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					                            MUSICAL / DANCE FILMS
Musical / Dance Films are cinematic forms that emphasize and showcase full-scale song and
dance routines in a significant way (usually with a musical or dance performance as part of the
film narrative, or as an unrealistic "eruption" within the film). Or they are films that are centered on
combinations of music, dance, song or choreography. In traditional musicals, cast members are
ones who sing. Musicals highlight various musical artists or dancing stars, with lyrics that support
the story line, often with an alternative, escapist vision of reality - a search for love, success,
wealth, and popularity. This genre has been considered the most escapist of all major film
genres. Tremendous film choreography and orchestration often enhances musical numbers.


With the coming of talking motion pictures, the musical film genre emerged from its roots: stage
musicals and operettas, revues, music halls and vaudeville. They were the last of the major film
genres, because they were dependent on sound captured on film. (How could a movie be "all-
singing, all-dancing" without sound?) Musicals are often described as Broadway on film, although
many other forms of musicals have been made (e.g., rock 'n' roll movies and disco/dance films).
Recently, animated films (with musical soundtracks, such as Beauty and the Beast (1991),
Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Tarzan (1999)) have emerged as one of the major
musical forms, and many of them have won Best Original Song Oscars.

The Earliest Examples of Sound/Dance Films:

One of the earliest films with a famous dance sequence was The Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse (1921), noted for Latin lover Rudolph Valentino's sensuous tango performed in a
smoky cantina while dressed in an Argentine gaucho costume. In 1926, Warner Bros. had
produced Don Juan (1926), the first full-length silent film released with a complete musical score
on a Vitaphone soundtrack. The groundbreaking film cleverly synchronized canned sound effects
and dubbed music to the action.

The Jazz Singer (1927): A Landmark Film

With the coming of the talkies, the film musical genre naturally emerged with the first full-length,
revolutionary 'talkie' (with speech and song) that premiered in New York City at the Warner
Theatre on October 6, 1927. It was a "musical" of sorts - Warner Bros.' The Jazz Singer (1927).
Contrary to popular belief, it was not the first sound feature film, since it was mostly silent, and it
was not the first Hollywood musical (The Broadway Melody (1929) holds that
honor). It was also not the first instance of sound-on-film.

In reality, the landmark part-talkie singing film was an old-fashioned melodrama
about Jewish-bred 'jazz singer' Jakie Rabinowitz/Jake Robin (charismatic
Broadway mega-star Al Jolson). It featured seven songs (including "Blue Skies,"
"Toot-Toot-Tootsie," and "Mammy" - famous for the image of Jolson on one knee
holding out his arms to embrace the audience), and a few lines of screen dialogue
(including one long emotional homecoming speech to Jolson's mother, played by
Eugenie Besserer). After Jolson had sung his first song, "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face",
he delivered a portentous, spellbinding line that was ad-libbed and left in the film, before singing
his next song. His naturally-spoken words were the first ever heard in a full-length movie:
Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet. Wait a minute, I tell ya, you ain't heard
nothin'! Do you wanna hear 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!'? All right, hold on, hold on. (To the band leader)
Lou, Listen. Play 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!' Three choruses, you understand. In the third chorus I
whistle. Now give it to 'em hard and heavy. Go right ahead!

In the next year - 1928, the hot star Al Jolson teamed up once more with Warner Bros. for his
only other big hit - director Lloyd Bacon's part-talkie, part-silent high-grossing tearjerker The
Singing Fool (1928). This follow-up film for Jolson was an even bigger success and soon
became the biggest-grossing film of all time - until Gone With the Wind (1939). In fact, this film
was the one that really introduced the public to the sound film. It was a sophisticated variation of
the earlier hit in which Jolson crooned seven songs, including: "Sonny Boy," "I'm Sittin' on the Top
of the World," "There's a Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," and "It All Depends on You." The first
film-related hit record was Al Jolson's Sonny Boy, sung three times in Jolson's second feature

Three more ground-breaking films featured Jolson at the end of the decade, although none of
them approached his earlier success. They were: Lloyd Bacon's Say It With Songs (1929),
director Michael Curtiz' Mammy (1930) - a melodrama with a few Irving Berlin songs and
Technicolor sequences, and Big Boy (1930).

Upheaval in the Industry:

The other major film studios (Paramount, Loew's, First National and UA) realized the expensive
and challenging ramifications of the sound revolution that was dawning, and that talkie films
would be the wave of the future. Most of the studios started to convert from silent to sound film
production - a tremendous capital investment. Thousands of existing theaters had to be rewired
for sound. In 1927, only 400 US theatres were wired for sound, but by the end of the decade,
over 40% of the country's movie theatres had sound systems installed. Many Hollywood
actors/actresses lacked good voices and stage experience, and their marketability decreased. By
1930, the silent movie had practically disappeared, and by the mid-1930s, film industry studios
had become sound-film factories.

Most early musicals were crudely made, due to technical limitations, and often just adaptations or
photographed versions of recent stage hits. Broadway stars were called in to become musical film
stars. Broadway legend and popular Ziegfeld Follies star Fannie Brice (in her sound film debut)
performed some of her inimitable sketches and songs ("I'd Rather Be Blue Over You" and the title
song) in director Archie Mayo's and Warners' musical My Man (1928) - one-third of which was
silent. The film was not financially successful, and Brice was not an overnight success on film,
until her "Baby Snooks" character became popular. RKO's first major production was the stage
adaptation Rio Rita (1929), one of the first musical spectaculars (filmed in black and white with
one rare Technicolor sequence). Starring Bebe Daniels as the Hispanic title character and John
Boles as a Texas Ranger, it was a costly adaptation of Florenz Ziegfeld's 1927 successful
Broadway stage musical hit shown virtually whole. Two of its stars from the original show, comics
Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, went on to later fame in the early 30s for the studio.

On stage, the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II Show Boat debuted in 1927 - it was the first
Broadway musical play, differing from previous musical revues (a series of musical numbers
strung together). In two years, Universal released the part-talkie film version Show Boat (1929) -
the first of many versions (James Whale's 1936 version with Paul Robeson - usually considered
the best, and George Sidney's 1951 version with Howard Keel) of the popular adaptation from
Edna Ferber's book.

The First Genuine Musical: The Broadway Melody (1929)
The first genuine musical, fully integrating singing and dancing into a 'backstage
musical' plot was also MGM's first full-length musical, The Broadway Melody
(1929). It premiered in Hollywood in early February of 1929 at Grauman's Chinese
Theatre, and was the first widely-distributed sound feature. It was proudly
advertised as "All Talking - All Singing - All Dancing", and the popular film brought
in a profit of over $1.6 million. It was the first musical film - and the first sound film
as well - to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. The film inspired three more
"Broadway Melody" films - in 1935 (the best of the series), 1937, and 1940.

The landmark musical starred Anita Page (as Queenie) and Oscar-nominated
Bessie Love (as older sibling Hank) as two sisters seeking fame in the New York
theatre - known as the Great White Way - while both were attracted to song-and-
dance man Charles King (as Eddie). The musical is outdated today and exhibits its
clumsy vaudevillian, stage-bound roots (with Jack Benny as master of
ceremonies). However, it featured the innovative use of two-colors in "The Wedding of the
Painted Doll" sequence, a mobile camera, and slangy dialogue. The film was also revolutionary
for two sound engineering firsts:

                it used a pre-recorded soundtrack (for "The Wedding of the Painted Doll"
                it had post-production sound effects and editing

The pioneering sound film was produced by young production head Irving Thalberg, and its
original score was written by the team of Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed - the film's hit song
was "You Were Meant For Me." [Freed remained with MGM and eventually was responsible for
some of the studio's most successful and sophisticated musicals, beginning in the 1940s and
continuing into the 1950s. Brown's and Freed's songs were later recycled into Singin' in the
Rain (1952).] Other songs included "Give My Regards to Broadway" (George M. Cohan), "The
Wedding Day of the Painted Doll", "Love Boat," "Broadway Melody," "Boy Friend," and "Truthful
Deacon Brown" (Willard Robison).

The Boom in Musicals:

The 1930s were considered the beginning of the "Golden Age of the Musical" with a greater
variety of musical vehicles and stars. Musical arrangers, song-writers, conductors, and dance
instructors hurried to the West Coast to be part of the onslaught of 'talking' musicals. In particular,
backstage musicals became the rage during the Great Depression, encouraging the production of
other imitators with similar characters: a struggling stage producer, wise-cracking chorus girls
practicing and on the lookout for rich husband prospects, and the opening night opportunity for
stardom for an inexperienced chorus girl filling in for the leading lady. Paramount's Astoria, Long
Island studios were the earliest to master the musical genre. Some of the leading songwriters and
lyricists, such as Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin, began to write
original screen musicals or provide words and music. The studio associated with all-star
extravaganzas and revue-type productions was MGM.

MGM's follow-up film to its successful Best Picture entry in 1929 was Chasing Rainbows
(originally titled The Road Show) (1929), again bringing together stars Bessie Love (as Carlie)
and Charles King (as song-and-dance man Terry), with the memorable tune "Happy Days Are
Here Again" - the future Presidential campaign song for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.

