Wrapping up my Month O' Musicals: poll results and final thoughts

The musical polls are closed and the results are in! (I didn't vote on these myself, but will share my picks below.)

What's your favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical?
The Sound of Music wins with 43% of the votes. South Pacific comes in second, with Oklahoma!, State Fair, and The King and I tied not far behind. No big surprises here about the winner; The Sound of Music came in 4th on AFI's 100 musicals list, the highest rated of any Rodgers and Hammerstein movie.

While this popular movie gets a lot of love, there also seems to be a small group of people that really hate it. While I don't know that I feel that strongly about it, I'm more on the disliking side of the argument. Confession: I've never even seen the whole thing. I've seen different parts of it when it's been on TV, but somehow have never been inspired to watch the movie from start to finish. (Sorry, Sound of Music lovers!)

My vote in this category: Oklahoma!

Favorite Astaire/Rogers film?
Swing Time comes out on top with 41% of the votes, followed by Top Hat, then Shall We Dance, then Roberta and Carefree (tied). While I haven't yet seen every one of the Astaire/Rogers pairings, (I know, for shame!) I happen to like Shall We Dance quite a bit. But since no one voted for The Barkleys of Broadway, I want to give that one a little love. It gets my uncounted vote.

Your favorite Gene Kelly musical?
The winner here is the movie that topped AFI's 100 musical list: Singin' in the Rain, with 53% of the votes. The distant second, with 15% picking it, is On the Town. Third place is crowded, with For Me and My Gal, Anchors Away, An American in Paris, and Brigadoon each getting the same amount of votes.

While I would agree that Singin' in the Rain is the best Gene Kelly musical, the vote for my favorite is An American in Paris. With 's wonderful Gershwin music, acerbic Oscar Levant, and captivating end ballet, it's not just my favorite Gene Kelly musical, but my favorite musical ever.

Favorite Disney animated musical?
This was the least agreed upon in the polls. The Little Mermaid just barely edged out the competition, followed by Aladdin, and then a three-way-tie with Mulan, Pocahontas, and Beauty and the Beast. There were also a couple votes for "other". What did I miss? Peter Pan? Lilo and Stitch?

I'm surprised that the older Disney films didn't get any votes. I really love the charm of the older style animation before everything was so slickly done with computers. Maybe I should have made an old-style animated Disney movie poll and a newer animated Disney movie poll. My older favorites include Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, and 101 Dalmatians.

As for the newer choices, I was a bit surprised that no one picked The Lion King, even though I find it pretty mean and depressing. (I did enjoy the Broadway version of the story better, mostly due to the cool costumes.) My personal pick for newer favorite would have to be Aladdin.

Final Thoughts:
When I first had the idea to focus on musicals for a month, I wondered if I could come up with enough to talk about. Then I began to make a list and realized there were more movie musicals I'd already seen and enjoyed than I could ever post about in one month, let alone the musicals I had yet to see. As it was, I highlighted 17 different musicals this month. I definitely leaned more toward my favorites, probably because those were the ones I have the strongest opinions about and that I most wanted to revisit. Not as well represented: newer musicals, Disney musicals, and new-to-me musicals. I could very easily do another whole Month O' Musicals, or perhaps I'll just continue to feature one musical each month.

Before the month ends, there is one more movie I'd like to put in a plug for: That's Entertainment! With various musical stars introducing some outstanding musical moments, it's much more enjoyable than any movie of clip after clip has any right to be. While it only looks at MGM musicals, true to the title it is very entertaining and might give you ideas for more musicals to check out.

Farewell, Month O' Musicals. It's been fun. Thanks for helping me get through a cold January. Now I'm ready to move on to something without any song and dance numbers. Like documentaries.

I'll be back soon with some big changes coming in February!


Overlooked Musical: It's Always Fair Weather

Did you ever watch On the Town and find yourself wondering what might have happened to those three guys when the war was over? In a way, It's Always Fair Weather is the answer.

