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Film Appreciation... Other SuggestedMusicals
 

 

"The Jazz Singer" (1927)
It is no accident that "The Jazz Singer", the first contemporary talking picture, was also a musical! How better to showcase the newest version of the art form. The story of young Jakie Rabinowitz who is torn between family tradition and the roar of the crowd and the smell of the grease paint captured the hearts of audiences everywhere. The film's star Al Jolson was the primary inspiration for the essential story.

"Broadway Melody" (1929)
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture (Harry Rapf), the film also received two other nominations, one for Best director (Harry Beaumont) and one for Best Actress (Bessie Love).

"Gold Diggers of 1933" (1933)
Director Mervyn LeRoy's depression era extravaganza is a classic example of 1930's era escapism. A well done version of a classic plot, which features a beautiful chorus girl falling in love and being rescued by a millionaire and getting her big break on stage to boot. Watch for Ginger Rogers as Fay Fortune. The film features extraordinary choreography by Busby Berkeley including his signature kaleidoscopic patterning that not only revolutionized choreography but also had a lasting impact on cinematography. Watch for two of the film's celebrated numbers, "We're in the Money" and "My Forgotten Man".

"Flying Down to Rio" (1933)
Originally conceived of as a vehicle for RKO's Dolores Del Rio this film is most notable for its star making pairing of Fred Asiaire and Ginger Rogers. The two relative unknowns smoked up the screen in a dance number called "The Carioca" that generated such a positive response form critics and fans that they were eventually reunited in nine subsequent films.

"Top Hat" (1935)
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire are magical in this romantic musical about mistaken identities. Irving Berlin's music and Hermes Pan and Fred Astaire's fluid choreography combine seamlessly with the films story line. The film features three classic numbers "Top Hat", "Isn't This A Lovely Day?", and "Dancing Cheek to Cheek". Rogers and Astaire epitomized the grace and charm of the 1930's. Nominated for four Academy Awards, the film was made for $620,000 and grossed over $3million in its initial release.

"The Music Man" (1938)
Robert Preston is a delight as Professor Harold Hill, the con man who comes to River City, IA, to organize a boy's band. His plan is to head out of town with the dough, but he gets caught when - of course -- he falls in love with the town librarian (Shirley Jones). The production quality isn't top notch, but the songs are fun, and the film features some of the best character actors in film, including Buddy Hackett, Hermione Gingold, Mary Wickes, Paul Ford, and an itty-bitty Ronny Howard.

"The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
After she is knocked unconscious during a tornado Dorothy awakens in Munchkin Land with no idea of how to return home to her family in Kansas. She is helped in her quest to find her her way home by Glinda the good witch (who gives her a pair of magical ruby slippers) and a trio of companions, a scarecrow, a cowardly lion., and a tin woodsman. The film ultimately proves that there is no place like home, even if it is Kansas. The film features marvelous performances from a young Judy Garland (the studio originally wanted Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy), Ray Bolger (The Scarecrow/Hunk), Bert Lahr (The Cowardly Lion/Zeke), Jack Haley (The Tin Woodsman/Hickory), Billy Burke (Glinda), Frank Morgan (The Wizard), and the wonderfully evil Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch/Miss Gulch). Love those flying monkey's!

Click here to look at David Letterman's top ten ways the "Wizard Of Oz" would be different if it were made today.

"Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942)
Michael Curtiz's all American musical tells the story of George M. Cohan the all American entertainer who wrote the patriotic homily "Over There" and eventually received a Congressional medal of honor from President Roosevelt. This film was star James Cagney's favorite film and won him his only Best Actor Award. The most Patriotic Musical ever made this film made the AFI list of the 100 greatest movies in 1998.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944)
This romanticized musical details the trials and tribulations of a closely knit turn-of-the-century family living in suburban St. Louis in 1903. Based on the memoirs of Sally Benson which were published in The New Yorker as the "Kensington stories" the movie was filmed in luscious Technicolor. The film was produced by the legendary Arthur Freed and directed by Vincente Minnelli (who subsequently married Judy Garland).

