If Judy Garland hadn't gone down in a blaze of booze-pill-depression-impulse-marriage glory in 1969, today would have been her 83 birthday. Turner Classic Movies - which is pretty much on 24 hours a day here at Cinematical Headquarters - is celebrating by showing all-Judy, all day long.

I just watched the last half of Girl Crazy, one of the many films Garland made early in her career with Mickey Rooney. Based on the Broadway show, Mickey and Judy throw a beauty pageant to save the local university; Mickey swears he loves Judy, but he just can't commit. It's hokey as hell, but the Gershwin songs are amazing, and when Judy sings (at times backed up by Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra) the whole film takes off. Judy Garland was one of those performers whose star persona really only clicked into place in song - a number like "I Got Rythym" from the end of Girl Crazy completely dispenses with any character or narrative concerns, it's essentially as oriented towards spectacle as any big action scene today. The difference is that all of that spectacle is coming from little Judy Garland, about 20 years old and at the height of her powers. She's so good that she just blows me away.

TCM is showing most of her classics today (Meet Me in St. Louis, her first and best-loved collaboration with second husband Vincente Minnelli, is just about to start), but there's a couple not on the schedule that you really need to see. The Clock, another Minnelli film, was Judy's first (and I think best) serious non-singing role, and her last film, I Could Go On Singing, is woefully underrated. But if you have three hours and a box of Kleenex, you really should celebrate Judy by watching George Cukor's 1954 version of A Star is Born - a rare Hollywood masterpiece about Hollywood, and probably my favorite film of all time.

categories Cinematical