“Easter Parade” (1948) set in 1911-1912, showcases Irving Berlin’s Tin Pan Alley hits, and one hit of the Great Depression, which was the song “Easter Parade.” The film opens on the day before Easter, and just as Fred Astaire’s spending spree to buy flowers, a hat, and a stuffed bunny for Ann Miller indicate, it once was really the busiest shopping day of the year.
When Ann dumps Fred for bigger things (just as the aforementioned lout Lee Bowman in “My Dream is Yours”) Fred snatches Judy Garland from the gutter pretty much as Jack Carson snatches Doris Day in “My Dream is Yours,” and pushes her to become his new singing and dancing partner.
They rehearse for the first time on Easter Sunday, and she gets a glimpse of the Easter Parade and the beautiful people strolling home from church to see and be seen.
Judy Garland is clearly Fred Astaire’s equal in dancing, and she makes one of his most delightful partners. Their “A Couple of Swells” routine is now classic. Two people in shabby clothes and blacked out teeth never looked so good. The rolling backdrop behind them as they sing “we’ll walk up the avenue” reprises the Easter Parade theme of strolling along with the swells.
Another fun number is “Girl On A Magazine Cover,” which displays elegant fashions and a riot of colors. It’s interesting to note how many of these old-time magazines (Redbook, Harper’s, etc.) are still being published.
Judy, his protégé, makes good and their act is a success. That they fall in love is of course inevitable, and she reverses the roles at the end of the film on the following Easter Sunday by presenting Fred with a top hat “bonnet”, flowers, candy, and a live rabbit, singing to him the song “Easter Parade.” The final shot is Judy and Fred strolling down Fifth Avenue with the wealthy fashion setters, in nice clothes and no blacked-out teeth.
Irving Berlin, responsible for this and all the songs in the film, emigrated to the US from Russia with his family in 1893. Jerome Kern, asked of his opinion of Berlin’s place in American music famously replied, “Irving Berlin IS American music.” Berlin was one of our most prolific, and most patriotic, songwriters. That he celebrated secular aspects of Christmas and Easter so successfully may be due to his realization that compromise, rather than exclusion, is the true American trait. Or, it may due to his being a Jewish man who was happily married to a Roman Catholic woman, which upset both their families, and he learned firsthand the benefits of compromise that sometimes leads to the development of a new, shared heritage. The American secular holiday created just such a new, shared heritage, including an Easter with flowers, fashions, candy, and songs, and movies which celebrated them.
That’s it for this week. See you next week, and Happy Easter.