Here’s some tasty catnip for Judy Garland fans: a collection of duets with major musical icons from the legendary star’s 1960s TV variety series. Garland, although visibly frail, was still in fine vocal spirits and good spirits, and she brought out the best of her all-star line-up in many (but not all) of these musical segments.
Featured here is a true meeting of soaring talents: the legendary duet with Barbra Streisand that mixed Garland’s “Get Happy” with Streisand’s distinctive interpretation of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Ethel Merman shares a boisterous medley of her standards with Garland, while Tony Bennett graciously brings Garland into his signature tune, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (he is aces here). Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Count Basie, Bobby Darin and an endearingly gawky 17-year-old Liza Minnelli also contribute to some fine tuneful moments.
Oddly, this duets DVD includes a trio with Garland, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra from a TV special not related to Garland’s television series. Garland was visibly heavier in this number (weight fluctuation plagued most of her adult life), and her time with the Rat Pack crooners is not among her finest moments. If trios were being allowed into the mix, it is a shame that the celebrated meeting of voices between Garland, Merman and Streisand was not included, or the hilarious “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” romp that placed Garland, Terry-Thomas and Lena Horne into a droll run through Noel Coward’s memorable ditty. (Horne is represented with a Garland duet of “Day In, Day Out” – a pneumatic interpretation that was not one of the better numbers here, sadly). Two lesser segments with lesser singers – a “West Side Story” medley with Vic Damone and a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald performed by Garland and Jack Jones – can easily be bypassed.
But click through the bonus features section of the DVD and a true gem can be found: Garland’s impassioned rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” performed on television as a tribute to the slain President Kennedy. It is impossible not to have goosebumps listening to what is arguably the greatest American song of all time sung by someone who is arguably the greatest American singer of all time.