Summer Holiday (1948)
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
The golden age of the MGM musical possessed a few key characteristics. Its films were inclusive and ensemble-based, even when focused on individual love stories, and dealt inevitably with people relying upon one another as they sought the safest possible ways to express their hopes. The action within their Academy frames were generally choreographed with greater creativity than the spaces of the widescreen musicals to come, such that talking and singing and walking and dancing all flowed into each other continuously. The often warmly colorful films treasured the naïve eras in which their stories took place while glancing past those times into the postwar future. The attitude that they inevitably expressed towards the world was fundamentally light, sad and sweet.
Summer Holiday is based on Eugene O’Neill’s 1933 play Ah, Wilderness! and evokes much of the mood of MGM’s 1944 success Meet Me in St. Louis. Its action is centered on small-town valedictorian Richard (played by Mickey Rooney) in the summer before he goes to Yale, in particular his efforts to court the fearful Muriel (Gloria DeHaven) with the aid of his gruff-but-gentle father (Walter Huston—who else?). Yet the most appealing persons in the picture are the fragile alcoholic Uncle Sid (Frank Morgan), who is taken in by the family after failed efforts to work outside town, and the aging spinster Cousin Lily (Agnes Moorehead), who forever awkwardly tries to shield how much she pines for him. A memorable scene shows her serving him corn muffins at the kitchen table, over and over; he takes each one in hand, uncertain of whether to commit to it, and then puts the muffin down. The two are eventually called back out to join the group, leaving us with a spirit of gentleness and with the knowledge—on our and on both of their parts—that their time will still eventually come. Aaron Cutler (September 13, 4:30pm, 7pm, 9:15pm at BAM’s “That’s Entertainment!: MGM Musicals Part 1”)