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Monday, 23 January 2012

Book Review: Judy, A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke

Any regular visitor to this blog will know that I'm a devoted Judy Garland fan. Consequently, when I was asked what one book I wanted for Christmas, this was my first and only choice. I'd seen it in a shop and barely prevented myself from sitting down on the carpet and cracking it open there and then.

This is an overview of Judy's film career, broken down by period and then by each individual film. There's enough biographical information in it to satisfy the layperson but not too much to distract from the focus of the book. Each film is given it's own section with a cast list, synopsis, contemporary reviews, notes on the production and, perhaps most wonderfully, a selection of quotes from people who worked on the film. These quotes range from Judy herself down to contract dancers and backstage personnel and proved to be one of the highlights of the book.

However, the main highlight has to be the pictures. There are hundreds of them packed into this book, many never seen before and all of the best quality. You've got Judy and Doris Day meeting up on the set of A Star is Born; Judy helping prepare Liza for her little appearance in In The Good Old Summertime; and the cast being instructed by Victor Fleming in the specially-extended picture album for The Wizard of Oz. Every time I turned the page I was faced with yet more wonderful pictures. They complimented the excellent analysis of each of the films without overshadowing it.

Some of the films naturally get slightly more coverage than others - The Wizard of Oz, A Star is Born, Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade - but I was gratified to see the attention given to Judy's last film, I Could Go On Singing. When I watched this film I was struck by Judy's intense performance, along with her beautiful yet heartbreaking renditions of several songs. There's a gorgeous picture of Judy in discussion with director Ronald Neame on a bench while young co-star Gregory Phillips (who played Judy's son in the film) looks on with evident admiration in his eyes. It was Phillips's words on working with Judy that stuck with me when I closed the book:

"When Mr. Neame took me into Miss Garland's dressing gown...[she] gave me a big hug and said, 'Hello, darling!' It was marvellous, and so quick I forgot to be frightened. 'Come and sit down by me,' she said, and the next thing I knew, we were discussing the part, and I felt as if I'd known her all my life. All through the film, [she and Dirk Bogarde] were both wonderful to me. They are so completely natural, with no 'side' at all. It was the most friendly job I ever had."

I adored this book. It doesn't go into excessive detail for each of the films but it reveals fresh information and is worth buying for the pictures alone.

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