“In this day and age girls don’t leave home. But if you get a hankering you wanna roam.”
The railroad allowed Fred Harvey’s chain of restaurants and hotels brought civility to the Wild West and independence to single women in the 1870’s. His waitresses, the “Harvey Girls,” are the subject of one of Judy Garland’s most interesting films.
The show had one breakout song, “The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe.” This fantastic number introduces the townsfolk, the Harvey girls, the supporting cast and the plot. Then Garland enters and brings it to a big finish. She’s come to town to get married but the groom is a bust. She joins the Harvey Girls and never looks back.
The disposable love interest doesn’t appear till later. His duet with Garland was cut as the film’s not about him. Instead she shares a trio with Cyd Charisse (dubbed by Betty Russell) Virginia O’Brien’s fellow Harvey Girls as they struggle with the social roles they’ve been assigned. They learned their trades to attract husbands. When none appeared they used the skills to support themselves. The number feels like a template for Sweet Charities “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.” Their boss, Marjorie Main, and their rival, Angela Lansbury, will get solos as well. Main wants to class up the town. Lansbury… does not.
Lansbury’s “showgirl” is a hoot. Her solos were dubbed but her body language says more about her character than the lyrics. She looks fabulous but she’s bored. Garland’s rivalry brings a spark into Lansbury’s life and helps her find her priorities. At the end she’s happy to hand her boyfriend off to Garland and focus on her career.