Originally conceived as sequel to On the Town, the sailors have morphed into soldiers with only Gene Kelly returning as a main character. He's joined by Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd to make up a trio of army buddies whose war experiences have made them the closest of friends. When the war is over and the three prepare to go their separate ways, they make a pact to meet again in ten years.

While you might think that three such very good friends would try to keep in touch during the intervening years, the story is about them coming back together and realizing they now have nothing in common, except for perhaps their disillusionment with life. Cyd Charisse enters the picture as a TV producer ready to use the reunion as fodder for a sappy reality show which ends up bringing the guys together in an unexpected way.

The cynical perspective that pervades makes for a darker movie than most MGM musicals. Television is satirized in the movie's Midnight With Madeline program, with Delores Gray playing the show's star as an over-the-top, insincere diva. The corporate world is also a target, with ad-man Dailey's character song "Saturation-Wise" making fun of business jargon (five years before The Apartment did it).

But there's also moments of sheer fun and joy, like the three friends dancing with garbage can lids on their feet and Gene Kelly's "I Like Myself" solo on roller skates. The film is also interesting to look at as it makes full use of CinemaScope, filling up the widescreen format and using split screens and montages to tell the story.

A major theme of the movie is how people change over time and what happens to friendships. One of my favorite scenes is when the reunited pals go to lunch. The same trio that once sang about being friends until death now sing about their disappointment at being back together. To the tune of the Strauss waltz "The Blue Danube", each friend in turn asks "why am I here?" and labels the other two with names like hick, square, snob and punk. This funny bit gets right to the heart of the matter: each friend, in recognizing how the other two are not what he expected, also realizes he is not the person he once wanted to be, either. While it's a less-than-rosy look at life and friendship, there is an underlying truth here about how dreams and relationships shift over time. And there's a hopeful undercurrent of finding a way to change or accept the person you've become.

While it's no Singin' in the Rain, if you're looking to expand your range of musicals and you like Gene Kelly, add It's Always Fair Weather to your list.


A musical interlude of pretend babies

Much of the movie The Band Wagon is a series of loosely related clips, but the following is my favorite, and has been for a long time. When I was in middle school, I shared this song with two girls who either liked it or me enough to learn all the lyrics and sing the different parts with me as we walked around the schoolyard. For a time, we even called ourselves "The Triplets". (Those were some cool girls.)

Here's Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan as the battling babes:

And while I'm thinking of "children" in musical movies, I have to mention The Muppets Take Manhattan scene where Miss Piggy imagines what it would have been like if she and Kermit had known each other when they were younger. The song "I'm Gonna Always Love You" features baby Piggy explaining all the things she will do when she grows up (singing, flying a plane, neurosurgery) without losing her love for Kermit. This scene, which inspired the Muppet Babies cartoon, has got to be one of the cutest moments in movie musical history.


Month O' Musicals: The Wizard of Oz

Vital Stats:
Year: 1939
Director: Victor Fleming
Stars: Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton
Based on the novel by: L. Frank Baum

Dorothy Gale and her little dog Toto are swept away in a cyclone and transported to the magical land of Oz. In her quest to return back home, Dorothy follows the yellow brick road in search of the wonderful wizard of Oz, making new friends (and a dangerous enemy) along the way.

Memorable Moments:
The beautiful song "Over the Rainbow" made it to the top of AFI's 100 Years 100 Songs list. Many other aspects of the movie (the ruby slippers, the yellow brick road, "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my", "I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore") have been referenced elsewhere, showing the fairytale's wide appeal and cultural impact.

What I love about it:
It's hard to be objective about a childhood favorite, and it's very possible that nostalgia plays a part in why this one is close to my heart. Anyway I'm not alone; the movie seems pretty universally beloved. But one unusual thing I like about the story is the four main characters' connection to the four main temperament types outlined by David Keirsey. In the book People Patterns, these characters are referenced (along with other book and movie examples) to show how different temperaments behave. Dorothy is the stable Guardian, cautious and yearning for home; the Scarecrow is the quick-thinking, brainy Rational who figures out how things work; the Tin Man is the dreamy Idealist with the kindest heart of all; the Lion is the excitable Artisan who values courageous action above all else. I think it's a lot of fun trying to guess where people (and movie characters) fit into the different personality/temperament types, and these four make a good starting place (and reference point) for the basics. What's your personality type?