Musicals experienced a significant boom during the late 1920s and early 1930s, many of them
with Broadway stars lured westward to Hollywood. Eddie Cantor was attracted to Hollywood from
Broadway, where he made his first sound film Whoopee! (1930), based on Flo Ziegfeld's 1928-
1929 Broadway production (with the same cast) and filmed almost intact.
Silent film stars Corinne Griffith, Colleen Moore, and others found themselves in sound films with
dialogue. Pretty star Nancy Carroll appeared in the part-talkie comedy Abie's Irish Rose (1928) -
making her the first Hollywood actress to sing and dance on a sound stage, and also in the early
sound musicals Sweetie (1929) and Honey (1930), among others. Janet Gaynor's first all-talking
film was Fox's popular early musical Sunny Side Up (1929), one of the first musicals created
directly for the screen - and featuring the film debut of young Jackie Cooper. She took the role of
heroine Molly and sang "I'm a Dreamer (Aren't We All?)", "If I Had a Talking Picture of You", and
the title song. Also, Gaynor was again teamed with silent film romantic partner Charles Farrell for
the first time in a talkie.

Early Operettas:

Many of the first musical sound films were generally heavy-handed, stage-bound adaptations of
operettas that looked much like photographed stage plays. The first all-talking, all-singing
operetta was Warners' and Roy Del Ruth's The Desert Song (1929) with some Technicolor
sequences, which was based on the 1927 operetta of the same name with music by Sigmund
Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II. It starred John Boles as the Red Shadow - the handsome
masked bandit leader of the French Moroccan Riffs, and Carlotta King as heroine Margot. Myrna
Loy also starred in an early role as the exotic native girl Azuri. It was produced two more times by
Warner Bros, in 1944 and 1953.

MGM's Best Picture-nominated musical comedy The Rogue Song (1930) was another
Technicolor musical adapted from the 1912 operetta Gypsy Love, starring ex-Met baritone
Lawrence Tibbett in his first screen role (Oscar-nominated as Best Actor) as Yegor - the dashing
leader of an outlaw band called The Robbing Larks. New Moon (1930) (remade in 1940 with
Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy), featured Metropolitan Opera soprano diva Grace Moore
and ex-Met baritone Lawrence Tibbett. [Moore's debut film was in MGM's musical A Lady's
Morals (1930) as the 'Swedish Nightingale' Jenny Lind.]

All-Star Revue Musicals:

Every studio in the late 20s produced lavish, star-studded musicals of the "all-talking, all singing,
and all dancing" variety that contained smorgasbord lineups of specialty or
vaudeville acts, comedy sketches, musical numbers, short dramas, and other
production numbers (some of which had color sequences). In many cases, actors
with no musical talent whatsoever were recruited into these musical revue films.

One of the first "variety" shows was MGM's elaborate, Best Picture-nominated The
Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) noted for two highlight songs: "While Strolling
Through the Park One Day" and "Singin' in the Rain". Its star-studded cast included
Joan Crawford (singing and dancing to "Gotta Feeling For You"), Marion Davies
(performing "Tommy Atkins on Parade" and also tap dancing), Bessie Love
(performing "I Never Knew I Could Do a Thing Like That"), comedy sketches from
Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Marie Dressler (singing "For I'm the Queen"),
and other star performers. It was hosted by Jack Benny and Conrad Nagel and was most notable
for an early version of "Singin' in the Rain", performed by Cliff Edwards (known as "Ukelele Ike")
during a rainstorm.

Another was Warners' color film The Show of Shows (1929), that featured comedienne Winnie
Lightner singing the first renditions of "You Were Meant For Me" (with Bull Montana) and "Singing
in the Bathtub" - to mock the song in MGM's film. It also starred Myrna Loy, John Barrymore,
comedian Ben Turpin, 'Eight Sister Acts' and more, and was hosted by Master of Ceremonies
Frank Fay.
Other "variety" or "revue musicals" included: Fox's Movietone Follies of 1929 (1929), and the
best of the entire lot -- Paramount's and female director Dorothy Arzner's Paramount on Parade
(1930) - a patchwork from eleven different directors, featuring Nancy Carroll (with "Dancing to
Save Your Sole" performed on top of a shoe with rubber-legged dancer Al Norman), Maurice
Chevalier (singing "All I Want is Just One Girl"), Clara Bow (singing "I'm True to the Navy Now"),
George Bancroft, Kay Francis, William Powell, Warner Oland, Ruth Chatterton (performing "My
Marine") and many more; the film's Technicolor finale was titled "Rainbow Revels" with the
chorus and Chevalier appearing as chimney sweeps and singing "Sweeping the Clouds Away".
The only major Paramount star not included in the film was Jeanette MacDonald.

Early Musical Directors: Ernst Lubitsch

A few of the more notable early musicals were from director Ernst
Lubitsch, who had already established a reputation as a director of
sophisticated, risque romantic/sex comedies in the silent era. He was
adept at effectively integrating songs into his narratives involving
sexual indiscretions and liaisons. One of his major innovations was
to shoot his pictures without sound (it would be dubbed in later),
thereby giving him more freedom of camera movement. He also
introduced the world to the wonderful pairing of French cabaret star
Maurice Chevalier and soprano Jeanette MacDonald.

His first sound and musical film was at Paramount, The Love Parade (1929). Lubitsch skillfully
used sound and smoothly avoided making it stage-bound and over-acted like many of the early
talkies. The film featured the delightful pairing of red-haired singer Jeanette MacDonald (in her
first film, debuting as the frustrated Queen Louise of Sylvania) and French entertainer and the
film's sole star Maurice Chevalier in his second sound picture (as womanizer Alfred Renard and
MacDonald's consort/prince). The film included such delightful songs as "Dream Lover," a duet of
the title song, and "Anything to Please the Queen." It received Academy Award nominations for
Outstanding Production, Best Actor (Maurice Chevalier), Best Director (Ernst Lubitsch), Best
Cinematography, Best Interior Decoration and Best Sound Recording. One of MacDonald's 1930
musical films, also directed by Ernst Lubitsch, Monte Carlo (1930), contained the famous
sequence of her singing "Beyond the Blue Horizon".

The amusing romantic comedy The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), again with Maurice Chevalier (as
an Austrian lieutenant) in addition to Claudette Colbert (as Franzi, the leader of an all-girls' band)
and Miriam Hopkins (as Princess Anna), was a charming Viennese-flavored operetta (based
upon the 1907 operetta A Waltz Dream by Oscar Straus) - and a box-office hit.

With uncredited co-director George Cukor, Lubitsch re-made his earlier silent film comedy The
Marriage Circle (1924) into a witty romantic comedy-sound musical, renaming it One Hour With
You (1932), again starring Jeanette MacDonald with Maurice Chevalier as husband and wife. (It
was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Grand Hotel (1932).)

For his last musical, Lubitsch brought MacDonald and Chevalier together again, at MGM, for one
of the greatest, most lavish operettas ever filmed, The Merry Widow (1934). It was loosely based
on Franz Lehar's 1905 operetta, with a Rodgers and Hart score.

Early Musical Directors: King Vidor

One of the early landmark musical films was King Vidor's and MGM's melodramatic musical
Hallelujah! (1929). It was King Vidor's first talkie and only musical. It was a risky film to make,
given its questionable box-office potential, and the fact that it was shot mostly on location in
Memphis. [He was already known for his great silent films, including The Big Parade (1925)
and The Crowd (1928).] And it was the first all-black feature film in the sound era with a
soundtrack composed of various spirituals and traditional songs, such as "Swing Low, Swing
Chariot" and "Swanee River."

It was also the first film with a dubbed, asynchronous soundtrack added later in the studio in
Hollywood - a technological, post-production advancement. Although the film contained some
racial stereotypes, over-done acting, and primitive techniques, it remained a powerful tale of
murder and redemption in the Deep South, regarding black man Zeke (Daniel Haynes) who was
led to commit manslaughter and murder within a love triangle involving seductive temptress Chick
(Nina Mae McKinney) and her lover from the past Hot Shot (William E. Fountaine).

Early Musical Directors: Rouben Mamoulian

In the early 1930s, director Rouben Mamoulian was most adept at stylizing musicals, using
various devices in his pictures, such as slow motion (to create dreamy interludes and imaginary
settings), a moving camera, swift transitions between scenes, a double-channel soundtrack with
overlapping dialogue, and reversed films. Mamoulian's directorial debut (and his first sound film)
was titled Applause (1929). It was an inventive, refreshingly-realistic, seamy, sordid and grim
drama of backstage life, with rough dialogue, unattractive characters, and an uncompromising
tragic ending regarding a mother-daughter relationship. It was one of the earliest talkies to feature
Broadway's legendary 1920s musical star Helen Morgan (in her screen debut) as fading
burlesque (singer-stripper) queen Kitty Darling.

