It was the most financially successful picture for both Garland and Astaire as well as the highest-grossing musical of the year.
In 1912, Broadway star Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) is buying Easter presents for his sweetheart ("Happy Easter"). He buys a cuddly Easter rabbit after persuading a young boy to part with it and buy a set of drums instead ("Drum Crazy"). Hewes takes the gifts to his dancing partner, Nadine Hale (Ann Miller), who explains that she has an offer for a show that would feature her as a solo star. Don tries to change her mind and it looks as if he has succeeded ("It Only Happens When I Dance With You"), until Don's best friend, Johnny (Peter Lawford), turns up. Nadine reveals that she and Don are no longer a team and it becomes obvious that Nadine is attracted to Johnny. She continues to pursue Johnny, but he refuses her out of respect for Don.
Don drowns his sorrows at a bar, where he brags that he can make a star of the next dancer he meets. He picks one of the girls dancing on the stage, Hannah Brown (Judy Garland), and tells her to meet him for rehearsal the next day. Don tries to turn Hannah into a copy of Nadine, teaching her to dance the same way, buying her dresses in a similar style and giving her an "exotic" stage name, "Juanita." However, Hannah makes several mistakes at their first performance, and the show is a fiasco.
Hannah meets Johnny, who is instantly attracted to her and sings "A Fella With An Umbrella" while walking her to her rehearsal with Don. After Johnny tries - unsuccessfully - to reunite Nadine and Don by inviting them both to lunch and then leaving them alone, she tells him her friends are laughing because Hannah is trying to be her. Don realizes his mistake and after hearing Hannah sing "I Love A Piano," works out routines more suited to Hannah's personality. Now known as "Hannah & Hewes", the duo are shown much more successfully performing "Snookie-Ookums", "The Ragtime Violin", and "When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam.'"
At an audition for Ziegfeld Follies, they meet Nadine, who is starring in the show. Hannah realizes that Nadine was Don's former dancing partner and demands to know if they were in love. Later, Don meets Hannah back at the hotel and reveals that he turned down the Ziegfeld offer, believing that Hannah and Nadine do not belong in the same show. Johnny arrives and takes Hannah out for dinner, at which Johnny reveals that he has fallen in love with Hannah. While Hannah does like Johnny, she admits she is actually in love with Don. She and Johnny continue to have a close friendship.
Nadine's show opens and Don goes to see it ("Shakin' The Blues Away"). He meets Hannah the next day, tells her they will be starring in another show and invites her to dinner to celebrate. Hannah goes to dinner at Don's, only to have him suggest a dance rehearsal. She is immediately upset and tells him that he doesn't see her as a woman, but as a dancing aid. She tries to leave, but Don stops her and kisses her. Hannah then plays the piano and sings "It Only Happens When I Dance With You," after which Don realizes he is in love with Hannah and they embrace.
The couple take part in a variety show, with a solo by Don ("Steppin' Out With My Baby") and then comes the most famous musical number in the film ("A Couple of Swells"), in which Don and Hannah play a pair of street urchins with vivid imaginations. Don and Hannah go out to celebrate after the show and end up watching Nadine perform. Nadine is mad with jealousy when the audience gives Don and Hannah a round of applause as they come in. After she dances in a number called "The Girl On The Magazine Cover," she insists that Don perform one of their old numbers with her for old times' sake - "It Only Happens When I Dance With You (Reprise)." When Don reluctantly agrees, Hannah becomes upset and runs out, believing that Don has only been using her to regain Nadine, and that he has succeeded.
She ends up at the bar where she and Don first met. She pours out her troubles to Mike the bartender ("Better Luck Next Time"). When Hannah returns to her apartment, she finds Don waiting for her. Don tries to explain that he was forced to dance with Nadine and tells Hannah he'll wait all night for her to forgive him, but just before Hannah opens the door, Don is kicked out of her building by the house detective. The next morning Hannah tells Johnny about her and Don's misunderstanding. Johnny says if he loved someone he would let her know it, implying that Hannah should forget the argument and be with Don. Hannah realizes that Johnny is right and goes to meet Don for their date for the Easter Parade.
