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Judy Garland, Before She Met the Wizard

March 18, 1994|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Few releases in MGM/UA's growing catalogue of double bills are more ingratiating than the new "Judy Garland Double Feature" ($60), offering the delightful pre-"Oz" Judy.

1937's "Thoroughbreds Don't Cry" marks her first, but definitely not last, pairing with the exuberant young Mickey Rooney, and "Listen, Darling," a 1938 romp with Freddie Bartholomew, Mary Astor and Walter Pidgeon, showcases an emerging, energetic talent.

The two-disc set offers a real bonus: a previously unreleased Garland rendition of a sparkling Arthur Freed-Nacio Herb Brown ("Singin' in the Rain") ditty called "Sun Showers."

Producers George Feltenstein, Allan Fisch and John Fricke's detailed production notes report that the song was originally to have been a showcase for Igor Gorin in "Broadway Melody." But, alas, it's taken this long to get an airing. It's a Garland number that should have been heard long before this, sounding something like "Over the Rainbow" crossed with "Singin' in the Rain." On this disc, it's played under a number of rarely seen beautiful publicity stills taken from 1936-38 that reveal a complex talented young girl growing into womanhood.

Also offered are previously unreleased audio takes of "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," which Garland first sang in "Listen, Darling." In 1934, the young Garland auditioned for MGM with "Zing!" and, listening to the unused versions, it's easy to see why studio executives searched long and hard to find the right vehicle for her.

All of Garland's takes of the song are presented here, mixed for stereo from multichannel recordings made in 1938. They're spotlighted on chapter stops, making them easy to find. The zippiest is a swing version, but that "was cut to a gentle chorus and a half for the final print."

Also included are four Garland takes of the unjustly neglected but catchy "On the Bumpy Road to Love," also featured in "Listen, Darling." A snappy song called "Got a Pair of New Shoes," a Garland number deleted from "Thoroughbreds" but presented for the first time on this disc, was also snipped when planned for Eleanor Powell in "Broadway Melody of 1938." The producers report that "bits of the song can still be heard in 'Broadway's' finale."

The films themselves are the harbingers of the kinds of films now churned out by the Disney factory or TV sitcoms centered on young teens, obviously geared to the talents of their young stars.

"Thoroughbreds Don't Cry," which introduced the Australian Ronald Sinclair as the next Freddie Bartholomew, gives a glimpse of '30s track life, with exciting races that put "International Velvet" to shame. A brash, no-nonsense Sophie Tucker also adds zip to the film. The film's trailer shows the no-longer-a-kid Bartholomew introducing young Sinclair as his replacement in the MGM stable of kid stars. You can actually hear his changing voice break during the introduction.

"Listen, Darling" might be seen as an early-day "Sleepless in Seattle"--kids try to find a suitable mate for a widowed mom (this time, she's poor, and would wed someone she doesn't love to make a suitable home for her brood). The ravishing Astor and the handsome Pidgeon are as charming as Garland and Bartholomew, whose acting ability apparently wasn't hampered by his growing up. In this film, he shows he would have made an appealing young adult actor.

*

While "The Fugitive" videotape was blazing its way into stores, the letterboxed Warner Home Video disc of the Oscar-nominated film has quietly made its appearance on shelves at $40. As with other big-screen action-packed pictures, this handsome digital transfer with Dolby surround stereo sound turns your living room inside out. The thrilling Andrew Davis-directed set-pieces--the train wreck, chases through sewers, streets and cityscapes--dominate the room as the sound comes at you from every direction. It's also a more intimate experience on the small screen. The banding preserves the aspect ratio well, yet offers a good-sized picture on any 32-inch set.

*

Steven Soderbergh's far more quiet 1993 "King of the Hill," by contrast, comes with relatively wide banding in the MCA Universal laser ($35), odd for such a contemporary film. Nonetheless, the muted, dark tones of the Depression-era story based on A.E. Hotchner's memoir are captured effectively, giving poignancy to the personal story of a 12-year-old's (Jesse Bradford) struggle. The affecting, if unjustly neglected, film featuring Jeroen Krabbe, Lisa Eichhorn, Spalding Gray, Karen Allen and Elizabeth McGovern cannot help but resonate to a 1990s audience watching joblessness, homelessness and hopelessness grow all around it.

Laserbits

New Movies Just Out: "Judgment Night" (MCA/Universal, $35); "Wilder Naplam" (Columbia TriStar, $35); "Son of the Pink Panther" (MGM/UA, letterboxed, $35); "Gypsy" (Cabin Fever, $50).

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