Easter Parade is set in 1912 New York, and as with any film set in a different era to the one in which it was made, you can see the odd bit of late 1940's styling creeping in, be it a hairstyle or whatever.
Astaire plays Don Hewes, one half of the popular Broadway dance combo of Nadine and Hewes. Nadine (Ann Miller), decides she is destined for bigger and better things and goes off on her own to star in the Ziegfield Follies. In a state of drunken dispair, Hewes holes up in a bar with friend Johnny (Peter Lawford) and declares that he can take any common showgirl and turn her into his next partner. So, with the gauntlet thrown down, Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) enters stage left and Hewes has his girl. Hewes promises Hannah that within a year they'll walk down Fifth Avenue and it will be them that turn heads rather than Nadine.
And that is the premise of Easter Parade. Although a little predictable in plotting, this cliche is soon forgotten as we are launched into a pacey, enjoyable jaunt through the rest of the film as Hewes and Brown work on their act together.
The song and dance numbers are, as you would expect, incredible. With Astaire starring, you just know that you are in for a first class performance, and that is what you get. But it is here that the story behind Easter Parade gets interesting. There was talk that the film was to have originally starred Gene Kelly (who dropped out with a broken ankle). You cannot help but wonder how different the film might have been with Kelly in the lead role.
Firstly, Garland and Astaire are two of the greatest cinematic performers that ever lived, and certainly, in their own right, they are both captivating to watch. And yet, somehow, watching them on screen, there is something missing, the chemistry just isn't what it should be.
I think there are a number of reasons for this. For a start, the age gap between the two can't have helped, although this is surmountable. The crux of the problem lies with Astaire. The film is a Pygmalion story, whereby a classy, powerful man takes a humble, lowly girl and makes all her dreams come true, and Easter Parade has much in common with My Fair Lady (also see Pretty Woman). Astaire is very much a gentleman with class, sophistication, style and wit, but he doesn't have the necessary power, charisma or brute masculinity to convey the part well. We are never completely convinced by him. And this is where I think casting Gene Kelly would have worked.
Gene Kelly was a more muscular, physical and powerful performer and he would have complimented the girlish Garland much better than sauve Astaire, and, there was less of an age gap. I hate to say it, but I can't help thinking that Easter Parade would have been the better film had they cast Kelly over Astaire. And I hate to say this as I love both actors. Still, it is what it is, and Easter Parade remains a wonderful film.
Astaire is at his best when performing alone and is not weighed down by a partner, for example, in the second number 'Drum Crazy', he just takes flight. On reflection, I think it is this performance that really draws you in to the film. The three other standout numbers are the wonderful 'A Couple of Swells', an iconic number from Astaire and Garland dressed as tramps, an athletic solo dance piece to 'Shakin' The Blues Away' from the superb Ann Miller and a very clever, highly sophisticated slow-motion effect for 'Stepping Out With My Baby'.
All in all, a hugely enjoyable, easy going, fun musical that will stay with you long after the final credits. To have remained so poluar, for so long, is recommendation enough.