So the wife and I just watched Busby Berkeley's film THE GANG'S ALL HERE last night. As was to be expected from a Berkeley film, it was darn stylish and the musical numbers were pretty elaborate and colorful. Highly recommended if you like his stuff. Got me thinking about my favorite musical films. I didn't intend this blog to be a running group of lists, but that's just the kind of mood I've been in lately.
As a general rule, I'm not a huge fan of musicals so I have probably skewed the definition of what a musical film is to fit in the movies(that involve music) that I most enjoy. I think for me seeing the actors have fun and make everything seem effortless is really key in my enjoyment of such films. You'll note that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is a little lower on my list. I have to be honest here. I like the film a good deal, but sometimes I feel like I can see a little bit of the strain that the actors are going through to pull of some of the films very memorable scenes. For instance, Donald O'Connor's infamous "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence has always made me a little uncomfortable. I realize that the slapstick humor he is demonstrating is a throwback to vaudeville etc, but I never really thought it was very funny or wacky. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy good slapstick and his agility is nearly unmatched as far as pulling the sequence off. He is a remarkable talent. If you've ever seen his dance sequence on roller skates(!) in I LOVE MELVIN you cannot help but be dazzled by him. I recently listened to the Criterion laserdisc commentary for SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and learned that O'Connor had been smoking about 4 packs of cigarettes a day at the time of starting to rehearse the "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence. So needless to say it was quite a workout for him. They filmed the whole sequence, after which O'Connor spent the following day in bed as he was totally wiped out. Gene Kelly then told him that the film had been fogged during the takes they had done at that he would have to do the whole thing over again. O'Connor complied, but was then bed-ridden for three days after. O'Connor being a consummate pro, does make the sequence look very good. Still, I must say that part of me feels the efforts of a man trying really hard to stay cheerful when I watch it. I think I get that sort of feeling from several sequences in the film and that makes it harder for me to enjoy. I can't connect emotionally to the characters for that reason. I feel kind of the same way about YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. There is absolutely no denying James Cagney is stupendous in the film. I just felt no real connection to it. Now you take a duo like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and, for me, they never make it seem forced(not that Cagney does either mind you). They are both just angelic and effortless and that's what really makes me love their films. I feel myself so much more engaged when I watch them. I should also note that I decided not to mention any Marx Brothers films on the list, but please don't mistake that for a lack of interest in the songs from their films. ANIMAL CRACKERS, DUCK SOUP and HORSE FEATHERS all have songs I enjoy very much. I even made a "Hello, I must be going..." ringtone not too long ago. Their songs often get stuck in my head for days and I love that. I also realized how much respect I have for Paul Williams as a songwriter and lyricist in that I included two of his films in my top ten. Please keep in mind that I am not saying that one film is better than the other, the list is more just in order of my preference if I was going to pick a musical to watch. Anyway, without further ado, the list: 1. Top Hat(1935; Mark Sandrich) 2. Rock 'n' Roll High School(1979; Alan Arkush) 3. Swing Time(1936; George Stevens) 4. Phantom of the Paradise(1974; Brian De Palma) 5. The Muppet Movie(1979; James Frawley) 6. Golddigger's of 1933(1933; Mervyn leRoy) 7. New York, New York(1977; Martin Scorsese) 8. Singin' In the Rain(1952; Stanley Donen) 9. A Hard Day's Night(1964; Richard Lester) 10. The Gang's All Here(1943; Busby Berkeley) 11. Hellzapoppin'(1941; H.C. Potter) 12. Clambake(1967; Arthur H. Nadel) 13. I Love Melvin(1953; Don Weis) 14. The Wizard of Oz(1939; Victor Fleming) 15. The Merry Widow(1934; Ernst Lubitsch) 16. Voyage of the Rock Aliens(1987; James Fargo) 17. Bedknobs and Broomsticks(1971; Robert Stevenson) 18. 42nd Street(1933; Lloyd Bacon) 19. A Star is Born(1954; George Cukor) 20. Ziegfeld Girl(1941; Robert Z. Leonard/Busby Berkeley)
In going over the IMDB's list of the highest rated musicals, I am sure there are some I need to see or rewatch. I've never seen the Ken Russell's film THE BOY FRIEND, but have always wanted to. The same goes for ON THE TOWN and FOOTLIGHT PARADE, both of which I am sure I would probably like. Ruben Mamoulian's LOVE ME TONIGHT with Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald is also going straight to the top of my Netflix cue for sure. I also just realized that I left off some of the more downbeat musicals that certainly influenced something like NEW YORK, NEW YORK. Things like MY DREAM IS YOURS, BLUE SKIES and THE MAN I LOVE. Maybe even I COULD GO ON SINGING. All of these are worthwhile. Even films like BUGSY MALONE, XANADU, THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T , PENNIES FROM HEAVEN(1981) and Chris Guest's A MIGHTY WIND (though much less offbeat than those other four)have quite a lot of appeal for me. I guess I am more a fan of musicals than I first thought...
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