I Could Go On Singing

Wednesday May 18, 2016

I Could Go On Singing

Judy Garland's last film was the Ronald Neame-directed "I Could Go On Singing," a 1963 drama in which Garland shared the screen with well-regarded British actor Dirk Bogarde.

The film makes its Blu-ray debut thanks to Twilight Time, an imprint that releases cinematic rarities, oddballs, unjustly forgotten flicks, and somehow-overlooked movies in collectable batches of 3,000 units. Though roundly critiqued on this edition's commentary tracks by producer Lawrence Turman and film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman as having no real story, the film does create a mood and cast a spell.

It's true the plot is minimal: An American singer named Jenny Bowman (Garland) stops through London for ten days as part of a world tour. She makes an appointment to see a nose/ear/throat specialist named Dr. David Donne (Bogarde) at his home office. From the start, it's obvious the two know each other, and this is an awkward reunion; before long, it's obvious why they're so uncomfortable. Thirteen or fourteen years earlier they had a child they named Matt, and Jenny, unable to care for him -- and uninterested in doing so -- turned the infant over to David, allowing him to take Matt back to England.

All these years later, David and Jenny have married other people, but David's wife has died and Jenny has gotten a divorce or two. Feeling a need to see the son she abandoned, Jenny has come calling to plead for the chance to meet him. Her cajoling eventually persuades David, and he allows the meeting to take place, but what was supposed to be a brief introduction evolves into a close, maternal relationship between the now-adolescent Matt (Gregory Phillips) and Jenny, throwing the delicate detente between the former lovers into turmoil and upsetting Jenny's carefully calibrated schedule.

As Jenny's manager (Jack Krugman) and secretary (Aline McMahon) scramble to keep the tour on track, Jenny starts to lose herself in a fantasy that she can reclaim Matt -- and David determines to stop her from dragging Matt into her chaotic life. It's not easy, because... of course!... David is still in love with Jenny.

This 1080p hi-def transfer brings out every vivid Technicolor hue, doing justice to Arthur Ibbestson's cinematography, which includes four visually striking on-stage musical numbers. (The final of these, "I Could Go On Singing," lends the film its title; as Julie Kirgo's booklet essay notes, it's by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg, the same songwriting team that wrote "Over the Rainbow.") The faultless restoration also allows Garland's wardrobe -- the work of Edith Head -- to be seen to its best advantage.

The film's narrative may be a little shapeless (there's a hint of possible happiness to come, but it's ambiguous; the ending is more a stopping point than a resolution), but the performances are strong, and a famous climactic exchange between Garland and Bogarde is worth the price of admission all on its own. (A fine novelist and memoirist, Bogarde rewrote much of Garland's dialogue -- and Garland was given to ad libbing anyway.)

There are two audio commentaries (the second one features film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros) and both of them, together with Kirgo's essay, offer fascinating insights into how difficult everyone found it to work with Garland. Also of note is the consensus that this film was, if not factually a reflection of Garland's life, then certainly an approximation of the state she was in at the time. An isolated music track (which includes some sound effects) shows off Mort Lindsey's score.

Garland fans will swoon over this release. Movie buffs with a taste for troubled chanteuses will want to make room for it next to their copy of "The Helen Morgan Story." Everyone else will likely consider it a curio -- but a worthwhile one.

"I Could Go On Singing"