Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (DVD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Review Date: May 16, 2024
  • Format: DVD
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Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (DVD Review)


Robert Allan Ackerman

Release Date(s)

2001 (December 15, 2023)


Alliance Atlantis/In-Motion/Storyline Entertainment (Via Vision Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B+

Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (DVD)

Buy it Here!


[Editor’s Note: This is a Region 4-encoded Australian DVD import.]

A three-hour, two-part miniseries that originally aired on the ABC television network in February 2001, Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows follows the usual tropes for such Hollywood biopics, though this one is exceptionally well done. This unexpected DVD release comes from Australia’s ViaVision label, partly, one presumes, because it stars homegrown talent Judy Davis (A Passage to India, Husbands and Wives) as the adult Garland, she winning many awards for her performance, including an Emmy. That said, Tammy Blanchard, as the younger Garland, is equally superb and was likewise showered with prizes alongside Davis.

The miniseries is also notable for its attention to detail in recreations of famous scenes from Garland’s movies and celebrated “comeback” concerts at the RKO Palace and Carnegie Hall, among others. Often such films compromise in this area because of exorbitant licensing fees, budgetary limitations, or simple laziness, but Life with Judy Garland’s meticulous recreations of her MGM and Warner Bros. movies, and its use of Garland standards from myriad music publishers is impressive. One scene, for example, has Blanchard-as-Garland on a Yellow Brick Road set from The Wizard of Oz, and the effect is downright ghostly.

Based on Lorna Luft’s same-named book, Luft being Garland’s second of three children, the first part of the show focuses on Garland’s arrival at MGM at age 13. Already a veteran of Vaudeville through her pushy stage mother (Marsha Mason), young Judy (Blanchard) suffers an embarrassing attempt to glamorize the “little hunchback” (as studio head Louis B. Mayer called her) in a scene cleverly mirroring Esther Blodgett’s grotesque makeover in Garland’s later A Star Is Born. She befriends other young talent on the lot such as Mickey Rooney (Dwayne Adams), but finds a lifelong friend and advocate in longtime studio arranger Roger Edens (John Benjamin Hickey), who encourages Judy to just be herself.

Judy’s initial excitement over her build-up gradually gives way to crippling insecurity and physical exhaustion from overwork, the studio prescribing amphetamines to keep her energy up and weight down. Under the high-pressure, dictatorial direction of Busby Berkeley on the set of Girl Crazy she collapses, the studio unsympathetic to Garland’s physical and psychological needs. Garland (now played by Judy Davis) scores a huge hit for MGM with Meet Me in St. Louis but suffers a breakdown during the production of The Pirate, culminating with a suicide attempt in the wake of her suspension from Annie Get Your Gun. By the early 1950s, Garland’s career seems over.

However, with the support of third husband Sid Luft (Victor Garber), Garland makes a spectacular comeback culminating with A Star Is Born, but soon after she gains an alarming amount of weight (excellent make-up here), her dependency on drugs and alcohol skyrockets, she’s in debt, and her marriage is on the rocks. By the early ‘60s, Garland is temporarily back on track, bolstered by a legendary appearance at Carnegie Hall and an acclaimed (but unsuccessful) television series, yet her personal and professional life once again spiral downward.

The program hits all the salient points of Garland’s tumultuous life while unavoidably omitting some details, such as her great, late-career performance in Judgment at Nuremberg (for which she was again nominated for an Oscar). Garland’s five husbands come and go with remarkable brevity save for Luft, as do other men she dated at various times, including bandleader Artie Shaw (Stewart Bick). The film delicately but sensitively touches upon the fact that Edens and Garland’s fourth husband, Mark Herron, were gay (Garland separating from the latter after finding him in bed with another man), and that second husband Vincente Minnelli was likely bisexual, though it sidesteps Garland’s reputation as a gay icon. That said, the scenes between Garland and Edens (later joined by arranger-actress Kay Thompson, well-captured by Sonja Smits) are among the best in the film.

As depicted through Luft’s book, Garland was profoundly talented as both a singer and actress, but hampered throughout her life by insecurity and self-loathing about her looks. She’s shown to be a doting, loving mother to her three children (Liza, Lorna, and Joe), but also so needy and self-absorbed—by the 1960s, taking care of her becomes their full-time job – she can’t see how she’s ruining their lives. That said, the show makes plain how badly her talents (and income) were exploited by virtually all around her, from her mother to studio heads to agents and even by Luft, though he clearly loved and cared for her.

Aided greatly by subtle makeup and hairstyles, Tammy Blanchard bears an uncanny resemblance to the teenage Judy. The filmmakers erred in bringing Judy Davis in too early, from the Meet Me in St. Louis scenes, when Garland was just 22 and Davis was 45. It would have made more sense had Davis’s scenes began after Garland’s departure from MGM, a period during which Garland aged abruptly and alarmingly, and when Davis’s work as the older Garland really begins to shine. Both lip-sync to original recordings, yet their performances match almost exactly the choreography and Garland’s personality quirks, physically and vocally. Davis allows more of her own personality into her portrayal than Blanchard does, but they’re equally good in subtly different ways.

Indeed, from a production standpoint, Life with Judy Garland is consistently dead-on. The cinematography by James Chressanthis slyly injects the Meet Me in St. Louis scenes with the same Technicolor brilliance of that film, while The Man That Got Away sequence from the later A Star Is Born has an accurate 1950s color pallet.

Via Vision’s Region 4 (NTSC) encoded DVD of Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows is presented in its original 4:3 standard format, both episodes contained on a single disc. It appears the show was shot in 35mm with some post-production edited on tape, but for what it is the presentation looks good and accurate, though it would be nice to see a remastered Blu-ray someday. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 with an alternate French-language track in 2.0 stereo, supported by optional English subtitles.

Supplements consist of an audio commentary with Lorna Luft, director Robert Ackerman, and costume designer Dona Granta; a deleted scene (a song cut from an early ‘50s-set live performance); and a behind-the-scenes featurette from the time the show was made. That runs about 10 minutes and includes an interview with actress Davis.

Despite its nearly three-hour length, Life with Judy Garland is engrossing from beginning to end, and quite often the movie and concert recreations left me wanting to revisit those movies and albums. As Hollywood biopics go, this is one of the best.

- Stuart Galbraith IV