Easter Parade (1948)

Easter Parade“Easter Parade” is a veritable showcase of talent: Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Irving Berlin, Ann Miller… need I say more?

There are many memorable scenes in this movie. One such scene is at the opening of the movie, where we see Fred, who plays Don Hewes, a famous dancer of his time, strolling through the streets of his town and buying gifts for his sweetheart, who is also his dancing partner. Happy as can be, he loads the arms of his gift carriers, while unbeknownst to him, his sweetheart is signing a contract and leaving their act. In this particular scene, Fred sees a rabbit he really wants to buy. Unfortunately, a little boy has sighted that same rabbit. Fred has to dazzle the boy with his dancing, and manages to draw his attention away to other toys – namely, drums. One can’t help thinking the boy’s mother would have preferred the rabbit! Nonetheless, Fred dances amazingly here. The absolute ease with which he dances still leaves me speechless.

To this day, I have not seen anyone dance as gracefully and as effortlessly as Fred Astaire, and this scene shows why. Every other tap dancer I’ve seen struggled through difficult movements, while Fred lightly tosses them at the viewer, nonchalantly, as if to say, “Look, it’s no big deal, I’m just enjoying myself…” Wow!

Ann Miller plays her usual role of hard-working girl, and her legs take center-stage in one of the movie’s big numbers. I think she manages to show her legs in most, if not all of the movies where she acts, but nowhere as prominently as in Kiss Me Kate (1953). I wonder if she wanted to do that, or the directors pushed her to do it. Peter Lawford also reprises his usual role of the time, that of the English pal, and does a great job at it, too.

Check out the trumpet player in the scene where Judy sings “That’s why I wish-igan I was in Michigan”. He can’t help smiling as Judy stands next to him. He’s starstruck, and it’s pretty funny.

In the scene where Fred tests out Judy as his dancing partner, Judy quips “I’m never sure” when he asks her whether she knows her left foot from her right, then goes on to explain why. When she was little, her doctor advised her family to force her to write with her right hand, even though she was left-handed. You might think that’s just a funny line, but it’s true, and it really wasn’t that funny for the children who were beaten and forced to use their right hands.

Another truly funny scene is when Fred asks Judy (the future “Juanita”) to walk ahead while on the street, so he could see whether men would notice her. The poor Judy tries saying hello to them, only to be ignored ruthlessly, until she makes the funniest face! Suddenly, everyone takes notice of her! To me, this is one of the most hilarious movie moments ever, and ranks right up there with the face that Cary Grant makes in the ending scene of Charade (1963).

Their first dance together as Hewes and Juanita is a disaster, and is worth watching for the wonderful counterpoint that it presents. There’s Fred, being truly professional, looking great, and thrown constantly off balance and out of poise by Judy’s confused prancing. And let’s not forget the flying feathers! The stage is filled with them. Judy ends up looking like a mad mother hen, turning out and looking for her chicks, while Fred, the elegant rooster, is ignored and stepped on. Wonderful, just wonderful!

I couldn’t find out the name of the frustrated head waiter at the restaurant featured in the movie. He’s snubbed not once, but twice, by Fred, Ann Miller and Peter Lawford, when they leave the restaurant without dining. His facial expressions and gestures are great fun to watch.

Fred’s “Steppin’ Out” number is the most interesting and difficult one in the movie. Besides the coreography, which is complicated enough, Fred does something amazing here. When you watch the scene, you wonder why it’s raised by about 2 inches halfway down its depth. Fred and the dancers have to watch out for that ledge, and it just doesn’t make sense, until something amazing happens at its end. The camera angle changes suddenly, and Fred starts moving in slow motion while the dancers in the background continue through at a normal pace. It is then that we realize the raised floor was used to delineate between the two shots, which were superimposed to create this wonderful effect. Today, this might not seem like much, but back then, this was amazing stuff. It’s similar to the special effects used by Fred in the Bojangles dance of Swing Time (1936).

Finally, it’s wonderful to watch the Fred and Judy’s vagabond dance. They’re dressed in the funniest outfits, and they play the roles of two “well-to-do” tramps who would like to make it to the town’s upper crust social events, but have no transportation. Ligia and I were rolling in laughter on our couch as we watched this. Judy’s got the ugliest wig, and they both have one of their front teeth blacked out. Come to think of it, it reminds me of Cary Grant’s wig in I Was a Male War Bride (1949). It does my heart good to see a number like this. It’s just wonderful!

Easter Parade is a wonderful movie, made memorable by the amazing coreography, music, and the chemistry between the actors who play in it – all true masters of their craft.

(This review has also been published at BlogCritics.)