George Sidney’s The Harvey Girls (1946) is a rip-roaring musical western that takes dead aim with a holster full of songs, hitting its bull’s eye every time. Susan Bradley (Judy Garland) is a mail order bride en route to the rambunctious little town of Sandrock. Problem: her would-be hubby, H.H. Hartsey (Chill Wills) is actually a drunken fool who didn’t write the letters that wooed Susan out west. Enraged and penniless, Susan becomes a waitress at the ‘Harvey House’ restaurant – the only bastion of good clean honest living in the whole gosh darn place.
The town is owned by spurious Rev. Claggett (Morris Ankrum) who is anything but a man of the cloth. Claggett’s passive right hand is Ned Trent (John Hodiak), the proprietor of the Alhambra saloon/whorehouse. It’s Ned who wooed Susan to the middle of nowhere on a dare that she wouldn't come. Susan confronts Ned and the two embark on a sparing match of wills.
Ned is attracted to Sue’s cheek and, before long, hopelessly in love with her. The conversion of Susan’s affections for this scoundrel are a little more reluctantly achieved. But jealous madam, Em (Angela Lansbury) aims to keep Ned and Susan apart. After several flawed attempts to break up the couple, Em informs Claggett that Ned has gone soft on their criminal activities. If things keep going as they are the Alhambra will have to relocate to another town. To ensure this doesn't happen Claggett breaks into the Harvey House late one night, setting the wooden structure ablaze. Thankfully, Ned arrives to beat the tar out of his one time pal.
The Harvey House burns to the ground, but Susan believes Ned has come around to her way of thinking. Regrettably, the next day she learns that Ned intends to relocate with Em and the girls to Flagstaff. At a moments notice Susan decides to hop the train too, in the hopes of convincing Ned of her love, or perhaps even to join 'the girls' in their chosen profession - simply to be near the man she loves. One problem: Ned never got on the train. Realizing how much Susan loves Ned, Em intervenes, stopping the train before it gets too far out of town. Having been told of her plans by some of the other Harvey waitresses, Ned arrives on horseback to rescue Susan. The two embrace and are married.
The Harvey Girls is an iconic musical on many levels. Judy Garland is in top form. The film features the Oscar winning song 'On The Atcheson Topeka and the Santa Fe. Visually resplendent, and tuneful to boot, this is one humdinger of a good show. It warms the heart and sets the toes tapping. Originally planned as a serious western melodrama to star Lana Turner and Clark Gable, The Harvey Girls was one of MGM’s biggest and brightest musical extravaganzas of the 1940s. Today, it still gets through to us with its exceptional storytelling and good clean wholesomeness. All aboard!
Warner Home Video’s DVD is stunning. Color fidelity is magnificently rendered. Aside: a previously issued laserdisc contained mis-registration of the original three strip Technicolor negative throughout. This oversight has been corrected on the DVD. Fine detail, contrast and black levels are bang on. The soundtrack has been remastered and sparkles with amazing clarity.
Extras include two different versions of March of the Doagies a lavish musical routine cut from the general release print because of time constraints (MGM wanted all their musicals under two hours). There’s also a very succinct and interesting audio commentary (imported directly from the aforementioned laserdisc) and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)