Often considered the outlier of the Mickey and Judy films, Girl Crazy is the rare feature adapted from a successful play (Babes in Arms was significantly changed from its original stage incarnation). With original Broadway stars Ginger Rogers and Allen Kearns replaced by our two crazy kids, Girl Crazy, by veering off the pre-set track wins audiences over better than the Mickey and Judy formula films.
Danny Churchill, Jr. (Rooney), the son of a prominent businessman, is forced to travel to the dusty Cody College to change his playboy ways. After failing as a tenderfoot, Danny’s only desire to stay comes from the dean’s daughter, Ginger (Garland). But when the school is threatened with closure, Danny and Ginger will have to band together to save it.
You realize Girl Crazy isn’t the standard Mickey and Judy feature from the credits, which state Norman Taurog as director, replacement to previous helmer Busby Berkeley after Garland – who had nothing but contempt for the director – finally demanded it was him or her. Taurog had just worked with Garland on Presenting Lily Mars (also 1943) and worked with Rooney on both Boys’ Town films. Berkeley was an impressive choreographer, of that there’s no doubt, and he did direct this film’s “I Got Rhythm” number, but his directorial work skewed to the unfocused and bloated, as evidenced by the nearly two-hour runtime of Strike Up the Band (1940) and Babes on Broadway (1941). Taurog takes the preceding films various pieces – familial aspirations, the need for personal freedom, a big conflict that results in a show – and nicely ties them up in 90-minutes.
In previous reviews Mickey and Judy were nicely placed in the box of “loveable scamp” and “lovesick sweetheart,” respectively. Rogers and Kearnes already created the characters’ personalities on-stage, so Fred Finklehoffe – another alum – decided to stick with the characters as written; Ginger Rogers makes an appearance, by proxy, through the name of Garland’s character. Rooney’s Danny remains the loveable rouge, who politely goes out to nightclubs with showgirls, all aboveboard of course…no indiscriminate smooching in these films.
But where Rooney was previously the predominant focus, Garland’s Ginger holds the more fascinating character in this venture. The “city mouse turned country mouse” plot continues to this day, and the main focus of Danny’s plotline is to meet Judy. Whether he grows up as a result of attending Cody College, or because the character finds a way of bridging the divide between his playboy lifestyle and the college, is irrelevant. However it yields some fun as Danny rides a wild stallion and acclimates to country life. Despite Cody College’s unknown location in the West, a few subtle pokes at the Western genre are found, particularly where Native Americans are concerned; Danny mimics the tragic walk of a painted Native American on a sign that advertises “Cody College, 8 miles.” Later Danny tries to talk down to some Natives who have driven him home, only for them to respond in perfect English.
No matter what, though, Judy Garland’s Ginger makes Girl Crazy so good. Though the title is referred to Danny’s girl juggling, you could say everyone at Cody College is “girl crazy” for Ginger. After two films where Garland plays the boring good girl sitting on the sidelines waiting for male acknowledgement, Garland gets a chance to take an active role akin to her performance in The Harvey Girls (1946). We’re introduced to Ginger as she fixes her own car, and from there she’s one of the guys – invited to sing with them on their camp-out, swooned over, and generally treated like a princess. Ginger’s birthday bash has her surrounded by the Cody College boys who present her with a piano, culminating in a beautiful dance sequence to “Embraceable You,” with Garland dancing with future director Charles Walters. Danny becomes the pie-eyed one trying to convince Judy of his own worthiness, and she doesn’t let him off lightly. “Could You Use Me,” a song that involves some great car stuntwork, has Ginger melodiously turn down Danny.
Danny’s return to the big city, and his attempt to get a show together for Cody College’s continued upkeep may provide a conflict, but it’s too formulaic in a film that, up to this point, has placed the characters in roles incongruous to their previous personas. Be on the lookout for June Allyson as a specialty performer at the beginning.
Though I enjoyed the previous two features, Girl Crazy gripped me from beginning to end because it wasn’t the characters I’d watched in two films already. Girl Crazy works best when it’s the anti-Mickey and Judy film, putting the characters on opposite ends of the table. Judy, in particular, is stunning and allures.
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