Month O' Musicals: Oklahoma!

Vital Stats:
Year: 1955
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Stars: Shirley Jones, Gordon MacRae, Gloria Grahame, Rod Steiger, Eddie Albert, Gene Nelson, Charlotte Greenwood
Choreographer: Agnes de Mille
Songwriting: Rodgers & Hammerstein

Set in Oklahoma territory, it's a simple tale of cowboys and the women they love.

Memorable Moments:
The sweet ballad "People Will Say We're in Love" and the dance to the fun "The Farmer and the Cowman" are both great, while the auction scene is an especially nice mix of comedy and drama.

What I love about it:
Another title with an exclamation point! "Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry..." The highly entertaining secondary love story between all-or-nothing Will Parker and the girl who can't say no, Ado Annie. Gordon MacRae's gorgeous singing. And Aunt Eller.

I can't decide if I want a relative like Aunt Eller or if I just want to be her. There is something so appealing about being an old woman able to say and do whatever you please, including pulling a gun on someone and making him sing.

Some of my favorite examples of Aunt Eller's wisdom:

"Why don't you grab her and kiss her when she acts that-a-way, Curly, she's just aching for you to, I bet."

"Let's not break the law, let's just bend it a little."

"You've got to get used to having all kinds of things happening to you. You've got to look at all the good on one side and all the bad on the other side and say well, all right then, to both of them."

and of course "I don't say I'm no better than anybody else, but I'll be danged if I ain't just as good!"


Month O' Musicals: West Side Story

Vital Stats:
Year: 1961
Directors: Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins
Stars: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris
Choreographer: Jerome Robbins
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Set in 1950s Manhattan, this updated take on Romeo and Juliet has the conflict occurring between rival gangs (the Jets & the Sharks) with Tony and Maria as the star-crossed lovers.

Memorable Moments:
There's some beautiful songs here ("Something's Coming", "Maria", "I Feel Pretty", "One Hand, One Heart", and "Somewhere") but the amazing energy of the music and dancing is perhaps best seen in moments like the opening interactions between the gangs, the dance at the gym, and during the songs "America", the "Tonight Quintet" and "Cool".

What I love about it:
From the opening shots over the city to the end credits mixed in with urban graffiti, I watch this movie completely transfixed. I don't think there's a bad song in the bunch, although I do have my favorites. I find Bernardo and Anita a bit more interesting than Tony and Maria, although Natalie Wood is very watchable as Maria. I also like spotting Bud Frump (Anthony 'Scooter' Teague from How to Succeed) as one of the Jets.

The second act is increasingly bleak, but what do you expect of a movie based on one of the world's most famous tragedies? It's an emotional ride, but an amazing one.


Month O' Musicals: Shall We Dance

(No, not the Richard Gere movie.)

Vital Stats:
Year: 1937
Director: Mark Sandrich
Stars: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton
Choreographer: Hermes Pan, Harry Losee
Music & Lyrics: George & Ira Gershwin

Does it really matter? It's an Astaire/Rogers movie! If you must know, the plot revolves around two dancers and the problems that arise from the rumor that they are married.

Memorable Moments:
Fred singing "They Can't Take That Away From Me", the roller-skating dance in the park to "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", and the dance with all the girls masked to look like Ginger.

What I love about it:
I have a soft spot for Gershwin music and especially like the "impromptu" dance the fabulous pair do to "They All Laughed". (I also think the little dog in the movie is pretty cute.)


Month O' Musicals: That Thing You Do!

Vital Stats:
Year: 1996
Director: Tom Hanks
Stars: Tom Hanks, Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Liv Tyler, Steve Zahn, Charlize Theron, Ethan Embry, Giovanni Ribisi
Writer: Tom Hanks

(While not a film musical in the classical sense, there's so much music in it that I'm including it in my Month o' Musicals.)

