The Great Judy Goes Out With Her Head Held High
Critical opinion of I COULD GO ON SINGING seems to be a consensus that it represents a sad finale to her career, but I do not see it that way at all. Because while the plot is old hat and could have been lifted right out of a cheap soap opera, the considerable talents of the cast, with Garland still in peak form leading the way, make this film greater than the sum of its parts.
Garland is Jenny Bowman, a singer whose career has always come first. Fifteen years previously, she had an affair with then-medical-student and now successful doctor David Donne (Dirk Bogarde), an affair which produced a son. Jenny, forced perhaps into a choice (it isn't quite clear in the somewhat muddled script), leaves the boy with his father, who marries another woman with whom he raises the boy, Matt (Gregory Phillips). Matt grows up believing his father's wife to be his mother; again, the reason for all these lies seems unclear.
Anyway, perhaps inevitably, after the death of David's wife, Jenny shows up in London while on a concert tour and proceeds to try to insinuate herself into her son's life. Since the kid, like most upper-middle-class English children were in those days, is in boarding school, it is easier for Jenny to go behind David's back in her quest for the affections of the boy.
In the end, the plot is almost negligible, though I do feel that the David character is a bit too much of a bastard for my taste; Jenny is clearly a self-centered woman but she isn't unreasonable or without human feelings. At times David is such a cold fish one wonders what she ever saw in him.
No, what matters in the end is Garland's performance. And what a performance it is! Jenny Bowman as written appears to have been based at least loosely on Judy, and she does not spare herself: despite her prodigious talent, this woman is not a hero; she is just an ordinary person in many ways, with an extraordinary talent that sometimes brings out the worst in her.
I COULD GO ON SINGING and A STAR IS BORN are probably the only two films Garland ever made in which the lead character was pure Judy. No doubt A STAR IS BORN is the superior film, but this one is hardly the disappointment the critics of the day seemed to think it was, and especially when Garland is onstage, a bit overweight but the voice still intact, the magic is still there and quite irresistible.
Never mess with a middle-aged, Bipolar queen with AIDS and an attitude problem!