Top 10 Movie Musicals

I just love making lists.  No matter how silly it is to narrow down favorite things in some arbitrary way or how changeable my opinions might be, it’s still a fun way to pass the time.

Here are my top 10 favorite movie musicals – at least as of today.  Tomorrow I may remember another one I love and wish I’d put it on the list!

 10.  Funny Face

Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson, beautiful tunes by Gershwin, gorgeous ‘50s Paris, and super chic fashion by Givenchy.  What’s not to love?  Think Pink!

Favorite number:  “Clap Yo Hands”

9.  The Sound of Music

I almost can’t believe this movie is so far down on my list, considering that I’ve loved it since before I was even born!  It’s my mom’s favorite musical, so I think I listened to “Do Re Mi” and “My Favorite Things” in utero.  This is the warmest, most loveable story, and yet in spite of singing nuns, adorable children, and breathtaking mountain vistas it’s never too cute or precious.  The melancholy of impending war hangs like a cloud over everything.  I never fail to weep when Captain Von Trapp sings “Edelweiss” at the festival and can’t make it through the song, so heartsick is he about leaving his beloved Austria.

Favorite number:  “Something Good.”  What can I say?  I’m a romantic. 

 8.  Singin’ in the Rain

Pure joy.  This is a movie that always cheers me up whenever I’m feeling blue.  Gene Kelly dancing with an umbrella, Donald O’Connor bouncing off the walls, Debbie Reynolds popping out of cakes – this movie has everything.  I don’t know what else to say except that it’s hilarious, romantic, and contains some of the happiest song and dance numbers ever filmed.

Favorite number:  “Moses Supposes”

7.  Calamity Jane

I love, worship and adore Doris Day (making it all the more shocking that I haven’t talked about her here before this), and this is my favorite of her musicals.  Calamity Jane was Warner’s answer to MGM’s Annie Get Your Gun, and as much as I like Annie, I enjoy Calamity Jane even more.  It may not have as many instantly recognizable songs (although “Secret Love” and “Black Hills of Dakota” are classics), but I like the story more and I think Doris Day gives one of her best performances as the rough and tumble tomboy Calamity Jane.  She’s a hoot to watch sparring with Wild Bill Hickok, played the handsome Howard Keel.  (He was also in Annie Get Your Gun, because you can’t have a western musical without Howard Keel!)

Favorite number: “Black Hills of Dakota”

 6.  My Fair Lady

One of the wittiest, most erudite musicals ever, and one of the most deliciously snarky.  Rex Harrison simply is Henry Higgins.  I’ve seen quite a few stage productions of My Fair Lady, and while there’ve been some very passable Eliza Doolittles, I’ve yet to see a Professor Higgins who can remotely touch Harrison’s performance.  He’s marvelous as the arrogant, misanthropic, sexist bachelor who finds he can’t quite live without the squashed cabbage leaf he found in Covent Garden.  Audrey Hepburn makes a lovely, touching Eliza.  Nobody played ugly duckling (ugly, ha!) to swan stories quite like her.

Favorite number: “Just You Wait”

 5.  Easter Parade

It seems wrong that only one Judy Garland musical made it onto this list, because I completely adore her and think she was the greatest woman in movie musicals ever.  (See, these lists are such baloney!)  Still, she’s here in Easter Parade, beautiful, vulnerable, spunky, and with more talent than pretty much anyone.  Anyone other than Fred Astaire, that is.  I love how much fun they seem to have together in numbers like “We’re a Couple of Swells.”  Ann Miller is fabulous in this movie, and while Peter Lawford might not have much in the way of musical talent, he’s very pretty to look at.

Favorite number:  “Drum Crazy”

 4.  An American in Paris

For a movie filmed entirely on the MGM lot, An American in Paris certainly influenced what everyone imagines Paris to be like!  Gene Kelly took his dancing to another level with this movie, particularly in the “American in Paris Ballet.”  It’s so innovative and beautiful, with its painting-come-to-life feel.  Leslie Caron is adorable in her screen debut and Oscar Levant is too funny as Kelly’s grouchy concert pianist friend.  Plus – can I say this without sounding like a weirdo? – Gene Kelly has an ass that just won’t quit.  (Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so.  This blog post is hilarious!)

Favorite number:  “Tra-La-La”

3.  The Band Wagon

For many years I couldn’t stand MGM musicals like The Band Wagon.  They hardly had a plot!  The songs were just thrown in there!  I liked the more story-driven musicals like those by Rogers and Hammerstein.  Gradually I came to appreciate the “let’s put on a show” musicals, however, and this one is a great example of that.  I love the colorfulness, the costumes, the amazing performances by uber-talented stars.  There’s a story here, but it’s not the main thing.  Mostly it’s about song and dance numbers that transport you, take you out of yourself and your humdrum life, and fill you will joy.  Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse make sublime dance partners.  Also, this movie makes me wish Nanette Fabray had been in more musicals.  She’s so endearing dancing with Fred to “I Love Louisa” and singing “Louisiana Hayride.”