One-hit band The Wonders journey from obscurity to fame and back again with fun nods to the various musical styles of the 60s along the way.

Memorable Moments:
The catchy title song is played so repeatedly it's bound to get stuck in your head for a while after watching.

The first time the band members hear their song on the radio captures the excitement perfectly.

What I love about it:
Exclamation point in the title. Glimpses of Chris Isaak, Rita Wilson and Peter Scolari. But most of all, Steve Zahn. Who is Steve Zahn?

"Are you crazy? A man in a really nice camper wants to put our song on the radio! Give me a pen, I'm signing, you're signing, we're all signing!"


Month O' Musicals: The Music Man

Vital Stats:
Year: 1962
Director: Morton DaCosta
Stars: Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Hermione Gingold, and a very cute (lisping) Ron Howard
Writer: Meredith Wilson
Choreographer: Onna White

Traveling salesman Professor Harold Hill arrives in River City, Iowa and begins working his con: selling band instruments and uniforms and instruction books, organizing a boys' band with himself as the leader. He's got everything perfectly timed right down to the last train out of town -- until he gets his foot caught in the door by falling in love with the local librarian.

Memorable Moments:
The beautiful "Till There Was You", the rousing "Seventy-Six Trombones", and the cautionary "Ya Got Trouble" are the stand outs. But the "Shipoopi" dance, arrival of the Wells Fargo Wagon, barbershop quartet songs, and contrapuntal melodies are also pretty swell.

What I love about it:
Probably because he perfected the role on Broadway, Robert Preston is perfectly charming as the fast-talking con man. When I saw the show on Broadway myself several years ago, the lead actor did his best Robert Preston impression for the part, and I don't know that there's any other way to play it. (Well, Matthew Broderick tried in the 2003 TV version, but his lethargic performance left me cold.)

I also love the rapid-fire delivery and broken up syllables of the songs. "Rock Island" and "Trouble" are especially snappy, but the other songs have great lyrics, too. Take "Marian the Librarian" as an example: "It's a long lost cause I can never win/For the civilized world accepts as unforgivable sin/Any talking out loud with any librarian/Such as Marian..." The songs make for a mouthful of words quite fun to memorize and repeat. And shouldn't any good musical leave you singing?


Month O' Musicals: The King and I

Vital Stats:
Year: 1956
Director: Walter Lang
Stars: Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner, Rita Moreno
Choreographer: Jerome Robbins
Songwriting: Rodgers & Hammerstein

Widow Anna Leonowens travels to Siam, becomes the schoolteacher for the royal children, and develops a complicated relationship with the king.

Memorable Moments:
The movie includes a number of beautiful songs ("Hello, Young Lovers", "We Kiss in a Shadow", "Getting to Know You", "Something Wonderful") but "Shall We Dance?" is the big number.

What I love about it:
Yul Brynner. Being the king in this movie may have gone to his (bald) head. But still.


Month O' Musicals: Guys and Dolls

Vital Stats:
Year: 1955
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Stars: Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Stubby Kaye, Sheldon Leonard
Choreographer: Michael Kidd
Music & lyrics: Frank Loesser
Based on stories by: Damon Runyon

Gambler Nathan Detroit is under a lot of pressure. Not only is his fiancee of 14 years getting tired of waiting for him, but he also can't find a place to hold his permanent floating crap game. In an attempt to get the money to pay for a gambling location, Nathan makes a $1000 bet with high-roller Sky Masterson. Surely Sky can't talk missionary Sgt. Sarah Brown into going to Havana with him. Or can he?

Memorable Moments:

The title song, the city sewer performance of "Luck Be a Lady", and the show-stopping "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat".

What I love about it:
Two fun numbers by the ladies: "Adelaide's Lament", ("a person can develop a cold") and the rum-induced-exuberance of "If I Were a Bell". Actually, a big part of the fun of the latter song is watching Brando react to the rum-induced-exuberance. (And while we're on the subject, you have to give Brando credit for doing his own singing, in the same movie as the incomparable Frank Sinatra, too.)


