“Presenting Lily Mars” is a lesser-known Judy Garland film, but I think it’s one of my favorites.
Garland stars as Lily Mars, a nineteen-year-old girl who dreams of being a Broadway star. She’s the oldest child of a widowed mother, and every moment is spent trying earn money to support the family. She’s just sure that if she could get a part on the big stage, her mother’s financial woes would be over, so she’s doubly motivated to land a role.
Her mother makes hats, and one of her customers is the mother of John Thornway, big-time Broadway producer. She has a soft spot for Lily, and speaks to her son about a part, but John (Van Heflin) isn’t interested in auditioning any small town girls. This does not stop Lily, however, who proceeds to throw herself at John repeatedly in some very hysterical and often embarrassing ways.
When John returns to New York, Lily decides to follow him. When she shows up at the theater, he relents and gives her a small part. Her persistence and determination impress him, and before he knows it or even wants it to happen, he’s fallen in love with her.
The leading lady in his show gets jealous and quits, and John makes a mistake, clouded by his new romantic feelings—he casts Lily in the role. She’s ecstatic and throws herself into the part, but the night before the show opens, John has to admit he was wrong. Lily isn’t ready for such a huge step. Her heart is broken.
But she is a girl of integrity, and when the curtain goes up on opening night, she’s there to resume her previous role of chambermaid. John is proud as he watches her on stage, knowing she’s suffered a huge letdown and yet is there to support and uplift the play, and him.
This movie struck me on several levels. First, I’ve always had a thing for older men (my husband is fifteen years older than I am) and so I totally identified with Lily’s crush on John and cheered when he fell in love with her. I liked Heflin’s character a lot in this film—he came across in a very masculine and yet romantic way. I also appreciated the step away from the traditional starlet storyline – girl goes to Broadway and makes it big – as we see Lily struggle for what she wants and actually lose the part. But she used that disappointment to build her own reserves of strength, and we close the movie with her starring performance on stage, which took place some time later, after she learned and honed her skills.
This movie didn’t utilize Judy’s talents quite as much as I would have liked, but I enjoyed it quite a bit nonetheless.
This film was not rated.
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