music, including such classics as “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Shakin’ the Blues Away,” “Happy Easter,” and the title song, “Easter Parade.”
Sure, there is conflict; Hannah doesn’t do very well when Don is dictating her every move to her. But these are played more for laughs than for a meaty story. And, in keeping with the happy tone, Don eventually embraces who Hannah is, letting her do her own thing, and she soars, becoming the best partner he could ask for. It’s kind of an early version of the hot-guy-makes-a-geek-girl-pretty-and-popular-then-learns-a-lesson-from-her tale that became so standard decades later.
There is something to be said about movie musicals of this era. Perhaps they can be considered fluff, as the only drama comes from the slightly rocky relationship road to a happy, romantic ending, but sometimes that’s just what’s needed to curl up with on a lazy afternoon. The dark, twisty fare filling our theaters today may often involve high quality writing, but viewers don’t always want to be depressed by the material. Easter Parade, by contrast, will make you smile and improve your mood.
Just because the story is a little cheesy, and mostly designed to let the cast sing and dance as much as possible, doesn’t mean that the acting isn’t good, especially because they excel in the singing and the dancing. Garland is a veteran by this point, and knows how to deliver. Astaire is even further into his career, and the two together are terrific. Plus, the supporting cast includes Rat Pack member Peter Lawford (The Thin Man, Ocean’s Eleven) as Johnny, Don’s best friend.
Easter Parade does look pretty grainy, even in this new release. It is an old film, and it definitely shows its age, and in a few spots the color isn’t consistent. But taking that into account, overall it’s not bad. It definitely has more detail and richer colors than are available in past releases, and the flaws aren’t enough to take one out of the viewing experience.
The sound is better restores than the picture, in my opinion. Sure, it does still come across as from another era from time to time, but you can clearly hear every note of Berlin’s score, and the mix between dialogue, music, and other noises is handled well.
There are quite a few extras included on this new release. There’s a commentary by Ava Astaire McKenzie, Fred’s granddaughter, and John Fricke, an Oz historian, which may seem a little strange, given that these people had nothing to do with the film, but it’s interesting. Also included is a theatrical trailer, radio promo, and an hour-long audio-only broadcast from 1951. Plus, outtakes and dailies from the cut song “Mr. Monotony,” a featurette on the film, and an American Masters special about Garland are also included.
Easter Parade is a good selection for those who love mid-20th Century Hollywood movies. It’s got the weight of the names behind it, and is thoroughly entertaining. With nice extras and a somewhat better picture, it’s especially nice for those who do not yet own this title, but there are a couple of bonuses for fans who are upgrading.
Easter Parade is available now on Blu-ray.