Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pigskin Parade (1936)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Stuart Erwin

I was curious to watch Pigskin Parade when I saw it on the schedule for Turner Classic Movies, mostly due to the fact that it was a football movie released in 1936, and thus it was one of the earliest movies about the sport (though it was beaten to the punch by Harold Lloyd in The Freshman and the Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers). As an Oscar completist, the film is notable to me due to Stuart Erwin's nomination for supporting actor, the first year the award was given. Soon after the film begun, I realized that it was notable for something far more significant: it is the feature film debut of a very young (14 years old at the time of the release) Judy Garland.

Pigskin Parade is the rare combination of sports film and musical. While it is no Damn Yankees, it is an easy film to like, telling the story of the football program of the tiny - and fictional - Texas State University, who mistakenly receives an invitation from the then mighty Yale University football team to play each other in an exhibition game. Texas State, led by their coach (played by Jack Haley, who would appear again with Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz), is severely overmatched, and the disparity between the two teams grows even greater when their quarterback is injured. Enter Stuart Erwin, a farm boy who impresses the team with his ability to throw watermelons, and his younger sister, played by Garland.

The plot is simple, and there's little to surprise audiences in the film in terms of the story. Yet Pigskin Parade is a fun and charming film, due almost entirely to the cast. Haley and Erwin, along with Betty Grable and Patsy Kelly, form the core of the cast, and the performances are all solid, if a bit hokey. Then, of course, there is Judy Garland. I was hardly surprised that Garland stole every scene she was in, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Every line is delivered at maximum volume and with dramatics, and at times Garland's performance was all too similar to something William Shatner would have turned in. But even with a somewhat histrionic performance, it is the rare performer who can steal every scene she is in, particularly when acting with an experienced and talented cast, and perhaps only Garland had the talent to do so in her early teen years.

Garland's best moments in the film, unsurprisingly, are those in which she sings. Showing little of the sweet innocence she would show just a few years later in The Wizard of Oz, she instead sounds like the powerhouse she would become later on, belting out every note with perfect intonation. Her singing's not subtle, but Judy never was when she was at her best.

If for no reason other than the historic first feature film appearance of Judy Garland, Pigskin Parade would be worth watching. With the addition of a fun story and a good cast, it is well worth investing time in.

Remaining: 3164 films, 874 Oscars, 5442 nominations

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