Mamoulian's Lubitsch-inspired romantic musical Love Me Tonight (1932) is considered among
the greatest musicals of the 1930s. This charming and sparkling Paramount Studios' film featured
the ever-popular, effervescent stars Jeanette MacDonald as bored and frustrated countess
Princess Jeanette, Chevalier as tailor Maurice Courtelin mistaken for a baron, and Myrna Loy as
man-hungry Countess Valentine, in a tale set in Paris. The stars wove witty dialogue and songs
together that advanced the plot. The superbly-integrated Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart songs
included "Isn't it Romantic?," "Lover," and Chevalier's trademark song "Mimi."

Resurgence of Musicals:

Warner Bros. was the studio that produced the first talking picture in 1927, the first movie
operetta (The Desert Song (1929)), and the first color musicals. The first all-color (actually two-
strip Technicolor) sound musical was Warners' and director Alan Crosland's backstage musical
On With the Show! (1929) - advertised as "the first 100%, Natural Color, All-Singing Production"
- with a plot similar to the later release, 42nd Street (1932/33). Director Edmund Goulding's
big-budget musical Reaching for the Moon (1930), starring Douglas Fairbanks (in one of his few
sound pictures) and Bebe Daniels, was to be the first musical to feature an all-Irving Berlin song
score, but the studio eliminated all of them except "When the Folks High-Up Do the Mean Low-
Down", performed by a young Bing Crosby, June MacCloy and Bebe Daniels.

The second full-length color sound feature film ever made was Warners' ambitious and
successful Technicolor musical The Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929) by director Roy Del
Ruth. It featured a number of popular variety stage stars, including talented dancers, singers, and
comedians. It was famous for "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips With Me" and "Painting the Clouds
with Sunshine" by Nick Lucas, who also starred in the film. It was a remake of the silent, non-
musical comedy film about chorus girls, The Gold Diggers (1923) - and it was followed by
Mervyn LeRoy's musical remake The Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). See more below.

By 1932, however, Hollywood studios had glutted the public's tired appetite and their
overexposed song-and-dance epics (often sacrificing plot and character development) went into a
commercial decline, coinciding with the height of the Great Depression. Audiences bypassed
many of the musical films that were being cranked out, and preferred to watch other genre
creations, such as the early gangster films: Public Enemy (1931) and Little Caesar (1930), the
comedy film Min and Bill (1930), or the Best Picture-winning western film Cimarron (1931). The
novelty of sound had worn off and the popularity of musicals suffered. For example, MGM's star-
studded, over-produced Hollywood Party (1934) with a host of writers and directors, originally
titled Hollywood Revue of 1933, was basically a disaster. It had a mish-mashed plot, and starred
such diverse actors as Laurel and Hardy, Jimmy Durante, Lupe Velez, Polly Moran, Frances
Williams, and The Three Stooges.

The Landmark Film: 42nd Street

The musical genre was really sparked, fortunately, when the Warners studio stole
director and dance choreographer Busby Berkeley away from United Artists. (Earlier
in the decade, Berkeley was hired by Sam Goldwyn as dance director on Whoopee!
(1930), his debut film.) The Warners film that breathed new life into the musical form
was Darryl Zanuck's executive production of director Lloyd Bacon's 42nd Street
(1932/33), another lively backstage drama that chronicled the hard work of a manic
Broadway director (Warner Baxter) behind the making of a musical comedy - where
life (whether as a director or chorus girl) depended upon the success of the opening
show. The Warner Bros.' 'putting on a show' film (with two Oscar nominations for
Best Picture and Best Sound, with no wins) also featured two fresh new juvenile
stars, Ruby Keeler (as a chorus girl) and tenor Dick Powell, and it starred Ginger
Rogers as veteran showgirl Anytime Annie.

Berkeley made screen history in this milestone-grandfather of spectacular musicals, with scores
of chorus girls, large extravagant musical 'production numbers' and sumptuous art deco sets,
surrealistic imagery, optical effects, zoom lenses, escapist musical numbers, fast-paced timing
and rhythmic editing, and wise-cracking dialogue. Berkeley was aided by the penned tunes of
Harry Warren (and co-writer Al Dubin), who contributed "Shuffle Off to Buffalo", "Young and
Healthy", and the climactic title song "42nd Street". [Songwriter/composer Warren also worked on
Berkeley's other 1933 films, and wrote some of the best-remembered musical songs ever

Busby Berkeley - Master Musical and Dance Choreographer:

It was the first real look at the imaginative choreography of former Broadway dance director
Busby Berkeley, a transplant from Broadway musical-directing. He was the first to truly realize
that a filmed musical was totally different from a staged musical, with the camera becoming an
integral participant with the choreography. He was becoming known for his trademark sensual,
kaleidoscopic patterns of carefully-positioned, often scantily-clad chorus girls with props
photographed from above (his "top shot"), from swooping cranes, from the trench below the
stage, or from cameras placed on specially-designed tracks to capture audacious camera
movements. Abstract, shifting geometric patterns, screen compositions, and props in his highly-
stylized 'moving pictures' included giant flowers, neon violins, and waterfalls.

In most of these unique films, emphasis was on large extravagant (sometimes outlandish)
musical numbers and sets. He used his chorus girls not as individuals but as parts of large,
attractive geometric patterns moving with precise choreography. The images could be animated
tiles in vast, ever-shifting mosaics, fanciful geometric patterns or cascading designs. Often, he
would use his legendary cinematic "top view" shot to capture the kaleidoscopic views. He dressed
the girls up in preposterous costumes, sometimes as coins or musical instruments, or the chorus
girls would wear next to nothing but wisps of gauze.
Berkeley produced many more distinctive musicals during the Depression-afflicted 1930s for
Warner Bros. In fact, Berkeley alone choreographed three films for WB in 1933 (*). [Note: These
three films all featured performers Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbee, Lorena Layson, Renee
Whitney and Pat Wing. They also featured songs written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, and
conducted by Leo F. Forbstein.] Each movie attempted to outdo the previous extravaganza in
exotic, erotic flamboyance (in chronological order):

                 42nd Street (1933) *
               Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) *
               Footlight Parade (1933) *
               Roman Scandals (1933)
               Fashions of 1934 (1934)
               Dames (1934)
               Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
               Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)

He introduced spectacular musical numbers (often non-integrated into the narrative) with stylized
action, astonishing sets, and huge lavish dance numbers for the Gold Digger series. Mervyn
LeRoy's blockbuster Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) (a remake of the Gold Diggers of Broadway
(1929) which itself was a remake of the silent film Gold Diggers (1923) about chorus girls), was
one of Berkeley's purest fantasies for the Depression Era. It featured a young, coin-clad Ginger
Rogers in the opening production number leading a chorus line of showgirls garbed in more gold-
coin costumes singing "We're in the Money" (with one verse in Pig Latin). In another scene,
Berkeley undressed his pretty chorus girls entirely behind screens, backlighting them so that the
audience could see all they had to offer in silhouette. In another romantic scene "The Shadow
Waltz", neon-lighted violins formed geometric designs on the screen with girls dressed all in
white. The film ended with the social commentary of the finale's downbeat number: "Remember
My Forgotten Man" accompanied by the singing of Joan Blondell.

One of Berkeley's greatest extravaganzas in the same year was another Lloyd Bacon
collaboration: Footlight Parade (1933), in which Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell co-starred with a
lively yet crazed Broadway musical producer (James Cagney). The film has many classic
numbers including "Shanghai Lil" and the underwater/fountain sequences in "Honeymoon Hotel".
The most incredible and showy of all sequences of musical fantasy in Berkeley's films was the 15
minute production number "By a Waterfall". It included a revolving wedding cake fountain and an
elaborate aquacade of 100 bathing-suited girls, performing kaleidoscopic patterns in the water
and reflecting their images in a pool, climaxing in a huge human fountain.

Dames (1934) included Berkeley's inventive, staged choreography in a title production number ("I
Only Have Eyes For You") in which gigantic, precision-fit jigsaw puzzle pieces on the backs of
dancing chorus girls came together to form a large picture of the face of Ruby Keeler. The film
also featured the songs of Harry Warren and Al Dubin, including "The Girl on the Ironing Board".

The visually-stunning Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935), not only production-designed but directed by
Berkeley, featured one of the finest examples of Berkeley's inventiveness. He traced the
experiences of a chorus girl through a day and night, culminating with her death fall from a
Manhattan balcony. In another sequence titled "The Words Are In My Heart", pretty chorus girls
playing long rows of two-dozen separate white pianos were merged together into one huge piano.
He accomplished this spectacular feat by having his stagehands invisibly dressed in black while
they wheeled the pianos around on stage. The film climaxed with Berkeley's large-scale dancing
number "Lullaby of Broadway".

The era of extravagant Gold Diggers/Berkeley numbers began its decline shortly after the mid-
30s, due to production cuts and enforcement of the Production code that forbade some of
Berkeley's sublimated sexual images. The famed director/choreographer was restricted to only
two production numbers in Lloyd Bacon's Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936), featuring the ten-minute
final musical number "All's Fair in Love and War", nominated for Best Dance Direction. It featured
Joan Blondell leading a chorus of 104 women dressed in white military uniforms (against a shiny
black floor) as they tapped their way through a series of military formations and flag-wavings with
Berkeley's trademarked geometric patterns. By the time the last Gold Diggers film was released,
Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), Rudy Vallee had replaced Dick Powell (who had starred in the
previous three Gold Digger films), and the budgets for Berkeley's numbers were drastically cut
and scaled down.

