Susan Bradley arrives in Sandrock, New Mexico to work in a newly established Harvey restaurant. But there's opposition to the travellers' rest from Judge Sam Purvis and saloon-owner Ned Trent, whose affections are jealously guarded by good-time gal, Em.
As the railroads spread across America, Fred Harvey made his fortune with a chain of restaurants which proudly claimed to have `conquered the undeveloped territory with a beefsteak and a cup of coffee'. MGM bought the rights to Samuel Hopkins Adams's book about the Harvey houses as a dramatic vehicle for Lana Turner. However, Arthur Freed's right-hand man, Roger Edens, saw one of the New Haven tryouts for Oklahoma! in 1944 and, realising that the Western show was about to hit big, suggested turning the project into a Judy Garland musical.
However, Garland was less than enamoured with the idea, as she had set her heart on co-starring with Fred Astaire in Yolanda and the Thief, which was about to be directed by her new husband, Vincente Minnelli. But, convinced by Edens that Yolanda was merely a supporting role that might expose her dancing deficiencies, Garland signed up to what would become one of her few trouble-free productions. Moreover, it provided one of her signature tunes. Written to cash-in on the success of `The Trolley Song' in Meet Me in St Louis, `On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe' was an old-fashioned showstopper and it earned Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer the Oscar for Best Song. Yet, ironically, both Mercer and Bing Crosby had bigger hits with it than Garland, whose bout of stage fright meant that Dinah Shore got to sing it at the Academy Awards ceremony. Garland is radiant throughout this homespun morality tale. But she's admirably supported by Ray Bolger (who'd been her Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, 1939), the wisecracking Virginia O'Brien and the young Cyd Charisse (in what was her first speaking role). However, Angela Lansbury comes close to stealing the show as the catty floosie, Em. Indeed, she was so convincing that people abused her in the street for trying to lure John Hodiak from their Judy.
Judy Garland is magnificent in this charming musical with a number of star turns from the impressive cast.