Favorite number:  “Dancing in the Dark”

 2.  Swing Time

One of the quintessential Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, and the one I can never see too many times.  It was hard to choose between this and Top Hat, but since Swing Time features my all-time favorite Astaire/Rogers dance number, “Pick Yourself Up,” it’s the one that made the cut.

Favorite number: “Pick Yourself Up”

 1.  Gigi

I love every moment, every song, every little thing about this movie.  It’s absolutely perfectly cast, starting with Leslie Caron’s charming turn as Gigi.  Her transformation from gangly schoolgirl to elegant young woman is completely believable.  Louis Jourdan is a dreamy French dreamboat as  world-weary Gaston, and Maurice Chevalier steals the show every time he’s on screen.  No one could have played Gaston’s elderly playboy uncle like Chevalier.  Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans are fantastic, too.  The lush, painterly sets and costumes, memorable music, and a story in which love wins out over cynicism all come together to make this my favorite musical.

Favorite numbers:  “The Night They Invented Champagne”, “I Remember it Well”, “She Is Not Thinking of Me”, “Gigi”

Happy 97th birthday to Gene Kelly!

“If Fred Astaire is the Cary Grant of dance, I’m the Marlon Brando.”

- Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly 1

Gene Kelly would have been 97 years old today.  Time to celebrate with a few of my favorite moments from his MGM musicals.  There are so many more I could have included!  The hours of happiness this man has brought me…

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Lovely to Look At

Roberta (1935)

Roberta_1935_movie_poster

 “Lovely to Look At,” the title of one of the songs featured in Roberta, would have made a perfect title for the film itself. It is lovely to look at, featuring glamorous mid-thirties movie fashion, delightful dances by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, songs sung by Irene Dunne, and requisite hunkiness from the handsome Randolph Scott. I imagine it must have been a wonderful escapist treat for people struggling through the Depression.

The story itself is a fluffy trifle, as these things tend to be. Randolph Scott is a big, strapping country boy football player from America who inherits his aunt’s chic Parisian fashion house when she dies. Irene Dunne is a fashion-savvy exiled princess who worked there as his aunt’s assistant. The two become partners in the business, fall in love, have misunderstandings and get back together.

Fred Astaire is Randolph Scott’s friend, who has brought his band to Paris. Astaire runs into Ginger Rogers, a girl from his hometown in Indiana, who is now a singer pretending to be a countess. She helps him get a job at her nightclub and they dance, sing and fall in love.

It’s really not about the plot at all. It’s about the songs, dances and fashion.

The songs in the movie are great, and some of them are still standards we know and love today, particularly “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “I Won’t Dance.” Irene Dunne had the kind of trilling, operetta-ish voice that was so popular at the time. It’s not my cup of tea, exactly, which is one of the reasons I’ve never made it through a Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy movie.  Dunne’s voice is lovely, actually, but I guess that old-fashioned style of singing is an acquired taste.

 

Dunne doesn’t do a lot in this movie other than sing sweetly and look pretty, which is a shame. She was the big star and received billing above Astaire and Rogers (all of whom were billed above the title, unlike Scott, who was still in the below the title “with Randolph Scott” phase), but she wasn’t the funny, sassy Irene of The Awful Truth yet. Her wonderful comedic self was just around the corner, in 1936′s Theodora Goes Wild.

The real scene stealers in the movie are Astaire and Rogers. Where Irene Dunne’s long ballads, shot in close up, are very much of their time, the Astaire and Rogers numbers are still as fresh and full of fun as they were 74 years ago. This was their third picture together. Fred Astaire choreographed the dances in Roberta, and they’re some of the best I’ve seen from him. I read somewhere that he always counted his dance with Rogers to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” among his favorites ever.

Ginger is sweet, spunky and adorable as Liz/the countess. That silly fake accent! Fred’s character, Huck, is completely charming and very funny! He has the best lines of all the characters and delivers them with so much zing that I laughed out loud a lot. Astaire and Rogers are what really make this movie worth watching.

Take a look at this scene, in which they dance to “Hard to Handle”. This, to me, is what pure joy looks like. They make it seem so spontaneous – the way they just sort of fall into the dance together, with Ginger laughing in such a natural, happy way. This number is right up there with their “Pick Yourself Up” dance from Swing Time as one I can watch over and over and still find completely entrancing.

 

Isn’t Ginger’s outfit great? She looks so good in those high-waisted, wide-legged trousers.

Ginger - Roberta

A bit of trivia — a very blond Lucille Ball appears ever so briefly in Roberta during the final fashion show. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, but it’s fun to catch her if you can.

Lucy in Roberta