For Me and My Gal is a 1942 American musical film which starred Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, and was directed by Busby Berkeley. This film was written by Sid Silvers, Fred F. Finklehoffe, and Richard Sherman. Arthur Freed of the MGM Studios produced the film and it also marked the debut of Gene Kelly, as an American actor.
The screenplay and the plot of the film was based on a story written by Howard Emmett Rogers, which was inspired by a true story of the World War I times, about vaudeville actors Jo Hayden and Harry Palmer, when the latter was drafted into the war. When the film was in the stage of production, the two working titles that were chosen for the film were “The Big Time” and “Me and My Gal.”
This film was actually the real ‘adult’ debut of Judy Garland who was just nineteen years old and had previously played a few juvenile roles. The original script of the film demanded the involvement of Harry Palmer with two women – a dancer and a singer. This idea quickly came to a halt when Judy’s acting coach Stella Adler suggested Arthur Freed combine both the roles and take Judy for the part. Stella also suggested actor Gene Kelly for the leading role. When Gene Kelly was casted for playing the lead, the role of George Murphy was switched to “Jimmy Metclaf,” who was originally instructed to play “Harry Palmer.”
The film also marked the debut of Hungarian singer Martha Eggerth in the American Motion Pictures, who had previously worked in more than thirty films in Germany. When the film was first released, the audience reaction was not satisfactory as they expected Jo to end up with Jimmy and not with Harry. Given this response from the audience, Louis B. Mayer had to go for additional three weeks of shooting because a touch of conscience was needed to be put in Kelly’s character and ultimately the length of Murphy’s role in the film was reduced.
America is on the verge of entering into World War I when two talented performers Harry Palmer and Jo Hayden decide to play the Palace Theatre on Broadway. Their decision was to get married after staging the play that bears the hallmark of vaudeville's success.
Weeks before the red letter day, Harry gets drafted into the army which he postpones by intentionally smashing his hand into a trunk. His intention to receive a short delay was not met with affection as Jo left the act at the Broadway, after receiving the news of his brother dying in the war.
Without Jo, Harry tries to get enlisted in the army but could not do so because his hand had gotten permanently crippled. Dejected, he chose the only way that was open to him in going to the war, which was joining the YMCA front line troops.
On the frontlines, Harry’s heroics of warning an ambulance to stay off the bombardment zone and his bravery in destroying an enemy machine gun that was ambushing a convoy, while he was wounded, got him praise from the army quarters.
After the war got concluded, a performance was held at the Palace Theatre to celebrate the victory when Jo got on the stage to perform, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.” While performing, Jo sees Harry in the crowd as she runs toward him in happiness and surprise. The two get united on the stage as the song “For Me and My Gal” plays, which was the first song the two performers performed together.
Although the film was directed by Busby Berkeley, it does not contain any of his signature music style, when it comes to large-scale musical production numbers. The songs were choreographed by Bobby Connolly and were performed exactly the same way as they would have been on the vaudeville stage.
Songs Present in the Film
- “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” – the lyrics were written by A. Seymour Brown and the music was composed by Nat D. Ayer. Additional lyrics were written by Roger Edens
- “When You Wore a Tulip and I wore a Big Red Rose” – music composed by Percy Wenrich
- “Till We Meet Again” – lyrics by Raymond B. Egan and music composed by Richard A. Whiting
- “For Me and My Gal” – music composition and lyrics by Edgar Leslie, George W. Meyer, and E. Ray Goetz
- “Ballin’ the Jack” – lyrics written by Jim Burris and music composed by Chris Smith
- “After You’ve Gone” – lyrics written by Henry Creamer and music composed by Turner Layton
In addition to these songs, some popular songs from the World War I period were used in the film such as “There’s a Long, Long Trail,” “By the Beautiful Sea,” “Good Bye Broadway, Hello France,” “How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree)?” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.”
There were two more songs that were intended to be used in the film which were “Spell of the Waltz” and “Three Cheers for the Yanks,” which were written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.
Awards and Honors
The film received a lot of critical acclaim from all circles of the society. Roger Edens and Georgie Stoll got nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Score. Roger was nominated for Musical Adaptation and Georgie got the nomination for Musical Direction.
For his splendid on-screen performance, Gene Kelly received the Award for Best Actor from the National Board of Review. In addition to this, the film got nominated for AFI’s 2004 list of “100 Years…100 Songs'' and AFI’s 2006 list of “Greatest Movie Musicals.”
The Patriotic Fervor of Vaudeville’s Romantic Age
For Me and My Gal is an ambitious and opulent musical that talks about the nostalgic and romantic era of vaudeville in an entertaining and sentimental way. The performance of the actors not just make the kaleidoscopic fantasies real but also, make the audience believe in the love of vaudeville through a cascade of memorable and joyous songs. The strong dramatization, innovative framing, and boundless imagination of the filmmaker makes this film strike a chord with an audience who were looking for escapism in a weary world of wars and turmoil. The plot of the film might be predictable but the narration, elements, and the cinematography affects the audience with sincere emotion and heart-wrenching warmth.
Ultimately, For Me and My Gal should be remembered as a soulful and tender romantic film that evokes the essence of the vaudeville in an obvious and naïve way, which is lively, affectionate, and genuine. It is a patriotic spectacle that captures the nervous energy during the war. The memorable music numbers of this wartime romance makes the portrayal of simple love timeless, elegant, and immensely powerful.