MGM's 'Singing Sweethearts': Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy

MGM studios also contributed to the resurgence of musicals in the 1930s, filming a number of
"singing sweethearts" or "America's sweethearts" films teaming baritone Nelson Eddy and
Jeanette MacDonald singing romantic duets in remade operettas with bittersweet romantic
themes. After Jeanette starred in Paramount's film version of the operetta The Vagabond King
(1930) as heroine Katherine with co-star Dennis King as the roguish poet Francois Villon, and in
the Ernst Lubitsch/Paramount production of One Hour With You (1932), she appeared in
Rouben Mamoulian's/Paramount's musical fairytale Love Me Tonight (1932) (with a star-making
role for Myrna Loy) featuring a Rodgers and Hart score. She also starred in MGM's The Merry
Widow (1934) with Maurice Chevalier, and then was successfully and profitably paired with
Nelson Eddy. They starred in eight films together from 1935 to 1942:

               Naughty Marietta (1935)
               Rose Marie (1936) (with the song "The Indian Love Call" known for its phrase,
                "When I'm calling you-oo-oo")
               Maytime (1937)
               The Girl of the Golden West (1938)
               Sweethearts (1938)
               Bitter Sweet (1940)
               New Moon (1940)
               I Married an Angel (1942)

Nelson Eddy's debut was in the revised operetta Naughty Marietta (1935). Their best
remembered (and most commercially successful film together) was Rose Marie (1936). Maytime
(1937), a 1937 box-office champion was a beautiful, bittersweet love story featuring the famed
duo reprising the oft-repeated "Will You Remember?" Their film Sweethearts (1938), MGM's first
Technicolor feature, demonstrated the effectiveness of color - its color cinematography won an

MGM Dancing Star Eleanor Powell:

Another of the musical stars on the MGM studio lot during the 1930s was former Broadway
performer and glamorous tap dancer Eleanor Powell, who starred in a number of popular musical
films. Over her long career, she danced with the likes of Fred Astaire. The best of her films were
the following (notice that they included three Broadway Melody films):

               The Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) - a bit role, but Powell's first association
                with MGM; Powell played opposite Robert Taylor, and supporting cast members
                Jack Benny and June Knight; this film, the best in the series, was one of the few
                sequels to be nominated for Best Picture
               Born to Dance (1936) featuring Powell in her first lead film role tap-dancing on
                board an Art-Deco battleship
               the expensive, over-produced Rosalie (1937) featuring a Cole Porter score and
                co-star Nelson Eddy
               The Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), a film in which Powell's dance solos are
                overshadowed by a young Judy Garland (her original name was Frances Gumm,
                in her first feature film appearance) singing and dancing with Buddy Ebsen and
                singing the classic "You Made Me Love You" to a photograph of Clark Gable
               Honolulu (1939), in which Powell performs a hula-style tap dance, and also a
                stair-tapping tribute - in blackface - to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson
               The Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), one of Powell's best, with a six-minute,
                film-ending dance with Fred Astaire to Cole Porter's tune "Begin the Beguine"
               Lady Be Good (1941), with George Gershwin songs
               Ship Ahoy (1942)
               Sensations of 1945 (1944) - Powell's final starring film

Shirley Temple at 20th Century Fox:

Besides MGM, other studios had their own musical attractions, and merchandising 'cash cows.'
One of the biggest money-making, musical super-stars of the mid-1930s was Twentieth Century
Fox's talented, naturally-acting, charming child attraction Shirley Temple. The diminutive, curly-
topped sensation earned a special Oscar in 1934 "in grateful recognition to her outstanding
contribution to screen entertainment." Although her films went into decline by the late 30s as she
got older, she achieved legendary film status in such films as:

               Baby Take A Bow (1934) - her first starring vehicle
               Bright Eyes (1934) - one of Shirley's best, with her classic rendition of "On the
                Good Ship Lollipop"
               Little Miss Marker (1934)
               Curly Top (1935) - with Shirley as a resident of an orphanage, and noted for her
                phrase: "Oh, my goo'ness!" - [this phrase was referenced in the latter film Annie
               The Little Colonel (1935) with her famous staircase dance sequence with 56
                year-old vaudevillian and musical stage star Bill "Bojangles" Robinson; has a
                short Technicolor finale
               The Littlest Rebel (1935) - a Civil War era film, the finale includes a 'challenge
                dance' against Bill Robinson
               Captain January (1936) including the delightful song/dance number "At The
                Codfish Ball" with Buddy Ebsen
               Dimples (1936) - famous for Shirley's convincing re-enactment of Little Eva's
                death scene in Uncle Tom's Cabin
               Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) - a remake of Mary Pickford's 1917 film, co-starring
                Alice Faye
               Stowaway (1936) - as a character named Ching-Ching, orphaned and stranded
                in Shanghai, China who stowaways on a ship bound for San Francisco; known
                for Shirley's frequent spouting of wise 'Charlie Chan' sayings, and her wonderful
                rendition of "You've got to S-M-I-L-E, To be H-A-Double-P-Y"
               Heidi (1937) - includes a dream sequence set in Holland with the singing of "In
                My Little Wooden Shoes"
               Wee Willie Winkie (1937) - directed by John Ford and set in India
               Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) with 10 year-old Shirley performing a
                medley of many of her earlier hit songs, "On the Good Ship Lollipop," "When I'm
                With You," and more
               Little Miss Broadway (1938)
               The Little Princess (1939) - her first Technicolor feature film
Alice Fay and Betty Grable at 20th Century Fox:

For adult audiences, Fox's singer/dancer and musical performer Alice Faye starred in such hits

               Sing, Baby, Sing (1936)
               You're a Sweetheart (1937) - Faye's only film for Universal
               On the Avenue (1937) featuring Irving Berlin songs
               In Old Chicago (1938)
               Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), a large-scale Irving Berlin backstage
                musical with Don Ameche, Tyrone Power and young Ethel Merman - director
                Henry King's Best Picture-nominated film was the first all-star epic musical to
                feature classic Irving Berlin songs (28 songs including "Heat Wave", "Now It Can
                Be Told" and Jack Haley's rendition of "Oh How I Hate To Get Up In the
                Morning," among others) and set the pattern for musicals into the 1940s; the film
                won the Best Score Oscar for Alfred Newman's musical direction
               Rose of Washington Square (1939), with song classics "California Here I
                Come," "Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye," "I'm Just Wild About Harry," and "My Man"
               Tin Pan Alley (1940), an enjoyable film starring Alice Faye and Betty Grable as
                a pair of singing sisters, won the Best Score Academy Award
               Hello Frisco, Hello (1943) - starring Faye (singing "You'll Never Know") and co-
                star John Payne
               The Gang's All Here (1943) - this was Faye's final starring role in a musical,
                director Busby Berkeley's only film for Fox, and the one noted for Carmen
                Miranda's fruit-laden hat and the song "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat"

After Alice Faye, Twentieth Century Fox found a successor in the person of Betty Grable for
much of the 40s decade and into the mid-50s. They capitalized on her popular and shapely
"million dollar legs" made famous in WWII pin-ups showing her mostly in a rear-view image.
Grable appeared in many nonsensical, Technicolor extravaganzas including the musical comedy
Moon Over Miami (1941) with Carol Landis and supporting player Charlotte Greenwood,
Footlight Serenade (1942) with Victor Mature, Springtime in the Rockies (1942) with
supporting Brazilian player Carmen Miranda, Coney Island (1943), Pin-Up Girl (1944) - a title
that capitalized on her earlier fame, and the hit film The Dolly Sisters (1945). Fox's
Technicolored State Fair (1945), with Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews, was the only Rodgers &
Hammerstein musical written directly for the screen. Its tune, "It Might As Well Be Spring" won the
Oscar for Best Song.

Astaire and Rogers: The Greatest Dance Duo

The resurgence of musicals for RKO in the 1930s featured the cinematic artistry of
the seemingly effortless and carefree, graceful, energetic and inspired dance team
of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - the most enduring, best-loved and
complementary stars of the era. Katharine Hepburn was quoted as saying, "He
gave her class, she gave him sex." In a unique musical courtship, the earthy
Rogers matched Astaire's nimble dancing vitality with her own brand of wise-
cracking humor and talent. Their films often seamlessly integrated the musical
numbers into the storyline - often one of mistaken identities.

Astaire, arguably the greatest dancer in film history and an import from Broadway, was the
creative and revolutionary force behind the choreography and cinematography. He didn't fit the
profile of a studly, good-looking actor, but he changed forever the way in which the camera
moved in musicals. Musical numbers would now be filmed in long takes with minimal camera
movements and cuts, and Astaire also insisted that his full-figure had to be captured in the
camera frame. The fact that long dance sequences would be filmed in only one or two takes
meant that the dance routines had to be performed flawlessly - or repeated. Film technicians
designed a so-called "Astaire dolly" that could move on wheels and capture his whole body from
a low-angle.

