Some stars are just undeniable. They are people so talented and beloved for what they can accomplish on the silver screen that audiences cannot help but hold them up in exaltation. One of the most iconic talents of all time is the amazing and the tragic Judy Garland. Midway through her career, she was flying high after The Wizard of Oz and a number of collaborations with Mickey Rooney when she was convinced to take the lead role in George Sidney’s The Harvey Girls from 1946. Garland simply wanted to work on her fiancé Vincente Minnelli’s next film, but she was convinced to give a second look at this script that would be more of a starring vehicle for her. Based on the 1942 novel of the same name by Samuel Hopkins Adams, the film was originally conceived as a straightforward Western until MGM’s musical unit took a crack at it and saw great promise. The rest is history as the film became a respectable box office success and even took home the Academy Award for Best Original Song. This film had Judy at the top of her game. 

The origins of the Harvey Girls story is rooted in American history. In the late 1800s, entrepreneur Fred Harvey founded a chain of restaurants known as the Harvey House that were being established in lock-step with the railroad in the western portion of the United States. The famous waitresses at these establishments are the titular Harvey Girls, known for their impeccable customer service and general sense of class. It is on a train to the western town of Sandrock, Arizona where we meet a train-full of women going to establish the newest Harvey House. Also on the train is young Susan Bradley (Judy Garland), who is traveling to the same town to get married to a man she has been corresponding with in response to a “lonely hearts” ad. Susan has been a bit down on her luck and unlucky in love, but the letters she has been receiving have genuinely moved her. Unfortunately for her, the man she is supposed to marry has been getting the local saloon owner, Ned Trent (John Hodiak, Lifeboat), to write the letters for him. Upon learning of this “joke”, Susan tells off Ned and quickly takes a gig with the Harvey House. 

As with many love stories, what begins with contempt starts to evolve into something resembling love after a while. Ned is instantly endeared by the sight of this firecracker of a woman telling him off. Ned is conventionally handsome and earns a spot in the eye of Susan through his good heart. The chemistry between the two is strong enough to keep you invested in the narrative. Hodiak is not quite on equal footing with the incomparable Garland, but he does what he can to lift up his side of the romance. It is Garland, though, that people are here to see and she does not disappoint in the lead role. She is the perfect mixture of wide-eyed innocent and plucky fighter as she contends with opposition both benign, as in the case of Trent’s jealous lead “dance hall girl” Em (Angela Lansbury, The Court Jester), and the more malevolent, which describes Trent’s duplicitous business associate Judge Sam Purvis (Preston Foster, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang). The ebb and flow of conflict brings about a fair share of humor and thrills to keep you glued to the screen. 

With this most notably being a musical, it is also fair to say that the original songs and choreography are top notch. The movie starts off on the right foot with the catchy, Academy Award-winning “On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe” near the beginning of the film that chugs along like the train on which they arrive. The staging is thrilling and inspired with new arrivals announcing themselves in a grand way. The tune “Wait and See” and its reprisals all take on different pivotal parts of the story that work equally well. The focus of this story is very much on Susan, but there are other Harvey Girls that get some time to shine in the spotlight such as those played impeccably by Virginia O’Brien and Cyd Charisse, the latter in her first speaking role. Harvey Girls offers big musical spectacle with the character drama of a classic western. These elements are executed in a manner that should please fans of both genres equally. At the very least, everyone should be able to agree that Judy Garland delivers a crackerjack performance that reminds you why she is one of the greats. 

Video Quality

Warner Archive presents The Harvey Girls with a glorious new 1080p master transfer sourced from a 4K scan of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives. Month after month, Warner Archive continues to show why they are considered one of the best companies in the business when it comes to their transfers, and this one ranks among the strongest I have seen for a classic film. The black levels are incredibly deep with an excellent stability throughout. The level of detail and clarity is miraculous with the appropriate amount of natural film grain intact. The film features some eye-popping colors within the costumes and settings that leap off the screen with a vibrant intensity. The film appears to be almost entirely free of dirt and damage, which gives the feature a fresh feeling that makes it feel as relevant as ever. There does not appear to be any jarring digital anomalies such as compression artifacts, banding or any other such nuisances. This presentation is a top-tier effort from Warner Archive on all fronts. 

Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that is simply wonderful. With music being one of the major forces in the film, it is worth reporting that the track nails these elements beautifully. The track balances vocals with the at-times rowdy townspeople and the accompanying music with magnificent clarity. There are moments where there is a whirlwind of activity pushing the track to its limits with all of the competing elements, but it maintains its fidelity without fault. Normal dialogue comes through clearly from beginning to end. Warner Archive has provided a knockout audio presentation that does not exhibit any glaring signs of age-related wear-and-tear. The disc also comes with optional English (SDH) subtitles.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: Director George Sidney delivers a warm and entertaining commentary track in which he discusses the discovery of Judy Garland, casting the Harvey Girls, the difficulty in procuring a train, inaccuracies in some of the lyrics and more. This is packed with interesting information that fans will eat up. 
  • Musical Outtakes: A nearly ten-minute collection of unused material from the film that was cut for pacing reasons but is still very much worth checking out. There’s some good stuff here. 
    • “March of the Doagies” (3:26)
    • “March of the Doagies” Reprise (1:58)
    • “My Intuition” (3:47)
  • Scoring Stage Sessions (Audio Only): A collection of tracks from the recording sessions that is a real treat for fans. 
    • “It’s A Great Big World” (5:50)
    • “It’s A Great Big World” (Pick-Up) (0:54)
    • “On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe” Pt. 1 (Take 4) (2:46)
    • “On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe” Pt. 1 (Take 5) (2:49)
    • “On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe” Pt. 2 (2:47)
    • “On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe” Pt. 3 (3:31)
    • “On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (Complete Version) (8:49)
    • Training Montage (“The Train Must Be Fed”) (1:57)
    • Training Montage (Alternate Take) (2:01)
    • “The Wild, Wild West” (with Piano) (3:20)
    • “The Wild, Wild West” (Synch with Orchestra Track) (3:21)
    • Ray Bolger Dance Sequence (“On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe”) (3:16)
    • Ray Bolger Dance Sequence (Take 2) (3:21)
    • “Oh, You Kid” (3:30)
    • “Wait and See” (Incomplete) (1:34)
    • “Wait and See” (4:13)
    • “My Intuition” (3:50)
    • “In the Valley” (Where the Evening Sun Goes Down) (2:38)
    • “In the Valley” (Choral Reprise) (3:20)
    • “March of the Doagies” (3:09)
    • “March of the Doagies” (Reprise) (1:17)
    • “Hayride” (5:27)
    • “Hayride” (Pick-Up) (1:28)
    • “Swing Your Partner Round and Round” Pts. 1 & 2 (4:42)
    • “Swing Your Partner Round and Round” Pt. 3 (2:10)
    • “Swing Your Partner Round and Round” (Complete Version) (5:58)
    • “In the Valley” (Rehearsal) Judy Garland and Kay Thompson (1:42)
  • “On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe” in Stereo: A nine-minute alternate version of this mammoth track which allows you to hear how it was recorded with multiple microphones in stereophonic sound. 
  • Theatrical Trailer: A three-minute trailer which gives you the lay of the land and a good sense of what the film has in store. 

 

Final Thoughts

The Harvey Girls is a rousing and entertaining film that succeeds largely on the star turn from the wonderful Judy Garland. Her angelic voice brings these bouncing and infectious tunes to life while being complemented by some audacious choreography. Not every element of the story is a winner, but there is enough that you can easily count this as a trip you want to take. Warner Archive has released a Blu-Ray with a virtually flawless A/V presentation and a solid array of special features to entice fans. If you are a Judy Garland fan, you are going to want to pick up this splendid disc. Recommended 

The Harvey Girls can be purchased directly through the Warner Archive Amazon Store or various other online retailers. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Warner Archive has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

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