"On The Town" (1949)
Producer Arthur Freed hired Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen to direct this musical about three sailors on shore leave in New York. This film is often credited as launching the modern musical. The film certainly marks a departure from the classic decade (the 1930's), and incorporates numerous new cinematic techniques. For starters, many of the films sequences were shot on location on the streets of New York rather than on a studio set. The film also fully integrated the dance sequences and musical numbers into the action in a way that was seldom seen during the 1930's. This marks a shift in musicals as songs increasingly become used to advance the plot and or the relationships of the characters. Putting that aside the movie features wonderful performances by Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Ann Miller.

"An American in Paris" (1951)
One of the most sophisticated musicals ever produced. Director Vincent Minnelli and an outstanding cast that included Gene Kelly,Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant successfully recreated Paris on the backlot at MGM and took the musical to new artistic heights. The story of an American GI who remained in Paris after the war to become a painter and to eventually discover love with a beautiful dancer captured the hearts of the film going public (it was the third highest grossing film in America that year). Producer Arthur Freed's groundbreaking film received six of the eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture) it was nominated for and star-choreographer Gene virtually rewrote the book on dance with this movie. Featuring the music of George Gershwin the films climactic modern ballet sequence draws on the work of Manet, Lautrec and Raoul Duffy literally changed the way the artistic community looked at films in general and musicals in particular.

"Singin' In the Rain" (1952)
Certainly one of the greatest Hollywood musicals ever the movie is based on the inspired idea of depicting the transition between silent films and talking pictures. The film is a virtual catalogue of musical styles utilized during the 30's and 40's. It quite literally shows you virtually a sample of every thing you ever need to know about the golden age of Hollywood musicals and quite a bit about Hollywood itself. Featuring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen and Cyd Charisse performing, among other numbers "Singin' in the Rain" and "Make 'Em Laugh". Directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, and written by the legendary team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green the film is everything a musical should be. If you see only one musical in your life, make it this one.

"The Band Wagon" (1953)
Vincente Minnelli directs this comeback story of a Hollywood star who revives his career by trying a Broadway show. This companion to "Singin' In the Rain" was also produced by Arthur Freed and written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and is as much a satire of Broadway as the former film was a satire on Hollywood. The film stars Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Bucahanan., and a young James Mitchell, (Palmer Cortland to all of you AMC fans) Watch for these classic musical numbers "Triplets", "That's Entertainment", and "Dancing in the Dark" which is one of Astaire's best duets.

"West Side Story" (1961)
One of the all-time Oscar champs (ten statues, one less than Ben-Hur), the movie version of the Bernstein / Sondheim stage show takes Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to the streets. A delight. (reviewed by Sean Henry)

"Sound of Music" (1965)
Based on the true story of the Von Trapp families flight to Switzerland from the Nazis in 1938 the film was directed by Oscar winner Robert Wise and featured outstanding performances from virtually all of its performers. The film solidified the star status of its leading lady Julie Andrews (fresh from her Best Actress Oscar win in "Mary Poppins" ), and rapidly became a box office sensation grossing $80 million dollars in box office sales it beat out previous record holder "Gone With The Wind" as the most popular film of all time. The film won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. Blatantly manipulative and excessively sentimental (costar Christopher Plumber once reportedly referred to it as "The Sound OF Mucus"), the film is none the less brilliant and can correctly be categorized as one of many peoples "favorite things".

"Help!" (1965)
"So, we made this movie, and it did very, very well. Do you think it would be safe to make another one?" Hmmm. One of the things Alfred Hitch did after he had established himself as a commercially successful auteur was go back and remake one of his earlier films, "The Man Who Knew Too Much". He kept roughly the same story, adding in big name stars, exotic locales, and a new song. This is relatively similar to the idea behind "Help!", the second Beatles film vehicle. With their last outing a hit, the Beatles brought back director Richard Lester and gave him plenty of wacky toys, colorful actors, and bizarre sets to play with. The storyline (a "filthy Eastern cult" tries to steal back Ringo's sacrificial ring) is secondary to the spectacle, which is the Beatles acting silly and singing. Unfortunately, despite the vast improvements in production quality, "Help!" fails to capture the fun of the first film but it does serve as an entertaining satire of all the Bond films of the 60's. (reviewed by Sean Henry)
Click here for more information about "Help!"

"Paint Your Wagon" (1969)
Just kidding...

"Cabaret" (1972)
Probably the last real musical until 1996 blessed us with Evita. Liza Minelli is a down and out cabaret singer in pre-war Germany. By turns dazzlingly romantic and harshly cynical, Bob Fosse directs with Joel Grey mirroring the action on the cabaret stage. Fosse, Minelli, and Grey all won Oscars. (reviewed by Sean Henry)

"Funny Girl" (1968)
William Wyler directs superstar Barbara Striesand's (who won an Academy Award for Best Actress) in one of her best films (Yentl not with standing). The story of comedienne Fannie Brice who overcame her early days in the Jewish slums of the Lower East Side, to become one of the top stars in the Ziegfield Follies. The film also details her marriage to and eventual divorce from her first husband, Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif). The film was nominated for eight Academy awards and won one.

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975)
A musical about transvestites (from Transylvania, no less)? The popular midnight movie is 100% pure schlock, but it's incredibly amusing schlock. Tim Curry has never been wilder as Dr. Frank N. Furter and Susan Sarandon makes a doe-eyed debut as Janet. This is another "don't watch it at school, and don't blame us if you rent it and then Oklahoma City police break down your door and take it away - kind of movie." (by Sean Henry)

"Saturday Night Fever" (1977)
The movie that made John Travolta (he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor), a star and legitimized disco, Saturday Night Fever" is one of Roger Ebert's favorite films. A coming of age film about a young man trapped in a boring day job who comes alive on the dance floor. The film is a good explanation of disco and the pop culture of the 70's. At the very least it proved that Travolta has some of the best moves on screen.

"Grease" (1978)
John Travolta and pop star Olivia Newton John made this movie a sizzling summer success and favorite with musical lovers everywhere but particularly teenagers. The film cause a revival of 50's chic and features some memorable songs. Putting all that aside if we are to believe the song "Grease is the word."

"All That Jazz" (1979)
Bob Fosse's screamingly autobiographical musical features the most innovative choreography ever captured on screen. It also features open heart surgery (Fosse's own). To say that it is a controversial film is putting it mildly! Essentially, it details the life of a Broadway choreographer and filmmaker whose life is spiraling completely out of control. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards (including Picture, director, and Actor) and won four. Featuring memorable performances from Roy Schieder, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking, and Ben Vereen the movie is a must see for any dance student.

"The Little Mermaid" (1989)
This contemporary adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson tale features one of the best musical scores ever captured on film. Allen Menken's memorable score features such wonderful songs as "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl" both of which were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song. The film not only won for best song ("Under the Sea"), it also won best Musical Score. The story of a little mermaid (Ariel - Jodi Benson), who falls in love with a human prince and must sacrifice everything in order to be with him, features wonderful animated characters including the deliciously evil Ursula (Pat Carroll), and Ariel's staunchest protectors Scuttle (Buddy Hakett) and Flounder (Jason Marin). A genuine toe taper, kids will enjoy it and adults will appreciate it.

"Beauty and the Beast" (1991)
A contemporary masterpiece Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" was the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (it won the Golden Globe). The story of the independent Belle (a beautiful young woman who prefers books to peoples opinions of her), and her encounter with a cruel prince who has been turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress instantly captured the hearts of viewers everywhere. The classic story is brought to life by memorable songs (the film's songs received an unprecedented three Oscar nominations), and a series of colorfully endearing characters including Belle (Paige O'Hara), The Beast (Robby Benson), Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), Cogsworth(David Ogden Stiers), and the fabulous Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury). The films extraordinary use of the multi-plane camera makes this not only a wonderful musical but also a fabulous animated film.

Click here to read Christa Williams' review of "Beauty and the Beast"

 

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