The RKO Films of Astaire and Rogers:

Here is a summary listing of the dance couple's nine films together at RKO over a six-year period
- only two of them were nominated for Best Picture (*):

               Flying Down to Rio (1933)
               The Gay Divorcee (1934) *
                 Top Hat (1935) *
               Roberta (1935)
               Swing Time (1936)
               Follow the Fleet (1936)
               Shall We Dance (1937)
               Carefree (1938)
               The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)

Beginning at RKO, in the first of their nine films there, they co-starred (billed fourth and fifth in
secondary roles) in Flying Down to Rio (1933) in only one dance number. The film was known
for its memorable airplane wing-dancing chorus girls scene and their debut dance number - the
sensual 18-minute, show-stopping "Carioca." (Their first film together was also the first time
Astaire/Rogers had been teamed with choreographer Hermes Pan.) Then, after being recognized
as possible stars (as a dancing playboy and sweet but spunky dancing partner), they were top
billed in the next year's excellent The Gay Divorcee (1934), playing their traditionally-
remembered elegant and sophisticated dancing roles, exhibited in two classic Cole Porter
numbers: "The Continental" (it won an Oscar as Best Song) and "Night and Day." In 1935, they
were second-billed in their fourth film - the light-hearted Roberta (1935) (directed by William
Seiter) with a nominated Best Song contender by Jerome Kern: "Lovely to Look At."

The Three Best Films of Astaire/Rogers:

The famous dance team's three best films in the series are considered to be:

               the quintessential and very successful Top Hat (1935), a tale of mistaken
                identities and romantic misunderstandings set in London and on the Italian
                Riviera, featuring Irving Berlin's superb songs (i.e., "It's This a Lovely Day to Be
                Caught in the Rain" and "No Strings") and their memorable dreamy duet "Cheek
                to Cheek" number with Rogers in an ostrich-feathered dress (that shed during the
                routine), and Astaire's signature solo number "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails"

               the magical Swing Time (1936) featuring their poignant duet "Never Gonna
                Dance," Astaire's blackface solo dance "Bojangles of Harlem," the romantic
                "Waltz in Swing Time", and the light courtship dance "Pick Yourself Up"

               Shall We Dance (1937) their seventh film together in four years, featuring
                Gershwin music and their classic tap duet "They All Laughed"; also with a
                delightful roller-skating routine

They also teamed up to dance together in Follow the Fleet (1936) with an Irving Berlin score,
and in the screwball musical comedy Carefree (1938). Their last RKO picture together was The
Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939). After a ten year absence from the screen, the
legendary pair of Astaire and Rogers was reunited for their tenth and final film in MGM's inferior
reunion film - The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), their only Technicolored film. Amazingly,
Astaire and Rogers were never nominated for an Academy Award for any of their musical

Astaire's Other Dance Films:

Astaire continued to star in musicals for other studios and with other dance/film partners. After
Fred Astaire left RKO for MGM to make The Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), the only film in
which he tap-danced with Eleanor Powell (to Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine"), he later made
two wonderful musicals with Bing Crosby for Paramount:

               Holiday Inn (1942) in which Crosby relaxingly croons "White Christmas" for the
                first time and Astaire dances with Marjorie Reynolds - the film was later remade
                as White Christmas (1954)
               Blue Skies (1946) featuring Irving Berlin music and Astaire's
                classic "Puttin' On the Ritz"

Both of Astaire's marvelous romantic musicals for Columbia with a ravishingly-
beautiful Rita Hayworth in the early 1940s have been under-rated - Hayworth was
probably Astaire's best dance partner after Ginger Rogers. They were first paired
together in You'll Never Get Rich (1941) featuring Cole Porter songs, and then in
You Were Never Lovelier (1942). Their dancing was as good as the best Astaire-
Rogers romantic duets. Astaire also starred in Vincente Minnelli's Yolanda and the
Thief (1945) and the Irving Berlin musical Easter Parade (1948) with Judy

In Royal Wedding (1951), Astaire performed two memorable numbers: his hat and
coat stand-rack routine, and his famous "wall and ceiling walk" dance number in his hotel room
during "You're All the World To Me". He also performed many song and dance numbers with
Jane Powell, including the dance duet "Open Your Eyes" and "How Could You Believe Me When
I Said I Love You (When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life)?" [Keenan Wynn's famous
number in the film was "What a Lovely Day For a Wedding".] Much later, Astaire danced with
Audrey Hepburn in one of the best musicals of the 1950s, the gorgeously visual Funny Face
(1957) - a film also directed by Stanley Donen.

Paramount and Columbia in the 1930s:

Paramount Studios' contributions to the musical genre in the 1930s included their musical The
Big Broadcast (1932) (and its three sequels) with radio stars George Burns and Gracie Allen
and their popular crooner Bing Crosby in one of his earliest film roles, singing his future theme
song: "When the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day." The three sequels, all following
the same pattern of the first entry with music and a lineup of stars were:

               The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935)
               The Big Broadcast of 1937 (1936)
               The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1937) - notable for Bob Hope's feature film debut,
                and the singing of his future theme song, "Thanks for the Memories"

Crosby also crooned in other films for Paramount in the 30s and into the 40s:

               Mississippi (1935)
                Pennies From Heaven (1936) (for Columbia Studios)
                Sing You Sinners (1938)
                Going My Way (1944), a Best Picture winner, with the songs "Swingin' On a
                 Star" (Best Song Oscar winner) and the title song "Going My Way"; and the film's
                 equally-popular sequel The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Columbia Studios, under the direction of Harry Cohn, made very few musicals in the 1930s,
although they did produce One Night of Love (1934) from director Victor Schertzinger, with
Metropolitan Opera diva Grace Moore in her best screen role. The film scored six major Oscar
nominations (including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Film Editing and Best Director), with two
wins for Best Sound and Best Score.

Deanna Durbin at Universal:

Universal Studios capitalized on (or exploited) the popularity of their young, classically-trained, 14
year-old soprano singer Deanna Durbin, who first appeared in Three Smart Girls (1936) as a
matchmaker for her divorced parents. [The film received three Oscar nominations, including Best
Picture.] Universal's next entertaining musical comedy with Durbin, 100 Men and A Girl (1937),
helped save Universal Studios from bankruptcy, and won the Academy Award for Best Score.
The young star also sang classical songs in the teen musical comedy That Certain Age (1938)
tailored especially for her, and in the same year starred in Mad About Music (1938). She was
awarded a 1938 special Oscar "for bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth."
Two sequels with the sweet-faced Durbin were follow-ups to her first film: the highly-successful,
lighthearted Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939) with Durbin singing the hit wedding song
"Because," and the musical romance Hers to Hold (1943). In 1939, 17 year-old Durbin received
her first, brief on-screen kiss (from young actor Robert Stack) in the romance-musical, First Love
(1939). Her first adult role was in Can't Help Singing (1944), a Technicolor Western musical -
the start of her decline as a singing star.

Musicals in the Late 30s and 40s Post-War Period:

Musicals really came into full flower in the late 1930s and into the 1940s, with an increased
demand for escapist entertainment during World War II and bigger budgets for the musical genre.
The 1940s inaugurated the heyday of elaborate MGM musicals in technicolor. Color was also
being introduced into the major productions. MGM's most popular fantasy musical was the
artistic, classic Technicolor masterpiece The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring an appealing and
young emerging star Judy Garland as Dorothy in a magical land and dreaming "Over the
Rainbow." [Garland was recognized earlier for her singing of "Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love
You" in The Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937).]

Even Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the first full-length animated
feature, was also the first animated musical - with the title character occasionally singing within
the film. Its songs included the tuneful "Heigh-Ho" and "Some Day My Prince Will Come."
Although not technically a musical, the visually-brilliant masterpiece Fantasia (1940) blended
together animation and classical music.
As in other film genres (such as the western and gangster films), darker undertones emerged in
some musicals in the post-war period, such as in director Michael Curtiz' Technicolored musical
comedy My Dream is Yours (1949), a Warner Bros' film starring Doris Day (in her second film).
In its story about a tormented romance (similar to A Star is Born), the film demonstrated how
personal relationships between performers were sacrificed for their careers (single war-widowed
mother Martha Gibson (Doris Day) was told: "Two careers in one family is one too many. We'll
concentrate on mine, huh?" by egotistical and conceited popular radio
crooner Gary Mitchell (Lee Bowman)).

