A broad and beautiful Vincente Minnelli musical (1948) with a rich score by Cole Porter. In a Technicolor Caribbean, traveling player Gene Kelly is in love with demure maiden Judy Garland, but she has lustier fantasies, pining after the magnificent pirate Black Mococo. Lively, colorful, and lyrical—Minnelli was married to Garland at the time, and it shows in some of the most romantic close-ups ever put on film. 102 min.
Rouben Mamoulian‘s thrilling and innovative 1932 musical with Jeanette MacDonald, Maurice Chevalier, Myrna Loy, and Charles Ruggles, with a fine Rodgers and Hart score that includes “Isn’t It Romantic?” and “Lover.” Similar in many respects to the Lubitsch musicals with MacDonald and Chevalier during the same period, although Mamoulian’s lively experiments with rhythm, framing, and superimposition are very much his own. 104 min.
The Three Stooges started in 1925 as part of a raucous vaudeville act called “Ted Healy and His Stooges” (also known as “Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen”, “Ted Healy and His Three Lost Souls”, “Ted Healy and His Racketeers”, and “Ted Healy and His Three Stooges”). Moe (Moses Harry Horwitz) joined Healy’s act in 1921, and his brother Shemp came aboard in 1923. In 1925, violinist-comedian Larry Fine and xylophonist-comedian Fred Sanborn also joined the group. In the act, lead comedian Healy would attempt to sing or tell jokes while his noisy assistants would keep “interrupting” him, causing Healy to retaliate with verbal and physical abuse.
Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman (Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles) made this 1983 independent work from a work-in-progress known as The Golden Eighties (the English title of which is Window Shopping). Forty minutes of videotaped auditions and rehearsals for Akerman’s shopping center musical are followed by three production numbers—in radiant 35-millimeter—from the film. The subject is first and foremost Akerman’s love of actors and the filmmaking process, and second the process itself—the intermediary steps between conception and perfection, from physical materials to cinematic illusions. If you don’t know Akerman’s work, this is an excellent place to start: it’s a very funny, very idiosyncratic piece from one of the most sympathetic of modernist filmmakers.
Sidney Lumet‘s 1978 adaptation of Broadway’s all-black musical resembles Saturday Night Fever more than The Wizard of Oz. There’s the same dark disco lighting, the same romanticization of urban rubble. And the theme is no longer “There’s no place like home,” but a learning-to-love-yourself homily that might have been lifted from Werner Erhard. Still, it’s one of the more competent neomusicals of the period, if only because of Dede Allen‘s punchy editing and Tony Walton‘s cavernous sets. A lot to look at, little to contemplate, and nothing to hum. With Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, and a curiously restrained bit by Richard Pryor.
A musical remake (1932) of Ernst Lubitsch‘s silent The Marriage Circle, directed from a detailed Lubitsch plan by George Cukor. Maurice Chevalier is a doctor happily married to Jeanette MacDonald but temporarily distracted by Genevieve Tobin. Every so often, Chevalier interrupts the story to ask the audience for advice with the plaintive “What Would You Do?”—demonstrating that you could get away with things in a comedy that most people still won’t accept in a drama. Very funny and very highly recommended.
Not the best Elvis Presley movie (which would probably be Jailhouse Rock) but very likely the best movie with Elvis Presley. He doesn’t sing much and he doesn’t act much, though he is an effectively muddled personality as a half-breed torn between loyalty to his mother’s tribe and his father’s band of white settlers. Don Siegel directed this 1960 western, with force and clarity if not a great deal of personal involvement. With Barbara Eden, Steve Forrest, Delores Del Rio, and John McIntire.
Ironic, alienating musicals have been tried before (Pal Joey onstage, It’s Always Fair Weather on film), but never with such lofty contempt for the form. This 1981 film drips with a sense of anger and betrayal that seems wildly out of scale to its cause—the discovery (less than original) that musicals don’t reproduce social reality. The point is made endlessly, though it’s in the film’s favor that it’s made with seriousness, consideration, and a certain amount of imagination. Unfortunately the only value the film can find to range against the false romanticism of the music is a low-grade sexuality, which is itself mocked and made into the wellspring of the characters’ problems. Herbert Ross directed, in steely control for once; the interestingly spare screenplay is by Dennis Potter. With Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. R, 107 min.
Note: This is actually J.R. Jones (oops)
The Oscar winner for 1929, this MGM feature was the first movie musical. The staging is wooden, the story insipid, and the dialogue sequences mostly painful, but the film’s integration of song, dance, and story (“100% All Talking! 100% All Singing! 100% All Dancing!”) was a clear narrative advance over the music pictures being released by Warner Brothers and Fox, and the score is great. Especially electric are the anthemic title song (“A million lights they flicker there / A million hearts beat quicker there”), a scene in which various song pluggers compete for attention in a music-publishing office, and a nightclub sequence in which the guitar-and-ukulele-strumming Biltmore Trio sing the rollicking western rag “Truthful Parson Brown.” While reshooting a big production number, sound engineer Douglas Shearer hit on the idea of having the performers lip-synch to the recording they’d already made so the noisy cameras could be moved more freely, a technique that would become the industry norm. Despite its considerable drawbacks, this still strikes a revolutionary spark: MGM had invented a form it would drive to extraordinary heights in the coming decades. Harry Beaumont directed. 100 min.