"A vibrant, vital performance that gets to the essence of her mystique." —Judith Christ, New York Herald Tribune
Judy Garland is such a gay icon and made so many wonderful movies—including The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St. Louis and A Star Is Born—that it may come as a shock that her greatest performance came in her final and perhaps least known film, I Could Go On Singing.
Released in 1963, six years before her death, I Could Go On Singing came at the end of Judy's last great comeback cycle, which included her Oscar-nominated turn in Judgment at Nuremberg and her legendary Carnegie Hall concert. The remaining years of Garland's life were a mess personally and artistically. Judy would make innumerable brief "comebacks," but her glorious voice was pretty much gone, and it was just painful to see her emaciated presence.
Watching Judy Garland in I Could Go On Singing reveals Garland at her last great peak as both an actress and singer. The plot of Singing is pretty threadbare—Judy plays legendary singer Jenny Bowman, who tries to reconnect with her former lover Dirk Bogarde and the child she gave up years ago. Filmed in England, the production was a mess. Judy was up and down. Her moods, like her weight, fluctuated madly. She was a witch one day and a saint the next. But what really counts is what is up there on the screen. Judy gives one of her great dramatic performances (rivaling A Star is Born), and her four musical numbers filmed at the London Palladium are among her finest. "Hello Bluebird," "It Never Was You," "By Myself" and the title song are belted out with astonishing richness. OK, the voice is not quite what it was in A Star Is Born, but it is pretty much like Carnegie Hall, and that is incredibly powerful.
And the seven-minute dramatic scene at the end of the film is probably the high-water mark in Garland's career. Scripted by co-star Dirk Bogarde
with Judy's input, the scene could be about Garland herself. Judy's long aria ending with "Well, I've hung on to every bit of rubbish there is to hang on to in life. And I've thrown all the good bits away. Now can you tell me why I do that?" is shattering. According to one of her better biographers, "A scene of such length usually requires three or four set ups and possibly three or four days of work as well ... but as the action progressed, director Neame realized that what he was watching was a kind of magic. Instead of stopping the camera ('I knew that I would never ever get anything like that scene again') he nodded to his cameraman to keep rolling forward closer and closer to his two stars." This once-in-a-lifetime scene—shot in one long glorious take, with Judy as Jenny ranting about her life—is unique in the Garland canon.
I Could Go On Singing
didn't make much money and received mixed reviews except for Judy's blazing performance. TIME
magazine raved, "Her acting may be the best of her career," and The London Telegraph
simply stated, "She is the very best there is." If you want to see Judy Garland at her very best in the last film of her career, rent or buy the DVD of I Could Go On Singing
. She is totally amazing. Whatever nightmares were happening behind the scenes in her life, Judy Garland is at her mesmerizing best. If Judy Garland is a gay icon, look no further than this film for proof.Frontiers
has 50 pairs of tickets to the opening night premiere of End of the Rainbow
at the Ahmanson Theatre, Wednesday, March 20. Enter to win a free pair of tickets here