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland: Teen Stars in the 40s

One of MGM's top musical teams in the 1940s was composed of all-
American kids Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, successfully paired
together in seven popular films from 1937 - 1948 - either in (1) a series of
"backyard musicals" (in which a group of teenagers put on their own musical
show against insurmountable odds), often directed and/or choreographed by
Busby Berkeley, or in (2) a series of Andy Hardy films (they appeared three
times together in the 16 Andy Hardy films (*)):

               (1) A Family Affair (1937)
               Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) - the first pairing of Rooney and Garland in a
                romantic comedy/drama
               (2) You're Only Young Once (1938)
               (3) Judge Hardy's Children (1938)
               (4) *Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) - the pair's first Hardy film and probably the
                best in the series
               (5) Out West with the Hardys (1938)
               (6) The Hardy's Ride High (1939)
               Babes in Arms (1939), d. Busby Berkeley
               (7) Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (1939)
               (8) Judge Hardy and Son (1939)
               Strike Up the Band (1940), d. Busby Berkeley
               (9) *Andy Hardy Meets a Debutante (1940) - the second Hardy film for Garland
               (10) Andy Hardy's Private Secretary (1941)
               (11) *Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941) - Garland's third and final Hardy film
               Babes on Broadway (1941), d. Busby Berkeley
               (12) The Courtship of Andy Hardy (1942)
               (13) Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942)
               Girl Crazy (1943), d. Busby Berkeley. Includes a reprise of Ethel Merman's
                Broadway hit, partially choreographed by Berkeley in a scene where Garland
                sings: "I Got Rhythm" in white buck-skin
               Thousands Cheer (1943)
               (14) Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble (1944)
               (15) Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (1946)
               Words and Music (1948) - with Garland and Rooney reunited and singing "I
                Wish I Were In Love Again"
               (16) Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958) - the last in the series

MGM also presented a number of Judy Garland showpieces - she was the
young queen and top star of the musical in the 40s. Aside from her films with
Mickey Rooney, she also performed in Little Nellie Kelly (1940), Ziegfeld Girl
(1941), a film with extravagant dance numbers, co-stars Lana Turner and Hedy
Lamarr, and hundreds of beautifully-costumed Ziegfeld Girls, one of which was
Judy Garland. And she also appeared in Busby Berkeley's For Me and My Gal
(1942) with Gene Kelly in his film debut, the light-hearted musical comedy The Harvey Girls
(1946) (in which she sings "On the Atchison Topeka"), The Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Till The
Clouds Roll By (1946) (appearing as Marilyn Miller and singing "Look For the Silver Lining"),
Easter Parade (1948) with Fred Astaire, and In the Good Old Summertime (1949), a musical
remake of The Shop Around the Corner (1940) with Van Johnson.

Garland's best role and fresh singing (of Hugh Martin-Ralph Blane hits including "The Boy Next
Door," and "The Trolley Song") were showcased in MGM's nostalgic period musical Meet Me
in St. Louis (1944) for war-time movie-goers, where she was directed by her future husband
Vincente Minnelli. The story, about a middle-class family in a turn-of-the-century, Mid-western
World's Fair city, was based on New Yorker stories by Sally Benson. Songs and dances in the
film were performed in natural circumstances by many of the characters as a way to further the
plot, and to reveal the characters and their emotions, such as Garland's "Have Yourself a Merry
Little Christmas"). Garland's swan song film at MGM was Summer Stock (1950) in which she
again co-starred with Gene Kelly and sang "Get Happy" - in drag.

Musical Biographies: Show-Biz Figures and Big Band Musicians

The musical-film biographies of show-biz figures and big band musicians (and their music) was a
major sub-genre of all the studios in the 1940s and 50s (and later), in the following:

               the rousing and patriotic Warners' production of Yankee Doodle
                Dandy (1942), starring the indefatigable James Cagney (who won a
                Best Actor Academy Award) as the hoofing showman George M
               the idealized career and timeless music of American composer George
                Gershwin in WB's Rhapsody in Blue (1945), starring Robert Alda, and
                with an appearance by Al Jolson singing "Swanee"
               the fictionalized, show-business life story of vaudeville and Broadway
                stage performer Al Jolson in Columbia's The Jolson Story (1946),
                starring Larry Parks (who lip-synched to Jolson's songs); its popularity
                led to the sequel Jolson Sings Again (1949)
               composer Cole Porter in Michael Curtiz' Night and Day (1946),
                starring Cary Grant
               the musical biography of songwriter Jerome Kern in MGM's Till The Clouds Roll
                By (1946)
               the big-band superstars Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey in UA's The Fabulous
                Dorseys (1947)
               the composer-songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in MGM's Words
                and Music (1948)
               WB's The Eddie Cantor Story (1953) about the bug-eyed entertainer
               the stories of musicians Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman in Universal's The
                Glenn Miller Story (1954) (with James Stewart) and The Benny Goodman
                Story (1955) (with Steve Allen in his film debut) respectively
               New York's pianist and bandleader Eddy Duchin in Columbia's The Eddy
                Duchin Story (1956), starring Tyrone Power
               country music songwriter and performer Hank Williams, Sr. (George Hamilton) in
                the musical biopic Your Cheatin' Heart (1964)
               50s rock idol Buddy Holly (Gary Busey) in The Buddy Holly Story (1978), who
                tragically died in a plane crash at the age of 22
               John Lennon in Imagine: John Lennon (1988), a music-video collection of
                tracks from Lennon's Imagine album
                the feature biography of controversial rock 'n' roller Jerry Lee Lewis (Dennis
                 Quaid) in Great Balls of Fire (1989), with Winona Ryder as his 13-year old
                 second cousin/wife

MGM - The Top Studio for Musicals: Arthur Freed

By the end of the 1930s, MGM was emerging as a revolutionary new force in Hollywood musicals
(and dominated the musical genre in terms of Academy Awards). MGM producer Arthur Freed
was originally a skilled lyricist/songwriter from the earliest days of the musical talkies at MGM. He
had come to Hollywood to write the score for The Broadway Melody (1928/29), and then had
played a key role as Associate Producer for The Wizard of Oz (1939) (and had spotted Judy
Garland's talent early on). During the 40s and 50s over a period of twenty years, Freed produced
for MGM some of the greatest landmark musical films in the history of the genre, and worked with
some of Hollywood's most talented musical film directors and stars:

                    Arthur Freed-Produced Musicals for MGM (a sampling)
            Babes in Arms (1939)                  On the Town (1949)
            Strike Up the Band (1940)             Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
            Babes on Broadway (1941)              Pagan Love Song (1950)
            For Me and My Gal (1942)              Royal Wedding (1951)
            Cabin in the Sky (1943)               Show Boat (1951)
            Girl Crazy (1943)                        An American in Paris (1951)
                Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)          Singin' In The Rain (1952)
            The Clock (1945)                      The Band Wagon (1953)
            Yolanda and the Thief (1945)          Brigadoon (1954)
            Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)        Kismet (1955)
            Ziegfeld Follies (1946)               It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
            The Harvey Girls (1946)               Silk Stockings (1957)
            Easter Parade (1948)                  Gigi (1958)
            The Pirate (1948)                     Bells are Ringing (1960)
            Take Me Out to the Ball Game

With his sharp eye for quality and freshness, his promotion of new, integrated musical forms (to
make song and dance numbers a more natural part of the story), and the choice of skilled
directors (Vincente Minnelli, Busby Berkeley, and Stanley Donen imported from Broadway),
dance/directors (Gene Kelly), choreographers (Michael Kidd), musical directors (Andre Previn),
and dazzling stars (Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire and
June Allyson among others), Arthur Freed created musical fantasy worlds on screen - and some
of the greatest musicals ever made.

Vincente Minnelli: Great Musical Director
Under Freed's guidance, Minnelli directed Cabin in the Sky (1943), his debut Hollywood film and
the first all-black musical in many years. (That same year, another one of the greatest all-black
musicals of all-time was released, Stormy Weather (1943), a revue starring the ravishing Lena
Horne -- who sang what would become her signature tune, the title song Stormy Weather. Other
performers included Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the Nicholas Brothers, Cab Calloway, Babe
Wallace, Katherine Dunham, Ada Brown, Dooley Wilson and Fats Waller. Ironically, the scenes of
Cabin in the Sky's star Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson were deleted in Stormy Weather!)

Arthur Freed's unit also produced Minnelli's Yolanda and the Thief (1945), an exotic, charming
fantasy about a con man (Fred Astaire) who convinces a rich, virginal, South American heiress
that he is her guardian angel. One of Minnelli's most lavish films was The Ziegfeld Follies
(1946), with scores of MGM stars (Lucille Ball, William Powell, Judy Garland, Fanny Brice, Lena
Horne, Red Skelton, and more), a Ziegfeld-style stage revue of musical numbers, and comedy.
The film included Astaire and Kelly appearing together in their only duet ever. Another Minnelli-
directed film was The Pirate (1948), set on a remote Caribbean island with Gene Kelly as a pirate
wooing a lonely woman. Garland co-starred and sang Cole Porter's hit tune "Be A Clown" with

Under the guidance of MGM producer Freed, Vincente Minnelli (with Michael Kidd as
choreographer) also directed the big-scale classic The Band Wagon (1953), an extravagant film
that marked a pinnacle for musicals. It starred Fred Astaire as a fading Hollywood movie star
interested in a Broadway comeback as a sparkling, song-and-dance man, opposite partner Cyd
Charisse. The musical featured the well-recognized hymn to show business - "That's
Entertainment." The duo performed "Dancing in the Dark" in Central Park and the "Girl-Hunt
Ballet" final production number, a film-noiric satire of Mickey Spillane's pulp novels (with the
characters of a private eye and dangerous femme fatale siren in a sparkling red dress). Astaire
also danced with a black shoeshine boy in "Shine on My Shoes."

