Monday, August 6, 2012

Film Review: Presenting Lily Mars (1943)

A new favorite of mine.
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 TCM: A small-town girl fights for her big chance on Broadway.

     While I have always liked Judy Garland, I have never had one of her films to crack my top ten. Until Presenting Lily Mars that is. I don't know what it was about this film per say that did me in (besides the wonderful chemistry between Van Heflin and Judy), but whatever it was, it got me good. While everyone tends to say that Judy was at her most beautiful in the film Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) thanks to soon-to-be husband Vincente Minelli, and while she was very pretty, I think that Judy was her most gorgeous in this film.
     Often credited as her first grown-up film, along with For Me and My Gal (1942), Judy, for the most part, is still looked at as a kid for the majority of the film, and it's not until the very end do we, as the audience, see her depicted as an adult (who knew that putting up your hair and wearing a dress could do that to a young girl). What makes Judy seem really grown-up throughout the film, however, is not how she dresses, but rather it's her character's, Lily, relationship with John Thrornway, played by "my" discovery Van Heflin.
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     It wasn't until after I had watched Presenting Lily Mars that I realized that this was not the first film that I had seen Van Heflin in. My very first one had been, in fact, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). For some unknown reason, I just didn't pay attention to him in that film.
     Perhaps, for some, he might not be considered the usual quint-essential leading man, but for me, he's perfect. Maybe it's because I was paying attention better to this film than I had with The Strange Love . . ., or maybe it was something else entirely, but whatever the case may be, Van completely took me by storm. I found myself wishing that I was Judy. Sure, I do that a lot (imagine myself in the woman's place when she's across from a favorite leading man), but I also found myself wanting to be in Richard Carlson's, who plays Van's best friend, Owen Vail, place, too. Just so long as I could be near the guy . . . and that desire happens very, very, very rarely (I can count on one hand who I'd feel that way about).
Van and Judy.
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     For me, looking at a picture of Judy alone, and looking at a picture of Van alone, I would never think about putting the two together. Alone, they just don't seem as though they would have very good chemistry, but then when you put them together, it's very apparent that they did. And so that is the reason why I would never be a casting director.
And this is where he begins to falter.
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     Watching Van and Judy on screen together made my heart catch slightly. They're just perfect together, in my opinion. Judy's character, Lily, in the fashion of what she thinks is an actress, is all over the place; running here, running there, never seeming to have her feet ever touch the ground. Then Van as John comes in the picture, and right off the bat, you see that he's going to be the anchor that'll bring her back down to Earth, though it'll take a little while and she won't be on there for long. Yet, as the film goes on, and with Lily trying her everything to get John, who's producing a play in New York, to realize that she has talent, though it's amateurish, and that he should put her in it, you see though initially exasperated with her, there's something that he likes, though he's keeping it hidden below his cool exterior.
Catch her John, catch her!
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     Though he gives her a resounding "No!" and sends her back over the wall (she crashed the party that John and his mother, played by one of my favorite character actresses, Fay Bainter, were throwing and that's the only way she could get in), Lily, though initially upset, goes to New York with the blessing of her eccentric mother, played by another favorite character actress, Spring Byington. After a day of no food, she is discovered by John when she runs out onto the stage when the dancers are practicing to get away from the man that guards the door and who will throw her out, when she suddenly faints . . . right into John's arms.
     It's at that moment when he really stars to notice Lily, and he can't help it. As I stated before, Van and Judy, despite my initial disbelief, had amazing chemistry. After they share a kiss when Lily goes to John's hotel room to talk to him and Owen about the ending of the play and how it sort of . . ."fizzles", they fall for each other fast. Maybe the critics will just see that as too convient or whatever, but when they finally had that first kiss, I literally appluaded them and said, "Finally!"
     I wanted, I needed for Van and Judy to get together, and the sooner that they did the better for me. And the moment that sealed the fate of Van becoming a new favorite only lasted one second, but for me, it was the sweetest second in the whole wonderful picture. Throughout the film, Judy has a problem with her banes, and has a habit of blowing them away from her face and then pushing them back with her hand.
Very cute, right? I think it is.
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     I'd take a wild guess and say that with Lily doing that to her banes all the time that the writers meant to symbolize that as her youth. Lily tries to act older than she actually is throughout the whole film, until she finally does become one, and with her blowing her banes away from her face and then pushing them back with her hand in exasperation, the writers are reminding us that just because she tries to act older, she's still just a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. So, later on in the film, when John and Lily are in the process of falling in love with each other, and when she starts to push her banes out of her eyes when they are dancing, and John reaches up and does it instead . . . oh, I could hardly control myself. It was just too perfect, too cute, and it was then that I knew Van Heflin, no matter what, would become a favorite of mine. Granted, this is only my second picture with him in that I've seen, and the first that I've actually really paid attention to, but I just know that he'll become one that I can't keep quiet about.
Awwwww! C'mon! That is so so so perfect!
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     As I stated before, Judy is just so beautiful in this picture to me. The prettiest I've ever seen her, in fact. And with Van's rugged, all-natural looks, Presenting Lily Mars is just a wonderful picture to watch. It made me happy, it made me smile, and it made me laugh (there are some definite funny parts in it), and it made me go "Awwww" so many times I lost count (I really didn't keep count). And the chemistry between the two, and the romance that blossoms between them, all of it is so real. Never once do I feel as though they were faking it.
Aren't they sweet?
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     It escapes me why Leonard Maltin only gives Presenting Lily Mars 2/4 stars, and I don't know where he gets off calling it "a stale story of determined girl getting big chance on Broadway only comes alive when Judy sings". I definitely disagree with him on this one. I think this story is still as timely as today as it was then. I say this because I'm quite sure that any aspiring actress feels the same about making it no matter what just like Lily. In Presenting Lily Mars I have a found a Judy Garland film that finally cracks my top ten, a new favorite actor in Van Heflin, who is vastly underrated as I am finding out (Oh! And he's in Shane [1953] a la with my Jean! So it's almost impossible for me not to like him), and a lovely film to obsess over until they put it out on DVD (which, in all honesty, I'm quite shocked that it already isn't).
     For Presenting Lily Mars, I give it a 4/4 star rating.

This has been my contribution to Van Heflin's day on TCM's Summer Under the Stars Blogathon which is being held in conjunction with TCM's Summer Under the Stars by Sittin' on a Backyard Fence,


The Gal Herself said...

I admit I haven't seen Lily Mars in years -- it doesn't get shown very often does it? But I've always had a soft spot in my heart for it for one of the aspects you highlight: Judy looks so *pretty.* Coming as it did in her MGM career, stuffed in with those Andy Hardy movies and Ziegfield Girl, films in which Judy is used as a contrast to the glamor girls, this is important. I'm so glad she got to make this movie, and For Me and My Gal w/Gene Kelly, and have effortlessly masculine leading men respond to her as a woman.

Jill said...

Great piece! I haven't seen this film, but I've added it to my must-see list! That's one of the great things about this blogathon-- I've learned so much from all of you wonderful knowledgeable bloggers!

Thanks again.