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In the era before television, Hollywood studios turned out movies in assembly line fashion. There was always plenty of entertainment to go around… in every imaginable genre. Back then; the major studios had enormous back lots, which made it possible for them to manufacture locations, without ever leaving the confines of Hollywood. Big city streets, little villages and even western towns all existed on the back lot and were continually dressed and redressed for the steady stream of movies being filmed in that golden age of film entertainment. Of course, this talk of back lots brings us to THE HARVEY GIRLS ($20), one neat little back lot musical that was crafted at the Hollywood dream factory known as MGM.

THE HARVEY GIRLS tells the story of Susan Bradley (Judy Garland), a young woman who travels cross-country On The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe to marry a man she has never met. However, when Susan arrives in the wild and wooly western town of Sandrock, New Mexico, she discovers that her bridegroom was not what she was expecting- and his feeling mirror hers. With few options open to her, Susan decides to become on of The Harvey Girls- the waitresses in the Fred Harvey chain of restaurants that brought civilization to the untamed American west. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy to see a Harvey House open up in Sandrock, which is certain to cut in on the local saloon’s monopoly on food, alcohol and entertainment.

Although saloon owner Ned Trent (John Hodiak) has no problem with honest competition, crooked Judge Sam Purvis (Preston Foster) is afraid the Harvey House will cut into his share of the saloon’s profits. What follows is a series of dirty tricks designed to put the Harvey House out of business and send the girls packing. Of course, while that is happening, a romance between saloon owner Ned Trent and Harvey Girl Susan Bradley is blossoming like a cactus flower. THE HARVEY GIRLS features a few delightful musical numbers, including the Academy Award winning song On The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe, which is a true movie musical showstopper. The performances are all solid, with Garland getting excellent comic support from the likes of Ray Bolger, Virginia O'Brien, Marjorie Main and Chill Wills. Fans of Angela Lansbury, who may only remember the actress from her stint on Murder She Wrote, are in for a jaw-dropping treat when they see how gorgeous she was at the age of nineteen, playing the film’s resident bad girl.

Warner Home Video has made THE HARVEY GIRLS available on DVD in a wonderful looking full screen transfer reproduces the film’s proper 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The image generally crisp and very nicely defined, with only a couple of moments when the picture appears a little soft. Colors are rich, vibrant and serve as a reminder of the glories of the old IB Technicolor format. Despite the vividness of the some of the hues, there are no signs of chroma noise or smearing during the presentation. Blacks have a nice velvety quality and the contrast is very smooth. Shadow detail is on par for a film from the mid-1940s, and the picture produces a nice sense of depth. The film element used for the transfer displays few blemishes or other reminders that THE HARVEY GIRLS is a fifty-five years old movie. However, some of the rear screen projection work in the movie is rather weak, which makes individual shots look worse than they should. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed throughout the presentation.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is in relatively good shape, offering reasonably good quality sound. There are a few signs of age in the music numbers, but nothing that becomes too bothersome at natural sounding volume levels. Whatever bits of crackle and other minor distortions that occur, usually can be overlooked. Fidelity is hampered by mid-1940’s recording technology, which is lacking at the top and bottom ends, but I found the track enjoyable nonetheless. Dialogue is fairly crisp and always understandable. Subtitles have been provided in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few supplements. Director George Sidney is on hand for a running audio commentary, which is entertaining and offers a lot of production detail- indicating that the director has a surprisingly good memory of this more than half-century-old production. Also included on the DVD are two deleted musical numbers, as well as a stereo remix of the song On The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe, which was created from the original multiple microphone recording sessions. Another great feature is the inclusion of the various takes from the film’s original recording sessions, which managed to be preserved in the studio’s vault for all this time. A cast & crew listing, as well as a theatrical trailer close out the DVD’s supplemental materials.

THE HARVEY GIRLS is a very likable back lot musical from Hollywood’s golden age. Warner Home Video’s presentation is quite gorgeous and the DVD offers a nice array of supplements for film buffs. If you are a Judy Garland fan, musical fan or movie buff in general, you will want to check out THE HARVEY GIRLS on DVD.


The Harvey Girls (1946)


DVD reviews are Copyright 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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