Gene Kelly: MGM's New Musical Dance Star

Freed was responsible for bringing a new musical star from Broadway to
Hollywood in the early 40s - the dynamic, ballet-oriented, Irish-American Gene
Kelly. As a dancer, Kelly brought an imaginative freshness and athletic-style,
muscular vitality to a number of films, projecting a very different down-to-earth
persona from the sophisticated, suave and stylish tap dancing of Fred Astaire
who often wore top hats and tails. His first major role, in a stage production of
Pal Joey, brought him a Hollywood contract.

In Kelly's film debut, he was teamed with director Busby Berkeley, playing a
song-and-dance man opposite co-star Judy Garland in MGM's For Me and My
Gal (1942). He was successful in Columbia's Techni-colored Cover Girl (1944)
opposite Rita Hayworth, particularly when he danced with his own reflection in
"Alter Ego." And then in MGM's Best Picture-nominated Anchors Aweigh
(1945) in the post-war years, Kelly (with his sole Best Actor nomination in his career) performed a
dance with a scene-stealing Jerry, the cartoon mouse from "Tom and Jerry" - and the film co-
starred a young and thin Frank Sinatra who crooned Styne-Cahn tunes. As mentioned earlier,
Kelly also performed a song-and-dance duet with Fred Astaire (their sole dance together) in The
Ziegfeld Follies (1946). The Pirate (1948) featured Kelly's singing and acrobatic, graceful
dancing opposite Judy Garland, accompanied with a Cole Porter score - its most famous dance
sequence was "Be a Clown."

Teamed with co-director Stanley Donen for the first time (they directed three MGM post-war
musicals), Kelly made his directorial debut with On The Town (1949), an energetic
dance/musical that took the musical out of the wall-bound studio and on location into New York
City. The adapted Leonard Bernstein stage show was a story about three on-leave sailors (Kelly,
Sinatra, and Munshin) looking for romance during a 24-hour shore leave. Some of the film's
production numbers included the opening "New York, New York", "The Miss Turnstiles Ballet",
and "Prehistoric Joe." Stanley Donen also directed MGM's Royal Wedding (1951), a story
inspired by star actor Astaire's real-life story, and featuring Astaire's two famous solos: a 'tap-
dance on the ceiling' routine, and a hat-rack duet.

                 There were two musicals that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in the
                 1950s, and both were the works of Freed's and MGM's remarkable musical
                 production unit, and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Kelly expressed his amazing
                 appeal and choreography in MGM's trademark film, An American in Paris
                 (1951), a classic, Award-winning Best Picture film (over A Streetcar Named
                 Desire (1951) and A Place in the Sun (1951)) about the romance between an
                 American painter (Gene Kelly) and a French girl (Leslie Caron). It featured
                 George and Ira Gershwin music and a climactic, 17-minute, half-million-dollar
                 'dream ballet' - one of Freed's pioneering inventions. The musical won five other
                 Oscars (Best Screenplay, Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction
                 and Best Costume Design), and Kelly was awarded an honorary Oscar for "his
                 brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film."

Freed's other Best Picture award winner was another Minnelli-directed film, MGM's adaptation of
Colette's story of Gigi (1958). The story within this original film musical was about a shy Paris
courtesan (Leslie Caron) who was courted as a wife by a wealthy Parisian playboy/patron named
Gaston (Louis Jourdan). [Leslie Caron's other major musical hit was in the title role as the
charming Lili (1953), a film that became the basis for the 1961 Broadway musical hit Carnival.]
The visually-enjoyable, Parisian-flavored film was actually filmed in the City of Lights and used
the talents of the composers (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe) and the costume designer
(Cecil Beaton) of the play My Fair Lady. Gigi set a new record by winning nine Oscars in all the
categories in which it was nominated - one more than any other film had received up to that time
( Gone With the Wind (1939), From Here to Eternity (1953), and On the Waterfront
(1954) each had received eight Oscars). Maurice Chevalier received an Honorary statue, and
Vincente Minnelli became the first director to win an Oscar for a musical. [The win was Minnelli's
second nomination as Best Director and first and only Best Director win. His first nomination was
for another 50s musical, An American in Paris (1951).]

The Greatest Musical Ever:

By most accounts, the greatest musical ever produced (co-directed by Kelly and Donen and
produced by Freed), a comic, satirical spoof of the dawn of the Hollywood sound era,
was MGM's Singin' In The Rain (1952). It included Kelly's now-classic solo dance of
the title song in the rain, Donald O'Connor's energetic, acrobatic, slapstick dance/song
"Make 'Em Laugh," the Kelly/O'Connor duet of "Moses Supposes," and a remarkable
"Broadway Melody" ballet sequence in the finale (with Kelly dancing with Cyd
Charisse). It is one of Hollywood's best-loved films, with Kelly as silent film star Don
Lockwood, and Jean Hagen as dumb, squeaky-voiced actress Lina Lamont, but it was
ignored by the Academy Awards (with only two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting
Actress for Jean Hagen, and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture). The film's setting was
during the disruptive transitional period between silent films and the coming of the
talkies. It captured the confusion caused by the introduction of talking-film technology in
Hollywood, and its often disastrous effects upon silent era performers.

The Demise of the Cinematic Musical:

In the 1950s and early 60s, when the studio system started its demise and the public again grew
tired of a long succession of musicals, the expensive-to-produce, risky screen musicals were
among the first genre to be discarded. Television was making inroads and grabbing the film-
attending public, so some Hollywood musicals were made cheaply, such as Top Banana (1953)
starring Phil Silvers in the film version of his Broadway hit, and shot on location at NYC's Winter
Garden Theatre. Other musicals such as MGM's and Minnelli's Brigadoon (1954), WB's Damn
Yankees (1958) with Gwen Verdon, and Paramount's Li'l Abner (1959) (both lesser renditions of
their 1956 Broadway hits), were examples of the decline of the musical feature film during the

Disney's Animated Musicals:

Not to be overlooked, Disney Studios produced many classic animated musicals in the 50s with
hand-drawn animation and great scores, including:

               Cinderella (1950)
               Alice in Wonderland (1951)
               Peter Pan (1953)
               The Lady and the Tramp (1955)
               Sleeping Beauty (1959)

The Rise of Big-Budget Screen Adaptations of Broadway Hits:

During the age of television (and song-and-dance variety shows), the Hollywood studios played it
safe. Most musicals were lifted directly from established Broadway smash-hits on the "Great
White Way" - and adapted into film versions for the big screen. Classic Broadway hits that
opened on the silver screen in the 50s included Annie Get Your Gun (1950) with Betty Hutton
and Howard Keel in the lead roles, the colorful Show Boat (1951), MGM's Kiss Me Kate (1953) -
a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew with Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson [and the
only musical ever filmed in 3-D], and the breathlessly entertaining barn-raising dancing of MGM's
and Stanley Donen's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) (sensationally choreographed by
Michael Kidd, especially in the "Challenge Dance" sequence). This Best Picture nominee, with
completely original songs, later became a Broadway musical in the 70s.

In addition, there were other great hits in the 50s and 60s:

               Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls (1955), that substituted Frank Sinatra and
                Marlon Brando for the original musical talent
               Fox's and collaborators Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (1955)
               Carousel (1956), adapted from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway
                musical of the same name
               The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner in an Oscar-winning, Best Actor role as
                the King of Siam and Oscar-nominated Deborah Kerr (with singing dubbed by
                ghost vocalist Marni Nixon)
               Gypsy (1962), with Natalie Wood miscast in the title role of stripper Gypsy Rose
               director Joshua Logan's and Fox's South Pacific (1958), based on another
                popular Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical
               the superior The Music Man (1962) from Warners, with Robert Preston reprising
                his greatest Broadway role as charlatan Professor Harold Hill; future TV child star
                (The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days) and Oscar-winning director Ron
                Howard appeared as the insecure, stuttering boy Winthrop
               MGM's The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), with Debbie Reynolds

Best Picture-Winning Musicals in the 60s:
From 1958 to 1968, there were five musical Best Picture winners out of eight nominees. Four
musicals in the decade of the 1960s adapted for the screen won the Academy Award for Best
Picture. All four were based on Broadway hits, but with a distinct difference - each one involved a
major cast change:

               UA's West Side Story (1961), from Best Director-winning co-directors Jerome
                Robbins and Robert Wise, with ten Academy Awards from eleven nominations,
                was the Romeo-and-Juliet inspired 1957 hit Broadway musical with spectacular
                choreography (especially in the film's opening), hit songs including the
                exhilarating "America" (performed on a rooftop), and "Maria" with music by
                Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Its romantic tale featured
                star-crossed young lovers: Puerto Rican Maria (Natalie Wood replacing Carol
                Lawrence, with singing dubbed by Marni Nixon) and American Tony (Richard
                Beymer replacing Larry Kert, with singing dubbed by Jim Bryant) associated with
                competing juvenile gangs in Manhattan's Upper West Side

               Warners' and Lerner's and Loew's musical play My Fair Lady (1964), with twelve
                nominations and eight Oscars, was directed by the legendary George Cukor and
                based upon George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and the 1956 stage production. It
                was about a Cockney street urchin named Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn
                replacing Broadway star Julie Andrews, with singing again dubbed by Marni
                Nixon) who was transformed by linguist Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) into a
                proper lady; Cukor won his sole Best Director Oscar with his fifth nomination, and
                all three British cast members (Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper, and Rex
                Harrison) were nominated in acting categories, with Harrison the winner as Best
                Actor; Audrey Hepburn was conspicuously absent from the nominees; My Fair
                Lady (1964) defeated another Best Picture-nominated musical, Mary Poppins
                (1964) - see below

               Rodgers and Hammerstein's and producer/director Robert
                Wise's most successful work - 20th Century Fox's romantic
                musical/drama The Sound of Music (1965) based on Howard
                Lindsay and Russel Crouse's 1959 Broadway hit about a
                romance between a nun-turned-governess (Julie Andrews) and
                a widower (Christopher Plummer) with seven children, with ten
                nominations and five Oscars, featured an unforgettable Julie
                Andrews (replacing Broadway star Mary Martin) in the lead role,
                singing melodic Rodgers and Hammerstein songs (including the
                lively "Do-Re-Mi" and lyrical "Edelweiss"). The sweet, somewhat
                sentimental film was set in 1938 Salzburg, Austria and shot with
                beautiful views of the Alps and the city.

