On Judy Garland in "A Child Is Waiting" (1962)
Judy Garland was forty in 1962 when she made A Child Is Waiting, produced by Stanley Kramer and directed by a young John Cassavetes. It’s an incredibly odd social problem picture that is somehow very much of its time and also completely sui generis, a drama set at a progressive school for developmentally disabled children run by—of all people—Burt Lancaster. Garland shows up at the beginning of the movie as a kind of artist manqué looking for a job as a music teacher at the school. (Lancaster’s secretary tells him she’s been “drifting” in New York, typical behavior for “a girl [who’s] in her thirties [sic] and still alone.”) At this point in her career Garland was in decline; her face looks haggard and tired here, and there’s a desperate, grasping quality that bleeds the performance and the character together. As Lancaster and his secretary discuss Garland while observing one of their young charges (see below), the implication is that Garland herself is closer to being an inmate at the school than an authority figure. Directionless, inexperienced, and guilty of becoming too emotionally attached to a favorite student, she is a case study in pathology unto herself. In the end, as she proves her worth by mounting a successful Thanksgiving pageant, the film suggests that she has been solved along with its many other social problems.