This article is presented as part of the 2nd Annual Peter Lawford Blogathon.
As I sat down to contemplate my options for this blogathon, there were of course, more than a few different choices. Sure, Peter Lawford is an actor who does bring a bit of … baggage…. thanks to a complicated personal life. However, when all is said and done, he had a screen career which lasted more than fifty years, taking him through a wide-variety of genres as the decades passed… and have I mentioned he was utterly adorable as he did it. From Easter Parade to Good News and Ocean’s 11 to On An Island With You… I’m a fan. I can’t help it!
As I think back on my film viewing life, Easter Parade is better known as my “Peter Lawford awakening”. I knew “of” Peter Lawford, but as I watched this iconic 1948 musical, this wasn’t the “Kennedy guy” I’d heard so much about. In fact, here’s a live look at me the first time I watched this movie:
Easter Parade follows dancer Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) who finds himself reeling after his partner Nadine (Ann Miller) decides she’s ready to go solo. In an effort to heal his bruised self-esteem, Hewes picks up a dancehall girl (Judy Garland) and vows to turn her into his new partner. Lawford plays Johnny, the wealthy, adorable, slightly n’er-do-well young man who serves as a romantic counterpart to Hewes. Charles Walters directs Easter Parade from a script by Sidney Sheldon, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.
Sure, this isn’t the biggest of Peter Lawford’s roles. He’d been working on-screen for almost a decade before this film, gradually landing roles of increasing importance. A look at his filmography shows his breakout coming in 1944 with roles in The White Cliffs of Dover and The Canterville Ghost. By 1947, any doubt that he’d hit the big-time could be shoved aside when he starred in Good News and It Happened in Brooklyn.
It goes without saying though, that this is Fred Astaire and Judy Garland’s vehicle from the ground up. As a result, the musical numbers are for lack of a better word… boffo. Have I mentioned that Easter Parade is probably my favorite 1940s era musical? This movie is darling and my love for it knows no bounds.
How’s that for an objective review?
While Garland is not the dancer we usually see Fred Astaire partnered with, their work together in this movie scratches the Vaudeville itch I’ve had since There’s No Business Like Show Business first opened my eyes to the art form during the earliest days of my classic film love. I mean, Irving Berlin songs are never “not” good, but as a pairing, Garland and Astaire sell each and every moment. While so many of these songs have been heard countless times before (especially for those of us who love a good Vaudeville musical), these are essential recordings of these very essential songs.
Getting back to the reason why we’re all here, it didn’t take until the opening strains of “A Fella with an Umbrella” for me to become a fan of Peter Lawford. However, by the time I saw the adorable rendition he sings of the vintage classic with Judy Garland, I was in love.
Minor Spoilers Ahead for this 73 year old film…
It is unfortunate that Lawford does has a bit less to do in Easter Parade than in some of his other films. As a character, Johnny is very much in line with who Lawford often played in his other works during this time. He’s very British with an undeniable aristocratic air about him. Being a man of leisure with an accent, he’s a perfect counterpart to Fred Astaire’s tightly-wound Don Hewes. However, unlike his other roles of the time, Lawford doesn’t have a character arc to overcome this time around. He’s not spoiled. He’s not stalker-ey. He’s not a jerk. He’s actually kind of adorable! Johnny’s role is to wait patiently for Don to make up his mind as to which of the two lead actresses he’ll end up with.
In truth, while Fred Astaire is… Fred Astaire… I struggle a bit to root for Don romantically in this film. I love Astaire and Garland together, but I’m not sure I like Hannah and Don as a couple. When factoring in how much time Johnny spends cleaning up the emotional baggage Don leaves in his wake as well as Garland’s inherent vulnerability, I find myself wishing that she would just see what is right in front of her for 90 percent of the movie. In fact, it take until the iconic final number for Hannah to meet Hewes at his level, but when she does, everything does finally makes sense.
Well, here’s hoping Johnny and Nadine are happy.
Each and every time I settle down to watch Easter Parade, (and it’s been more than a few times) this film never gets old. In director Charles Walters’ hands, it ends up feeling so warm, comfortable and beautifully shot. Easter Parade is expertly paced thanks to the musical numbers evenly spaced throughout. It never drags. Just when it’s been too long –Boom!– Walters drops in another musical number tinged in rose colored nostalgia.
In the grand scheme of things, Easter Parade is an essential, especially for musical fans. Even if Peter Lawford isn’t factored in, the musical quadruple threat that is Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ann Miller and Irving Berlin speaks for itself. The movie hit theaters when musicals couldn’t be riding much higher and in the hands of the always dependable Charles Walters, everything comes together so smoothly and gels into a beautiful product.
Check this one out if you haven’t!
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Podcaster at Hollywood and Wine, historian and filmmaker studying contributions of women in Classic TV. Film critic for Geek Girl Authority. Classic film lover for Ticklish Business.
You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!