Release Date(s)1963 (May10, 2016)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Ronald Neame’s I Could Go On Singing isn’t exactly a great movie – though it’s a very good one – but it’s a great time capsule that perfectly captures, for better and worse, its enormous star at the tail end of her career. That star is Judy Garland, looking much older than her forty years (the movie came out in 1963, and she would be dead just six years later) as Jenny Bowman, an American singer who reunites with her ex-lover (Dirk Bogarde) and tries to connect with the son she’s never met while performing in England. The slim story is essentially just a pretext for a character study of a woman who gave up everything for her career only to realize what she’s lost, and Garland is the cinematic equivalent as a raw nerve as she connects with the role in ways that are almost uncomfortably personal. Her previous film before I Could Go On Singing was A Child Is Waiting for director John Cassavetes, and there’s a Cassavetes-esque degree of emotional nakedness in her self-revelatory performance as a singer both addicted to her art and utterly unfulfilled by it; the film’s most bravura moment, an unbroken six-minute take in which she and her lover finally reconcile, is as good as movies get.
What precedes that take is a collection of scenes that are more amiable than affecting, as Neame strains to keep the stretched material (it’s based on a one-hour television play) from breaking apart. Nevertheless, whenever the film’s pace threatens to lag Neame manages to slap the viewer awake with one of the film’s musical numbers, in which Garland/Bowman connects with her crowd. The numbers aren’t exactly great in the way that, say, a Gene Kelly number is great in a movie directed by Stanley Donen or Garland’s one-time husband Vincente Minnelli; by this point in her career Garland doesn’t have the craft one would expect from someone of her stature. Yet the missing craft gives way to something more powerful in its way, as Garland operates on pure emotion, without restraint; her songs are simultaneously rousing, uncomfortable, and poignant. These results did not come without cost, especially for Garland’s collaborators; Neame, an old pro who deserves to be better remembered than he is (just a few of his credits: Tunes of Glory, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Poseidon Adventure), suffered greatly thanks to Garland’s neuroses, and even had to step in for his star during one of the film’s musical numbers so that the audience would have something to react to when she failed to show up. There’s no arguing with the finished film, though; as a document of a great performer’s tragic decline, it’s unsettlingly resonant, a forerunner to Cassavetes’ great Opening Night.
Many of the production’s tribulations are discussed on the Blu-ray’s two commentary tracks, both of which are excellent. One features film scholars Nick Redman and Lem Dobbs in conversation with producer Lawrence Turman, who (often hilariously) recalls the agonies of working with Garland (and the pleasures of working with Neame and Bogarde). Film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros provide further context on their audio narration, which offers an insightful overview of both Garland’s career and the production and reception of I Could Go On Singing. The transfer is top-notch, especially given the film noir quality of the lighting – this has got to be one of the moodiest, darkest musicals ever photographed, and Twilight Time’s disc captures all the nuances impeccably (the monaural sound mix is flawless as well, and the Blu-ray features an isolated music and effects track as a bonus). All in all this is a package that belongs on every film musical buff’s shelf; while in many ways it’s the tonal opposite of the peppy song-and-dance flicks that made Garland famous a couple decades earlier, it’s far more haunting and memorable.
- Jim Hemphill