Month O' Musicals: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Vital Stats:
Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Stars: the beautiful Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel
Music by: Michel Legrand
Language: French, with subtitles

Genevieve, the daughter of an umbrella shop owner, and Guy, an auto mechanic, are in love. But can their love survive the separation forced upon them when Guy is drafted and goes off to war?

Memorable Moments:
As all the dialogue is sung, there are no musical numbers in the film, but one haunting recurring musical theme is the song "I Will Wait For You". Also notable: the film's use of gorgeous, vibrant colors.

What I love about it:
Even though every conversation is done in song, this never feels forced because the feelings expressed have a very natural flow. Here are two examples of how the lines go from one thought to another: "Guy, I love you./You smell like gasoline.", "Do you love me?/A mambo, let's go!/I should have changed shoes." I love the way this captures a sense of mundane reality even though everything is spoken musically.

Also interesting to me is the way Catherine Deneuve's character changes hair styles throughout the film. There's a study there as she progresses from an innocent young girl (hair pulled up and away from her face), to a wiser woman (hair done more naturally and covering more of her face), to an older woman of changed status (with an elaborate updo).

The whole movie is not only beautiful to the eyes but also a poignant, mesmerizing look at love and how it is impacted by outside pressures and circumstances. It's a work of art.


Month O' Musicals: State Fair

Vital Stats:
Year: 1945
Director: Walter Lang
Stars: Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine, Fay Bainter, Charles Winninger
Choreographer: Hermes Pan
Songwriting: Rodgers & Hammerstein

As corny as its Iowa setting, the movie follows the Frake family's trip to their great state's annual fair. Will Father Abel's prize boar Blue Boy win the grand award? Will Mother Melissa's views on liquor affect her chances of winning the mincemeat competition? Will sister Margy hear words that she has never heard from a man she's yet to meet? Will brother Wayne end up with the glamorous singer he meets at the fair or will he return to the girl back home?

Memorable Moments:
The movie has some lovely songs, including "It Might As Well Be Spring", "It's A Grand Night For Singing", and even the silly "All I Owe Ioway". There's also a great bit with Harry Morgan involving Wayne's quest to get even with the guy who cheated him at the ring toss game at the previous year's fair. ("We're having fun here!")

What I love about it:
The pig snorting along to "Our State Fair" is brilliant. I also find rather amusing the scene with Margy's really unromantic boyfriend Harry. But most of all I love watching Dana Andrews. Sometimes my family calls him "that cute little Dana Andrews" just for me. Despite his dubious choice of "bobby locks" as a pet name, he's charming and suave and very watchable as the newspaperman who sets out to investigate Margy. How's this for an invitation: "What'd be wrong with you and me sitting down over there and exchanging our ideas of life over a Coke?... I'm not saying it's a great idea, I'm just asking what's what's bad about it? What could we lose? Let's give it five minutes. What do you say?" What follows? Fun on a roller coaster, of course.


Month O' Musicals: Anchors Aweigh

Vital Stats:
Year: 1945
Director: George Sidney
Stars: Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Jose Iturbi and a very young Dean Stockwell as the runaway child

Two sailors on leave ("when they give you leave, you gotta leave") try to help an aspiring singer get an audition at MGM.

Memorable Moments:
Frank Sinatra crooning "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and Gene Kelly dancing with the animated Jerry Mouse. ("Look at me, I'm dancing!")

What I love about it:
The above scenes are great, but I really love the bit where the boys try to scare off a would-be suitor of the girl they're both falling for by singing a funny version of "If You Knew Susie" (with altered lyrics like: "S is for sincerity, which she's got none of...")


Month O' Musicals: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Vital Stats:
Year: 1953
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Coburn, Elliot Reed, Tommy Noonan

Lorelei Lee is engaged to be married to the very rich Gus Esmond. The two plan to sail to France for their wedding, but because his father does not approve of the match, Gus backs out on the trip. Lorelei takes the transatlantic cruise anyway along with best friend and fellow showgirl Dorothy Shaw. Along the way the two get mixed up with an aging millionaire, a detective, a bunch of Olympic athletes, and one diamond tiara.

