"A Date with Judy" is a bubbly wonder, a light-as-air mix of music and comedy eager to earn smiles, a delightful piece of light entertainment that actually manages to make the phrase "sitcom" a good thing.
"Judy" began in 1941 as a popular radio series, originally slated as a summer replacement first, for Bob Hope, then Eddie Cantor. The comedy followed the misadventures of teenaged Judy Foster, her beleaguered family, and almost-boyfriend Ogden "Oogie" Pringle. By 1948, the series (now on its third Judy) was enough of a hit to earn its own cinematic adaptation, with starlet Jane Powell taking over in the title role. More impressive was the supporting line-up, with Oscar-winner Wallace Beery as Judy's dad; Elizabeth Taylor, fresh off "National Velvet" and "Life with Father," as Oogie's spoiled older sis; Carmen Miranda and Xavier Cugat adding musical flair; and a handsome young chap named Robert Stack as the older gent who just might upstage Oogie. The whole thing was given the full Technicolor treatment, with veteran MGM workhorse Richard Thorpe ("The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Jailhouse Rock") in the director's chair.
The film opens with that most important of social events: the school dance. His duties as bandleader taking up too much of his time, Oogie is forced to break his date with Judy. Don't worry for the woman scorned, however - a stop at Pop's soda fountain leads to a meeting with Pop's nephew, the very charming (and very college-aged) Stephen Andrews. Ever the gentleman, Stephen agrees to take Judy to the dance; naturally, every teenage female in the school district winds up falling for the guy. And that includes Oogie's sister, Carol, that self-absorbed, manipulative little so-and-so.
The dance scene, which takes up more or less the entire first act of the story, is a marvel of comic timing, mostly thanks to Scotty Beckett as Oogie. Beckett was a former regular of the "Our Gang" shorts and would later go on to play Winky on TV's "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger"; in between, he was one of the top child actors of the era. In "Judy," it's easy to see why. He's sort of a smoother, more natural version of Mickey Rooney - a boy-next-door with a knack for quick one-liners. He handles comedy both large and small here, and earns most of the movie's biggest laughs.
Back to the story. In the weeks that follow, Oogie works overtime to win Judy back. But she's too busy trying to win over Stephen, who, in turn, is too busy trying to win over Carol. Judy's parents (Selena Royale plays the mom) do their best to survive this latest round of teen drama, although they have their own concerns as well. You see, dad's decided to take rumba lessons (from Carmen Miranda!), but he wants to keep it secret so he can surprise the missus at the big anniversary party scheduled for the end of the film. When Judy and Carol (they have that teen girl ability to be best friends and worst enemies simultaneously) spy him with the Latin beauty, they're convinced a divorce is in the works.
It's all simple sitcom plotting, plenty of misunderstandings and whatnot. But boy, does this movie make it work. There's a charm that hangs over every scene, a sizable amount of sweet, lovely innocence mixed with smart, breezy humor. The screenplay, from Dorothy Cooper and Dorothy Kingsley, zips along with such gusto, packing each episodic adventure with a lively spirit, that the viewer never notices the 113 minute running time going by. Breaks for musical numbers - Powell sings "Love Is Where You Find It" and "It's a Most Unusual Day" (among others); Miranda rocks the house with "Cooking with Gas" and "Cuanto le Gusta" - are well-spaced and always welcome.
Naturally, there's plenty in "Judy" that hasn't aged well. The Fosters have a black maid (Lillian Yarbo) with a penchant for singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" all day long; plot points involve girls hoping to get married at seventeen and twentysomethings wooing sixteen-year-olds. It's best to view these elements as signs of the time, and while there's nothing here to offend (the maid is a stereotype, yes, but not a cruel one), those watching the film with younger family members may be pressed to explain the way things were.
But not even outdated components can spoil a movie experience as lovely as this. "A Date with Judy" is all smiles, great big grins from start to finish. The comedy is bold, the romance sweet, the family drama delightful. It's cinematic innocence at its most refreshing, still holding up splendidly sixty years later.
For those keeping score: the date with Judy would not end here. The popularity of the film complimented the radio series, which continued through 1950. In 1951, it joined the ranks of other programs in making the transition to television, airing alternately in daytime and primetime until 1953. The title also found its way onto the funny pages, with National Comics (soon to be known as DC Comics) printing a successful comic book from 1947 until 1960.
Video & Audio
There's nothing quite like the look of a classic Technicolor presentation, and this crisp new transfer of "Judy" delivers. Colors, saturated in all the right ways, pop off the screen with gorgeous clarity, while grain and scratches are completely absent. Just watch as Carmen Miranda slinks across the screen! Simply put: wow. Presented in the original 1.33:1 full frame format.
The disc maintains the film's original mono soundtrack (courtesy Dolby), and it's a crisp, full track. Dialogue is clear, hiss is gone, and the music is spectacular - not bad for the simplicity of mono. Optional English SDH and French subtitles are included.
Warner Bros. continues to clear their vaults to match their older library titles, with two shorts from 1948. The musical one-reeler "Martin Block's Musical Merry-Go-Round #3" (10:50) features four songs from Ray Noble and His Orchestra, three of which feature Buddy Clark on vocals; Martin Block appears as the host who interviews the musicians.
Tom and Jerry star in the cartoon "Professor Tom" (7:34), from Hanna and Barbera themselves. Tom's attempts to teach a kitten how to be a ruthless mouse-catcher backfire when the student winds up befriending Jerry. (This short also appears as part of the "Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection: Volume 2" DVD set.)
The film's original trailer (2:47) offers this simple advice: "If you're blue and moody, make a date with Judy!" Sounds right to me.
"A Date with Judy" is syrupy and naïve and ridiculously old-fashioned, but it's also spectacular entertainment, with wonderful songs, a big heart, and plenty of laughs. Warners' treatment of it on this disc does it justice. Highly Recommended.