I've been ruminating on this post for some time but today seemed the ideal time to write it. As regular visitors to this blog will know, I adore Judy Garland and I'm a writer (not necessarily in that order but who knows?). I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a good romance and there's a conversation in my favourite Judy film The Harvey Girls that sums it up neatly.
Susan Bradley is part of a group of women trying to bring some civilisation to a town dominated by vice. Ned Trent is the owner of the gambling and dancing den across the street. Of course, they find themselves attracted to each other, but it's not that simple. Susan and Ned meet in the valley when he's decided that his own course of action must be to move his establishment to another town.
Susan - What do you expect me to say?
Ned - I don't know. I guess I hoped you'd be glad. Might make it easier for me to leave.
Susan - All right, then, I'm glad. I only wish you'd left a long time ago.
Ned - So do I. Maybe it wouldn't have happened then.
Susan - What?
Ned - Meeting you.
Susan - Yes, that was bad, wasn't it? Two people as far apart as we are.
Ned - Yes. Now, for the first time in my life, I've got things to remember.
Susan - I take it that you don't like memories, Mr Trent.
Ned - They don't pay off. They keep you awake nights.
Susan - Will you be awake many nights, Ned?
Ned - Every night. I'll always be wondering if I should've stayed.
Susan - Well, you couldn't. And even if you did it wouldn't make any difference because you'd just be giving into me. A thing like this can't be one-sided, we both have to give in, both of us together.
Ned - Where would that put us?
Susan - No place in this world. Because it just can't be done.
They go their separate ways. But then comes the twist. Ned decides to stay in Sandrock and gladly waves the train goodbye. Meanwhile, Susan has decided that she will be a dancing girl if Ned wants her to be and is on the train. Ned races after the train on his horse and they reunite, aware that they both gave in and can therefore live happily ever after.
For me, that's the key of a great romance: both characters have to sacrifice something, or they perceive themselves to be sacrificing something. You see it time and again in my favourite musicals but I can't think of a more articulate example than The Harvey Girls.
Romance is about beating the odds, overcoming hurdles, getting to that happily ever after. What happens then, of course, we rarely see in the world of musical film. Do Mr and Mrs Don Lockwood create a storm as a beautiful husband and wife duo after the conclusion of Singin' in the Rain? In many musicals, you have to ask whether the husband will actually give up his vices: Sky Masterson from Guys and Dolls and Ned Trent himself are good examples of that. Some musicals do stray to the happily ever after and show it for the fallacy it can be (Carousel and Showboat strike me as excellent examples) but if you're looking for a romance to tug at your heartstrings in Hollywood musicals then you can't do much better than looking at Judy Garland's movies or, for that matter, Gene Kelly's or Doris Day's.
My post last Valentine's Day celebrated my favourite romantic musical songs - with a twist.