by Elizabeth Stoddard
I Could Go On Singing is Judy Garland’s final film, a close to her life’s work in cinema. This fact gives more layers than might otherwise be expected of the 1963 musical. A tenuous plot involving past lovers and an orphaned child is wedged in between knock-out musical numbers performed by the singer-actress.
Garland’s friend and co-star Dirk Bogarde (later to star in Death in Venice) plays chilly Brit doctor David, with whom her character, world-famous singer Jenny Bowman, once had an affair. He and his late wife raised son Matt (Gregory Phillips) telling the child he was adopted. Since Jenny’s in town, she wants to spend time with the boy. This is the bare premise of the story, although as producer Lawrence Turman (The Graduate) admits in one of the commentary tracks for the Twilight Time Blu-Ray release, “There’s no story.”
Garland as Jenny doesn’t have much to base her character on; there’s barely anything to the role except her singing and desire to know her son. The relationship between David and Jenny is paced all wrong, with his deep anger towards her abruptly changing to affection in the last section of the film. They share a sweet moment (supposedly Garland and Bogarde rewrote the scene themselves), sure, but by that late point in the movie, it’s not enough.
What I Could Go On Singing does well, and extremely well at that, is the performance aspect. Director Ronald Neame (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) uses long takes when Jenny/Judy is onstage, enveloping the viewer in her act. The “It Never Was You” number is one long shot, which (according to the other commentary track) is a live performance. Instead of acting along with a previously-made recording — as musicals usually required at the time — Judy and the pianist are creating the music as we hear it.
Because of this, I Could Go On Singing is basically as close as most of us can get to having a Judy Garland concert experience. The conductor from her late ’50s concert tour appears as her conductor here. She stands alone on stage, singing her heart out, gloriously gesticulating and completely selling it.
It’s easy to see why the producers wanted her in this role, flimsy as it may be, a sort of riff on her real life. Besides the powerful musical numbers, there are a few glimpses of her true acting talent. Now we watch her last film and think of lost potential… if only.
Somewhat related: Although this You Must Remember This episode doesn’t discuss I Could Go On Singing, it covers the later portion of Garland’s life.
Special Features and Extras: includes an isolated score track, audio commentary track with producer Lawrence Turman and film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman (full of behind-the-scenes gossip), as well as another audio commentary track with film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros (which offers more information about Bogarde, and Garland’s musical numbers)
Theatrical Trailer: includes the original theatrical trailer and advertisement for TV
The Blu-Ray edition of I Could Go On Singing is available from Twilight Time in a limited edition release of 3,000 units.