In 1916, song-and-dance man Harry Palmer (Gene Kelly) meets Jo Hayden (Judy Garland) and Jimmy K. Metcalfe (George Murphy), partners in a vaudeville act playing at the same small-town theater. Jimmy and Harry, who both have ambitions to make it on "the big time" circuit, quickly become rivals.

One night, Harry invites Jo for coffee, plotting to get her to leave Jimmy and become his new partner. After they playfully perform a new arrangement of "For Me and My Gal," Jo, too, feels that she and Harry are great together, but does not want to hurt Jimmy. Realizing how loyal Jo is, Harry is remorseful and confesses his scheme to her. When Jo returns to her hotel, Jimmy, who is secretly in love with Jo, asks if Harry has suggested that she be his new partner. Jimmy then says that he has been planning to break up their act and insists to the suspicious Jo that he is not just making a noble sacrifice.

As America prepares for war, Harry and Jo go on the road together, playing at small-time vaudeville houses. One day, while on a train to Chicago, Jo reads that Harry and his partner, comic Sid Simms (Ben Blue), are now playing on the prestigious Orpheum circuit. Harry is embittered that he and Jo have not been so successful, and when he accidentally wanders into the private car of vaudeville headliner Eve Minard (Martha Eggerth), he is dazzled.

In Chicago, while Harry spends time with Eve, Jimmy, who sympathizes with the unrequited love she feels for Harry, visits Jo. That night, Jo goes to Eve's hotel suite and tells her that she loves Harry. Eve gently tells Jo that Harry is an opportunist and not worthy of her, then, to prove her point, asks Jo to hide when Harry arrives. Eve makes Harry an offer to join her act, and when Harry realizes that Jo will not be part of the deal, he only hesitates for a moment.

Back at their hotel, Harry tries to break the news to Jo, unaware that she already knows, and she pretends that she wants to go back with Jimmy. When she starts to cry, though, he realizes that he is in love with her and decides to turn Eve down. As they are about to leave for their next job, they get a telegram from their agent, Eddie Milton (Keenan Wynn), saying that they are booked for the Palace in New York, and Harry proposes that they marry after their first matinee.

In New York, when they discover that the telegram was supposed to read "the Palace in Newark," they are shattered, especially as Jimmy and Sid actually are opening at the Palace, New York. Harry still wants to get married that day, but Jo insists on waiting until they really play the Palace. A short time later, Bert Waring (Stephen McNally), manager of the Palace, sees their act in Newark and offers them a booking. They are ecstatic until Harry receives a draft notice. Despite Jo's feelings that he, like her kid brother Danny, must do his duty, Harry bitterly determines that he will not lose his big chance.

A few weeks later, after receiving several postponements, Harry must report for his physical the day before they open at the Palace and, in desperation, slams the lid of a heavy trunk down on his hand. The next day, after he receives a six-week deferment, he returns to his hotel to find Jimmy there, in uniform. When Jo receives a telegram informing her that Danny has been killed in action, Harry tries to comfort her, but when she sees his hand, she realizes what he has done and says that she never wants to see him again.

After six weeks, Harry learns that his hand is permanently crippled and he will never be admitted to the Army. He then tries to enlist in other branches of the service, but is turned down. Some time later, Harry goes to a bond rally and runs into Sid, who suggests that Harry go with him to France as a YMCA entertainer.

In Paris, Jo, who is entertaining troops, sees Jimmy and arranges to meet him after her show. Jimmy then runs into Harry, who has joined Sid. Harry admits his bitterness over not being in a real uniform, but Jimmy makes him realize that he is not such a bad person after all. Knowing that Jo is about to arrive, Jimmy leaves. Although Jo is happy to see Harry, he quickly leaves after asking for her forgiveness.

One rainy night, Harry and Sid arrive in a small French town, where a desperate army doctor asks Harry to contact a convoy of ambulances that is unwittingly heading toward heavy German fire. Because Harry cannot get through on the field telephone, he jumps into his car and rides ahead. When the car breaks down, he walks on to meet the convoy and, though wounded, Harry throws a grenade to destroy the machine gun that is firing on the ambulances. At the end of the war, Jo is appearing at the Palace Theater in Paris. When she sees Jimmy, Sid and Harry in the audience, she runs down to embrace Harry, and Jimmy and Sid push them onstage to do their big number, For Me and My Gal.

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Golden Globes
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Busby Berkeley had directed some of Hollywood’s most opulent musicals, yet he consistently stated that his favorite of all his films was the modest “For Me and My Gal”. The film was in development for over a year, first known as The Big Time, then as Applause. On the surface, this nostalgic salute to vaudeville during World War I seems like an odd choice from the man who turned movie musicals into kaleidoscopic fantasies and revolutionized the art form with innovative camera angles and boundless imagination. But it turns out the slave-driving ‘Buzz’, as he was affectionately dubbed, was deep down an old softie, and none of his films mirrored his own life as closely as “For Me and My Gal”.

Berkeley, however, wasn't the only member of the company with a vaudeville background. This film is the first and best of the pairings between Garland and Kelly. They both had a lot to prove in this picture – it's his screen debut and her first major role as an adult romantic lead – and their combined talent makes this film a real winner. She was just 19 when she began shooting “For Me and My Gal”, the first picture that would give her solo billing above the title. Yet such an honor would not be the musical's only notable first.

The film also marked the screen debut of Gene Kelly, who was originally signed to play the second (and far less interesting) male lead. Days before production commenced, however, MGM had Kelly switch roles with leading man George Murphy, and a major career was born. As the lovable heel that woos, wins, loses, and must fight to reclaim Garland, Kelly proved he was much more than a common Broadway hoofer. His magnetic personality, athletic dancing, and palpable chemistry with Garland made him an instant star. Although his character remains largely unlikable for most of the film, Kelly's charm wins us over.
Gene Kelly later said of Garland:

“Judy pulled me through. She was very kind and helpful, more than she even realized, because I watched her to find out what I had to do. I was amazed at her skill; she knew every mark and every move. All I could do for her was help with the dancing. She wasn't a dancer, but she could pick up a step instantly. She was a very relaxed, marvelous person...the most talented performer we've ever had."
George Murphy was a famous song-and-dance man, appearing in many big-budget musicals such as “Broadway Melody of 1938” and “Broadway Melody of 1940”. He made his movie debut shortly after talking pictures had replaced silent movies in 1930, and his career continued until he retired as an actor in 1952, at the age of 50. He eventually became California’s State Senator from 1965 to 1971.

When the film was initially previewed, the audience was dissatisfied with the ending: they thought that Garland should end up with Murphy rather than Kelly. This prompted Louis B. Mayer to order three weeks of additional shooting to give Kelly's character more of a conscience and to reduce Murphy's presence in the film, which didn’t set to well with Murphy. After that, there was a fair bit of on set animosity between George Murphy and Gene Kelly. Murphy was a veteran song and dance man from many film musicals and felt he was deserving of the starring role in the film. As he saw it, because it was Kelly's first film, Kelly didn't deserve the role.

However, Murphy later says in his memoirs that, “in the original ending I was supposed to wind up with Judy Garland instead of Kelly, but it was changed midpoint during shooting. Of course I didn't like that idea, but looking at the film, it works out so much for the better.”