Meanwhile, Don has been receiving various gifts at his apartment that morning, such as a rabbit and a new top hat, unaware that they're from Hannah. She arrives unexpectedly at his house, as if the argument never happened. As they walk in the Easter parade, photographers, echoing a scene with Nadine from the beginning of the film, take their pictures, and Don proposes to Hannah ("Easter Parade").Judy Garland as Hannah Brown
Fred Astaire as Don Hewes. Gene Kelly was originally cast as Don, but Kelly was injured (he broke his ankle playing volleyball) just prior to production and Astaire, who had announced his retirement from film, was coaxed back by Kelly to replace him. (Astaire would "retire" several more times over the next decade, but he would also go on to make a number of additional classic musicals in between retirements.)
Peter Lawford as Jonathan Harrow III
Ann Miller as Nadine Hale. This film marked the major MGM debut of tap-dancer Miller (who had previously been under contract to RKO in the thirties and then to Columbia Pictures in the early to mid-forties), replacing Cyd Charisse, who had to bow out of the production due to a broken leg.
Jeni Le Gon as Essie, Nadine's servant
Jules Munshin as François
Clinton Sundberg as Mike the bartender
Jimmy Bates as the boy in the toy shop
The film won the 1948 Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. The writers of the film also received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical.
2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
"Steppin' Out with My Baby" – Nominated
2006: AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
All songs by Irving Berlin
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Performance credits below indicate both singing and dancing unless otherwise noted.
- "Happy Easter" (Fred Astaire)
- "Drum Crazy" (Astaire)
- "It Only Happens When I Dance with You" (Astaire singing, dancing with Ann Miller)
- "I Want To Go Back To Michigan" (Judy Garland)
- "A Fella with an Umbrella" (Peter Lawford, Garland)
- Vaudeville Montage: "I Love a Piano" (Garland singing, dancing with Astaire), "Snookey Ookums" (Astaire, Garland), "The Ragtime Violin" (Astaire singing, dancing with Garland), and "When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam'" (Garland, Astaire)
- "Shakin' the Blues Away" (Miller)
- "It Only Happens When I Dance With You (reprise)" (Garland singing)
- "Steppin' Out with My Baby" (Astaire, chorus, and featured dancers Patricia Jackson, Bobbie Priest, Dee Turnell)
- "A Couple of Swells" (Astaire, Garland)
- "The Girl on the Magazine Cover" (Richard Beavers singing, Miller dancing)
- "It Only Happens When I Dance With You (instrumental)" (Astaire and Miller dancing)
- "Better Luck Next Time" (Garland singing)
- "Easter Parade" (Garland, Astaire)
One musical number, a seductive performance of "Mr. Monotony" by Garland wearing the top half of a tuxedo and nylon tights (a style of dress which would become something of a trademark in later years after she wore the same outfit in 1950's Summer Stock), was cut from the film as it was deemed too risqué for a film supposedly set in 1912. Audiences finally got to see this number in the 1990s when an edited version was included in the 1994 compilation film That's Entertainment! III. The complete number was first seen as part of the extras on the VHS and Laser Disc special edition versions the following year. When Easter Parade was released to DVD, several minutes of outtakes, raw footage, and alternate takes of this performance were included in addition to the footage previously released.
As with White Christmas six years later, it is impossible to remix the musical numbers from this film into Stereo or surround sound, because the original audio track recordings burned in a fire, leaving only a monaural composite track containing dialogue, music and effects, and an isolated music-only track intended for international release.
The film earned $4,144,000 in the US and Canada and $1,659,000 overseas, resulting in a profit of $5,803,000. According to Variety it was the second most popular film of 1948.