Memorable Moments:
Best remembered is the iconic number "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", the anthem of gold-diggers everywhere.

What I love about it:
Dorothy Shaw has got to be the best friend ever. She looks after her somewhat dim companion without ever getting really mad, even when her friend's antics put her in a jam. She never appears jealous or desperate, either, even as a definite non-blonde in a movie that declares men to be partial to fair-haired women.

I attribute this coolness to Jane "I wouldn't believe anything you said if you had it tattooed on your forehead" Russell. She more than holds her own and gets plenty of attention, including keeping
to herself a whole pack of Olympic athletes (who, I'm glad to say and thanks to the censors, fortunately have a black stripe on their otherwise nude-colored shorts). She's smart and witty and wonderfully confident, and just as essential to the film as Marilyn.


Month O' Musicals: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Vital Stats:

Year: 1954
Director: Stanley Donen
Stars: Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Russ Tamblyn, Julie Newmar (Catwoman in the 1960s Batman), Tommy Rall
Choreographer: Michael Kidd
Lyrics: Johnny Mercer

Backwoodsman Adam Pontipee comes into town one day shopping for lard, molasses, chewing tobacco, and something he can't find behind the store counter: a wife. Amazingly enough, he gets a hard-working woman named Milly to agree to marry him, although he fails to mention to her that he has six other scroungy (slummocky, in the version I grew up watching) brothers back home. It's not long before she has them all cleaned up into mighty good-looking boys, ready to catch the eyes of the girls in town. But it's not only the girls' hearts that the brothers end up stealing away.

Memorable Moments:

The choreography really shines in the energetic, acrobatic dance at the barn raising. The tension built up between the brothers and the townsmen as they vie for the girls' attentions climaxes in a pretty funny fight scene.

What I love about it:
The wonderful Johnny Mercer lyrics in songs such as "Bless Yore Beautiful Hide", "Lonesome Polecat" ("Can't make no vows to a herd of cows.") and "Sobbin' Women".

I also find it amusing trying to choose a favorite brother out of the seven. My pick used to be the cute baby brother Gideon, but I'd say now he's just too young for me. Who's left? I find it hard to pine for Adam since he's taken so early in the movie. (Also, despite his nice singing voice, he seems a bit selfish and arrogant.) I'm afraid Benjamin belongs in the pretty but dumb category. Caleb, Daniel and Ephraim all kinda blend together for me -- two of them sport facial hair that is too reminiscently backwoodsy, and the clean-shaven one of the three is rather bland and boring.

My pick would have to be Frank. Although he does seem to have a bit of a temper (mostly seen in his sensitivity to being teased about his name) he's also the best at the handshake-wrestling-on-wood-boards thing. And he's got a chin dimple. I like chin dimples.


January, I dub thee... Month O' Musicals

Let me go on record about this: I am not a winter person. Cold, dark, snow, it's just not my thing. I'd love to spend the season hibernating, but instead I try to get by with fireplaces, hot chocolate, books, and of course, movies. And what type of movie is great for chasing the winter blues away? My vote goes to musicals!

Sure, not every musical tells an altogether happy story. But even in a darker musical, there is still a sense of unreality I find refreshing, cathartic even. (When is the last time you danced out your differences with someone, or put your deepest emotions into rhyming song?) And by and large, musicals are just peppy and silly and fun. If I turn one up loud enough, I can ignore the sound of the wind blowing the snow outside.

Therefore, I declare January to be my Month O' Musicals! My goal is not to create an all-encompassing list of musicals, but instead to look a variety from the genre. I want to watch and post about musicals both old and new, revisiting some favorites and maybe watching a new musical or two.

To start off, here's a scene from Gold Diggers of 1933. In my book, it doesn't get much better than this: crazy choreography by Busby Berkeley, a literal interpretation of the song's title for the costumes, and a super-cute Ginger Rogers inging-say. Here's "We're in the Money":

AddThis Feed Button