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The Judy Garland Christmas Show

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This holiday classic encapsulates everything that is both ridiculous and sublime about Judy Garland -- as a singer, if not as an actress. The throaty perfection of her voice enjoyably roughened by years of booze and pill abuse, the star begins with a touching rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," originally written for her by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for the Vincente Minnelli-directed chestnut Meet Me in St. Louis. Here, though, instead of singing to her onscreen sister, Garland sings to her real-life children, Joey and Lorna, with a mixture of maternal tenderness and interpretive pathos. Forty-five minutes later, Garland closes with her signature tune "Over the Rainbow," still managing to wring melancholy hope from it almost 25 years after The Wizard of Oz. In between these two tour-de-force songs, Garland plays ringleader to an absurd holiday circus that veers from precious, but off-key, performances by the aforementioned children to the smooth songcraft of Mel Torme and Jack Jones. The show also features proto-Sally Bowles swagger from Garland's other daughter, Liza Minnelli, age 17. There's plenty of showbiz hokum on display, but Garland's interpretive gifts and strong choice of collaborators turn even the show's stagiest moments into solid entertainment. Her duet with Torme on one of his own tunes, "The Christmas Song," features plenty of backstory for Garland fanatics; for everyone else, it's simply a wonderfully off-the-cuff rendition of a holiday favorite. The group hymns go on a little too long, while Garland's woozy banter seems both comic and tragic given her eventual death from a drug overdose. But with the possible exception of her post-JFK rendering of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" a few weeks later, the bookend classics from The Judy Garland Christmas Show represent the singer's defining television moments. Brian J. Dillard, All Movie Guide