Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

"Too Darn Hot" - '50s/'60s musicals

I love this 1967 paperback on musicals by Douglas McVay.

‘50s and ‘60s musicals – where to start! First, the ones I don’t much care for: SINGING IN THE RAIN is of course perfectly entertaining [and Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont is an immortal], I have seen it lots of times, but I wouldn’t for a minute regard it as the best musical ever. That has to be Minnelli’s THE BANDWAGON, sheer perfection if only for Jack Buchanan’s Broadway producer/director/star and the brilliantly staged numbers and Minnelli's color schemes, followed by Sidney’s KISS ME KATE, splendidly realised for the camera, particularly Ann Miller’s “Too Darn Hot” … one of the best numbers on film ever. Add in her numbers with Tommy Rall, and Rall, Fosse and Van hoofing, as well as Keel and Grayson! Then of course there is Cukor’s drama with music A STAR IS BORN, one of the first films I saw in 1954 when 8 and those widescreen compositions floored me, the beach house windows with the reflections of the sea as Norman Maine goes for a swim, the slap at the awards ceremony, the breakdown in the dressing room. One was also enchanted by Ann Blyth's singing barmaid in the routine THE STUDENT PRINCE.

I never liked AN AMERICAN IN PARIS – pure schmaltz, apart from Nina Foch – and I positively loathed SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS [though I bought the dvd for the Tommy Rall interview, he is still terrific now…] – as Pauline Kael said about the Von Trapps: “surely there was one little Von Trapp who didn’t want to sing his or her heart out, or who got sick before performing?”, that’s how I feel about the 7 Brides and Brothers; and although WEST SIDE STORY was among the first soundtrack albums I bought, the movie never meant much to me. [The soundtrack to SOUTH PACIFIC and Broadway cast album of MY FAIR LADY were also early purchases]. Of the big shows on film SOUTH PACIFIC is mainly ok, despite some weak casting; we liked THE KING AND I, CAROUSEL and OLKAHOMA didn’t do it for me at all, and FLOWER DRUM SONG has it moments, good to see it again a while ago, not being a Fox film it does not get as re-packaged as often as the other O&H shows.

I love Astaire in the ‘50s: THE BANDWAGON, SILK STOCKINGS and FUNNY FACE (not DADDY LONG LEGS, despite Thelma Ritter and Fred Clark – its gruesome). The Kelly I rate in the 50s is ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER and even BRIGADOON isn’t too bad… LES GIRLS too for the girls and Cukor and that studio Paris. There are bits of other musicals: Doris Day on top form in THE PYJAMA GAME which also has Carol Haney and Fosse’s “Steam Heat”, and then there is Sinatra and PAL JOEY. ANYTHING GOES is pure tedium now, but at least preserves Zizi Jeanmaire. Mitzi, Bing and Donald O’Connor do their best.

The early 60s was perhaps the last flowering of show musicals: GYPSY [and “You Gotta Get A Gimmick”, just one of it’s great numbers], JUMBO, THE MUSIC MAN. Much as I like MY FAIR LADY its an embalmed version of a show [and practically the last gasp of the old hollywood] and I skilfully avoided THE SOUND OF MUSIC for decades, but then gave in on New Year’s Day 1996 and it fitted the moment perfectly. Much more exciting for a teenage me then were Dick Lester’s two: A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP! which I returned to frequently – the Beatles in color on the big screen! Then Demy’s two, UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT, Vitti bursting into song in MODESTY BLAISE, Bardot & Moreau in VIVA MARIA and then the arrival of Barbra! I saw the stage show of FUNNY GIRL in London from the front row in ’66 when I was 20, we had already loved Streisand’s albums then – the movie was and is perfection despite losing numbers like "The Music That Makes Me Dance", I even liked a lot of HELLO DOLLY and ON A CLEAR DAY and again, back in that pre-video age, we had the soundtrack albums. Another soundtrack album I liked was Judy's I COULD GO ON SINGING, with those 4 great numbers, Judy and Bogarde are great together, despite, as he wrote about, the tensions of its making.

Now at least with dvds, A STAR IS BORN is better than ever, and those 3 marvellous alternate takes of “The Man That Got Away” with great scope compositions, all just as good as the one in the movie, and all that footage of the premieres with all the stars of the day [Doris, Debbie, Peggy Lee, Crawford, the Bogarts, the Curtises, the Wildings etc and Raymond Burr “just back from Korea” with a cute young marine in tow], all lining up to praise Judy and having such high hopes for the film.

THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS. 20th Century Fox musicals tend to get overlooked by all the great MGM, Warner and Columbia efforts, but I particularly like this one, following on from Marilyn and Jane Russell in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and Merman’s success in CALL ME MADAM. This is just a excuse to use some Irving Berlin songs, done up in gaudy Fox color, but it moves along nicely as it follows the O’Donohue song and dance act: Merman and Dan Dailey again, Mitzi again, Donald O’Connor and priest Johnny Ray! Then Marilyn enters – her 3 numbers, as choreographed by Jack Cole, are sizzlers: “Heat Wave”, “After You Get What You Want You Don’t Want It” and “Lazy” where Mitzi and O’Connor dance up a storm. Marilyn is at her peak here in ’54 and shows she is a great vocal artist too – and there is that blue dress she wears at the end!... and a special mention for Jane Russell's "Ain't There Anyone Here For Love?" [another Jack Cole extravaganza] with the olympic team in Hawks's GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES !

ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER – still marvellous today is this Kelly-Donen collaboration from ’55 a further riff on the 3 army pals – maybe those 3 from ON THE TOWN? – reuniting and realising they have nothing in common. There is a lot of satire on the vacuity of television shows as we follow rehearsals of “The Throb of Manhattan” with its star Madeline – Dolores Gray at her archest. Gene gets involved with Cyd Charisse [who, to quote Kael again, “is benumbed until she unhinges those legs”] who decides to use the reunion for the saccharine tv show. Dan Dailey is terrific here as the self-loathing ad man, and Michael Kidd is the third guy. It all winds up nicely at the ghastly tv show, with gangster Jay C Flippen, where Gray has one of those moments: that number “Thanks A Lot But No Thanks”. Bliss, pure bliss …

MY SISTER EILEEN, another long-unseen 1955 charmer by Richard Quine, has sisters blonde Janet Leigh (Eileen) and Betty Garrett [so wonderful in ON THE TOWN] as the Sherwood sisters from Ohio moving to Greenwich Village and renting that basement room from Kurt Kasznar. Young publisher Jack Lemmon falls for Betty who is trying to become a writer, while Janet has to fend off Tommy Rall and shy Bob Fosse. Rall and Fosse dance up a storm and its all very pleasant, culminating in that conga line of dancing sailors. Lovely to see again.

LES GIRLS – probably MGM’s last musical of note, this Cukor from 1957 is a key movie for me, I loved it as a kid and still do now. Its one of Kay Kendall’s last movies and she is perfect here as Lady Wren being sued in court over her memoirs by rival showgirl Taina Elg. There is a lovely cut back to the studio Paris and that apartment of theirs, as we meet Mitzi Gaynor, the third girl in the act run by Gene Kelly, nicely self-depreciating here. Kay has a wonderful drunk scene and its all endlessly entertaining as we see each version of the story, with Orry-Kelly’s costumes a standout, even if the Cole Porter score is below par. [I got to meet Kelly in '75 when he was doing a Parkinson talkshow, and he signed that biography on him, which later fetched a good price!].

FUNNY FACE. Fred, Audrey and Paris. Donen’s very 1957 musical is perfectly of its time and still a charmer now, with numbers like “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and “S’Wonderful”…. as Audrey yells “Shoot the picture” at the fashion shoot , and then there is Kay Thompson and “Think Pink”! SILK STOCKINGS is also Fred in Paris in this remake of NINOTCHKA with Cyd just right in Garbo’s role, and again some great Cole Porter songs. Janis Paige is superb support, and Fred does the “The Ritz Rock’n’Roll”.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE - The one Julie Andrews film I absolutely loved, everything about it is perfect for me. Julie as Millie, Bea Lillie as Mrs Meers, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, and James Fox and John Gavin. Its a delicious pastiche of the 1920s flappers, white slavers, and the dangers of Chinatown. Previn and Elmer Bernstein handle the music and George Roy Hill directs. We have seen it regularly over the years as several friends also like it a lot, with its endlessly quotable lines.

THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT. A big treat last year was finally seeing this 1967 Jacques Demy musical on the large screen, there is also an excellent 2 disk issue by the British Film Institute, which includes documentary on its making and 25th year reunion by Agnes Varda. The 60s costumes are marvellous now, the whole town of Rochefort seems to be dancing, the documentary shows what a huge undertaking it was to make this. Once sisters Catherine Denueve and Francoise Dorleac (who died in a car accident shortly afterwards, which does cast a pall over it) ditch the mortician makeup look they look much more natural as they sing and dance. Then we have Danielle Darrieux as their still attractive mother, Jacques Perrin as the blonde lovelorn sailor, an older Gene Kelly, George Chakiris and Grover Dale as the main dancers and Michel Piccoli. I want to see it again right now.


  1. I have seen most of these movies.(I sometimes forget how old I am.)American In Paris, The Bandwagon, Funny Face, and It's Always Fair Weather are the best for me. The "Young Girls of Rochefort" looks interesting. I especially like Cyd and Gene's dance from "Singin In the Rain" and The "Girl Hunt" from "The Bandwagon". But the ultimate is Dolores Gray's screwy "Thanks a Lot but No Thanks" from "It's Always Fair Weather". Her legs are lethal! Poor fellows

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  3. I've been getting some of the old musicals at our local library and my 12yr. old grandaughter loves them. Annie get your Gun was one of her favourites. I saw that at her age.
    Thanks for the list already chose some to order.