“Every Sunday” is another of the shorts featured in Judy Garland section of That’s Entertainment, and it’s a sweet, charming MGM short film… which also belies a slightly more intriguing intent from the studio perspective.
The unimposing plot involves Edna (Deanna Durbin–who was still going by “Edna Mae”) and Judy (Judy Garland–who had moved on from “Frances” by this point), two wholesome young girls who spend every Sunday afternoon listening to Edna’s grandpa’s band play music in the park. Sadly, their earnestness doesn’t make up for the lack of other audience members, and the boss in charge of booking the gazebo informs the band that next week will be their last performance. The gazebo should be a hot ticket, and the band simply isn’t meeting these lofty gazebo expectations.
Of course, the enterprising girls can’t have that, and enter into an agreement with the gazebo honcho that if they can draw a real crowd, grandpa and his band will get to stay. They set out promoting the newly improved show immediately: “You call every Jones and Brown, and I’ll call the Smiths.”
So, yes, the plot is exceedingly simple (the above takes place in about three minutes of screen time) and as you might guess, the girls’ secret plan to draw in viewers is to sing their hearts out on stage, with Durbin’s big operatic voice contrasting with Garland’s jazzy songs. I like that they did actually bother to create a bit of plot, infinitesimal as it may be, as the film was clearly more of a glorified audition tape for both of the girls–by far, the biggest chunk of time in the film is devoted to their singing, and since they used their real names for the characters, I thought the film was perhaps to be used for prospective filmmakers and casting purposes.
Well, my assumptions were wrong. In Get Happy, Gerald Clarke’s definitive book on the life of Judy Garland, he describes a slightly different scene. This screen test was, in fact, a competition–MGM was only planning to keep one of the girls on contract, and was using this film to decide between Durbin and Garland. So, suddenly, this whimsical fluff of a plot takes on a new and important meaning, and I commend both girls’ acting skill for hiding the fact that they probably wanted to push each other down the gazebo stairs. In the end, MGM hesitated on their decision for too long and ended up losing Durbin to Universal, where she made a string of very successful pictures for them. Garland didn’t find the same success immediately, which caused her to fret over Durbin’s newfound starpower, and to wonder if MGM regretted keeping her instead.
Ultimately, of course, Garland would find the right vehicle, and become one of MGM’s biggest stars, and Durbin’s early successes reportedly brought Universal out of bankruptcy when all the other studios were faltering. Every Sunday is a rare look at these great stars as young girls, unsure and not entirely confident–yet still belting out songs with those powerful and unforgettable voices.