Harvey Girls, The (1946)

The Harvey Girls (1946), directed by George Sidney.

How the West was won: by singing and dancing waitresses!

The thesis is worth considering: when the Good Girls show up on the frontier, the rough cowpokes give up on the Bad Girls and shift to the other side of the street. The gambling halls and bordellos move farther west. Heck, the church may even reopen.

Lots of sexual politics here, all between the two camps of young women. Each side is curious about the other, with some hostility that might be overcome in the end. Cyd Charisse (in her first speaking role) must cross over to the saloon to dance while the Irish tenor plays piano. And then we have the huge all-girl barroom fight. The times they are a-changing.

Judy Garland is head Good Girl, always with great comic talent, awkwardly wielding six-shooters in the bar. Smoldering Angela Lansbury is head Bad Girl, impossibly young at 21, but always looking older.

The show-stopping number occurs early: "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" was a smash hit that year. It's one of those mind-virus tunes that plagues you for days. On the melancholy side, "It's a Great Big World" is a lovely song.

Providing extra comic relief: Chill Wills, Marjorie Main and dancer Ray Bolger. The big waltz scene is dizzying.

The director's commentary track on the DVD is a fond reminiscence of the golden age of the studio system, rambling but fact-filled: