A recent trip with a friend to see La La Land in the cinema, a modern-day homage to old Hollywood musical films, which I absolutely loved, has ignited a fierce and sudden passion for all things movie musical, especially the classics with the likes of Sinatra, Kelly, Astaire and others. Whilst I had delved previously into the genre, having sang some of these songs in various choirs and watched some of the most famous on the television around Christmas time, I had not really immersed myself in the classic movie musical world.
However, looking up the classic movie Easter Eggs found in La La Land as an homage to many different musicals, in particular musicals from the ‘Golden Era’ of the musical that has been said to have started in the 1930s and that began to fizzle out by the early 1950s. Films such as ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ address the somewhat difficult transition of silent movie stars into ‘talkies’ or talking pictures. To many, the theatrical music used in silent films to build on the plot was too valuable to lose – so they kept these big, elaborate musical numbers and built on them with words, voices and dancing.
Singin’ in the Rain is considered by many, including the American Film Institute (AFI) to be the greatest movie musical of all-time.
Something is so magical about the surrealism of musicals. The mixture of reality and fantasy is something that leaves you captivated, lost in the music and the dancing. Sure, you could stop to question the likelihood of certain things happening, but that would take away from it. The fantasy element allows the viewer to escape their reality, for example, the Planetarium scene in La La Land when they are floating around. That could never happen in real life, and yet it occurs in ultimately what is a very real film. It makes classic musical films timeless.
The reality helps to build the storyline, to let us look within the characters and establish their back stories, and personalities. Not to mention to help it portray the time periods in which they were set. Note how the majority of endings to musicals tend to fit with the times, for example, many end with a wedding, as that would have been the done thing in those days if you wanted to live with someone and have children, whereas in modern films, many end in people moving in together instead, or cohabitation. Cohabitation is generally acceptable in today’s society but wouldn’t have been as common then.
I love the spontaneous big dance numbers for their coordination and choreography, but similarly I love the more intimate numbers, that create a bridge in between scenes or help to build the characters and their plot line. One of my favourite musical songs (and perhaps more importantly, dance numbers) is ‘The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing’ the lyrics to which I think are a perfect summary of what musicals are.
The best things happen while you’re dancing / Things that you would not do at home come naturally on the floor / For dancing soon becomes romancing / When you hold a girl in your arms that you’ve never held before
The dancing in them helps to build the romantic feel that is typical of most musicals of the ‘Golden Era’, and the ‘best things’ that happen to the characters we are so deeply attached to happen during singing and dancing numbers: the romance and chemistry builds, we learn more about the characters and their personality and it is fun!
Three of my favourite movie musicals are:
On the Town (1949)
Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin star as three sailors from the US Navy, given 24 hours leave to visit New York. Their aim is to try to see all of the sights of New York within just one day. Seeing a picture of Miss Turnstiles (parody of Miss Subway), or by her real name, Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen) in the subway, Gabey (Kelly) soon become infatuated with her and makes it his (and consequently, the others) mission to seek her out. He believes her to be a big shot celebrity, when in reality, Ozzie (Munshin) soon falls in love with anthropologist Claire (Ann Miller) and Chip (Sinatra) becomes romantically involved with a ‘aggressively amorous’ cab driver called Hildy (Betty Garrett). A night of chaos, chasing, singing and dancing ensues.
Best Song: New York, New York (Sinatra, Kelly and Munshin)
Best Dance Number: Main Street (Kelly and Ellen)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
When woodsman Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) asks pretty, young cook Milly (Jane Powell) to marry him, she has no clue what is waiting for her on the arrival home to his farm – that is, his six ill-mannered brothers! She sets out on a mission to teach them manners and etiquette, which they later use in pursuit of wives of their own. However, when they end up kidnap the girls that they desire, a mob of angered villagers are hot on their heels, stopped only by a conveniently timed avalanche which prevents them from getting through until the snow melts. This delay allows the boys to woo their brides, in spite of their initial fury at having been kidnapped.
Best Song: June Bride (Female Leads)
Best Dance Number: Barn Raising Dance (Cast)
Just a note about the Barn Raising Dance; it has got to be one of the most incredible and technically challenging dance numbers I have EVER seen in my life! You simply have to watch it! ❤
White Christmas (1954)
Singing duo Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) join sister act Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen) to perform a Christmas show in rural Vermont. There, they run into General Waverly (Dean Jagger), the boys’ commander in World War II, who, they learn, is having financial difficulties as his quaint country inn is failing. So what’s the foursome to do but plan a yuletide miracle: a fun-filled musical extravaganza that’s sure to put Waverly and his business in the black!
Best Song: White Christmas (Cast)
Note: first featured in the 1942 film, Holiday Inn. This song is considered to be the most successful single of all time, with the Bing Crosby version having sold a record 100 million copies worldwide!
Best Dance Number: The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing (sung by Kaye, danced by Ellen and Kaye)
I really want to watch Call Me Madam next, as it stars the incredibly talented Vera-Ellen, who you may have gathered I am obsessed with, Donald O’Connor (a total sweetheart and underrated for his talent) and Ethel Merman, a woman who was once called ‘the undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage’ because of her incredibly loud singing voice and her tendency to star in stage productions over movies.
I have already seen most of the singing/dancing numbers from Call Me Madam, all of which I think are absolutely fantastic. If the film is anywhere near as good as these elements are of it, I reckon I will end up loving it! ❤
It’s A Lovely Day Today (Dance)
There is this beautiful dance by Vera-Ellen and Donald O’Connor:
What Chance Have I With Love?
Then there is this fantastic singing and dancing solo performed by O’Connor:
You’re Just in Love
Finally, there is this show-stopping duet between Ethel Merman and Donald O’Connor:
I just wanted to briefly apologise for my absence from posting lately. I have been so busy with revision for exams, practicing my solo for choir, finishing coursework and studying for my Grade 1 Singing Exam (on Tuesday) that I simply haven’t had the time! I will try to get some posts together and be more regular, but for the minute, I can’t promise anything.
Thank you all for your understanding, and I hope you enjoyed this post!
What do you think of movie musicals? Do you have a favourite, and if so, why? Have you seen any of the films I mentioned above? Let me know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: All of the pictures used in today’s post can be found on Bing, I own no rights over the photographs.