                [The Sound of Music (1965) surpassed Gone With the Wind (1939) to
                become the biggest money-making box-office hit to date (and the biggest, most
                profitable box-office musical of all time.) It saved 20th Century Fox from going
                into bankruptcy after their lavish spending on the disastrous Cleopatra (1963).
                The film won five Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Wise), Best
                Sound, Best Musical Score, and Best Film Editing. (Julie Andrews starred a year
                earlier, with her film debut and a Best Actress-winning role, in the marvelous
                childrens' film Mary Poppins (1964), with 13 Academy Awards nominations and
                five wins, that blended animation and live action and was filled with delightful
                Disney songs, including Oscar winner "Chim, Chim Chiree".) And Andrews would
                go on to star in the 1920s musical spoof Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), and
                reteamed with director Wise in the box-office failure Star! (1968), a biography of
                stage musical comedy star Gertrude Lawrence.]
               Columbia's Oliver! (1968), the British film adaptation of the classic Charles
                Dickens tale about an orphan boy in 19th century England, with eleven
                nominations and five wins, whose major musical competitor was director William
                Wyler's and Columbia Studios' Funny Girl (1968), with eight nominations and
                one win (Best Actress for Barbra Streisand in her screen debut in the role of
                Fanny Brice)

All of the directors of the Best Picture-winning musicals in the 60s were long-overdue recipients of
a Best Director Oscar:

- co-directors Jerome Robbins (with his sole nomination) and Robert Wise (with his second
nomination) for West Side Story (1961)
- director George Cukor (with his fifth nomination) for My Fair Lady (1964)
- director Robert Wise (with his third nomination) for The Sound of Music (1965)
- director Carol Reed (with his third nomination) for Oliver! (1968)

The Demise of the Musical in the Late 60s and 70s:

The adaptation of stage material for the screen remained the predominant trend in Hollywood
with extravagant, lavish productions that attempted to duplicate the successes of the 60s, in films
such as: Bells Are Ringing (1960), Bye Bye Birdie (1963), A Funny Thing Happened on the
Way to the Forum (1966), director Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof (1971) based on the
stories of Sholem Aleichem about changing times and the life of a milkman's family in pre-
revolutionary Russia, Man of La Mancha (1972) and more. However, by the end of the 1960s
and early 70s, musicals were virtually extinct and had significantly diminished in popularity.

For a few decades (until the 80s), major musicals, whether adaptations or original productions,
seemed to have disappeared or fared poorly at the box-office, and were regarded as insipid and
overblown. A number of disappointing flops and sometimes disastrous films spelled an end to the
large-scale film musical:

               20th Century Fox's Doctor Doolittle (1967), overlong and expensive, with Rex
                Harrison 'talking to the animals' - astonishingly received nine Oscar nominations
                (including Best Picture) and only two wins
               Warner Bros.' $15 million flop Camelot (1967), with non-musical lead actors
                Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Harris
               20th Century Fox's and director Robert Wise's $12 million Star! (1968), a
                disastrous film for Julie Andrews, with seven nominations and no wins
               Finian's Rainbow (1968)
               Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), with two nominations (including a Best Actor
                nomination for Peter O'Toole!)
               another Fox financial disaster was Hello, Dolly! (1969), directed by Gene Kelly,
                with seven nominations (including Best Picture) and three wins; a young Barbra
                Streisand was miscast as the titular matchmaker Dolly Levi, who replaced the
                stage originator Carol Channing; it was noted for Louis Armstrong's performance
                of the title song
               Paint Your Wagon (1969), Lerner and Loewe's western-musical with one
                nomination (for Nelson Riddle's Best Score), featuring action/western stars Lee
                Marvin and Clint Eastwood as singing gold prospectors!
               director Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity (1969) with Shirley MacLaine - adapted from
                the 1965 Broadway musical
               On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever (1970), directed by Vincente Minnelli
               Song of Norway (1970) - a musical biography of Norwegian composer Edvard
               Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), received only one nomination,
                for Best Score
               Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), an appealing animated musical similar to
                Mary Poppins (1964)
               The Boy Friend (1971) - a Ken Russell parody of Busby Berkeley's musical and
                visual extravaganzas, starring 70's model Twiggy - with disappointing results
               1776 (1972)
               Man of La Mancha (1972) - a disastrous adaptation of the hit Broadway musical
                (with Peter O'Toole and bosomy Sophia Loren)
               Lost Horizon (1973) - often rated as one of the worst films ever (a remake of
                Frank Capra's non-musical Lost Horizon 1937)), with a Burt Bacharach score and
                a tone-deaf all-star cast (including Peter Finch and John Gielgud)
               Godspell and Jesus Christ, Superstar (1973) - two religious musicals
               Mame (1974) - with comedienne Lucille Ball in the lead role
               Lisztomania (1975), British director Ken Russell's bizarre musical biography with
                The Who's Roger Daltry as composer Franz Liszt
               A Little Night Music (1977), the film version of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway
                stage musical starring Elizabeth Taylor, with two nominations and one win - Best
               Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) - this rock musical featured a
                soundtrack of Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees masquerading as The Beatles
               director Richard Fleischer's poorly-acted The Jazz Singer (1980) - a third
                version (the second remake of the classic film) with popular singer Neil Diamond
                in the lead role, and Laurence Olivier as his father
               director Robert Altman's Popeye (1980), critically-assailed, with Robin Williams
                as the comic-book sailor man with bulging arms
               director Alan Parker's dance musical Fame (1980), with six nominations and two
                wins (Best Score and Best Song)
               The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1981) - another Broadway musical
                adaptation from the 1978 stage production
               Herbert Ross' original and somewhat somber Pennies From Heaven (1981),
                with stars Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters lip-synching to their songs,
                reproduced some of Busby Berkeley's spectacular production numbers of the 30s
                - with little box-office success
               director John Huston's big-budget, all-star Annie (1982), adapted from the 1977
                hit Broadway musical, misused the talents of Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters,
                and Albert Finney
               in the awful musical romance Yes, Giorgio (1982), opera star Luciano Pavarotti
                sang arias
               Richard Attenborough's A Chorus Line (1985), a film version of Michael
                Bennett's longest-running Broadway musical, was a less-than sparkling and
                misguided rendition, with the cut of the classic popular song "Hello Twelve, Hello
                Thirteen, Hello Love", replaced with a song written for the film - the Oscar-
                nominated "Surprise, Surprise"

Younger directors experimented with re-creating the splendor of 1930s musicals, with limited

               director Peter Bogdanovich's stinker - the embarrassing At Long Last Love
                (1975) - starring his miscast then-girlfriend Cybill Shepherd and Burt Reynolds
                and others 'singing' sixteen Cole Porter standard tunes!
               director Robert Altman's country-western music classic Nashville (1975)
               Martin Scorsese's big-band era musical New York, New York (1977), a tragic,
                romantic musical starring Robert DeNiro and Liza Minnelli
Best Picture-Nominated Musicals in the 1970s:

Hollywood musicals generated 50 Academy Award nominations in the 70s. There were only three
musicals nominated for Best Picture in the 1970s, and none of them won the top Oscar. Two of
them, directed by dynamic choreographer-director-screenwriter Bob Fosse, received high praise
for their cinematic innovation, bold approach and dramatic quality:

               director Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof (1971), with eight
                nominations and three wins (Best Cinematography, Best Score and
                Best Sound), was adapted from the 1964 stage production
               the award-winning, striking, stylish Cabaret (1972) set in pre-Nazi
                Germany, from director Bob Fosse, with Liza Minnelli (in a tragic-comic
                role as sexually-ambiguous night-club singer Sally Bowles) and Joel
                Grey. Cabaret was originally a 1966 Broadway musical; with ten
                nominations and eight Academy Awards; Fosse won the Best Director
                Oscar over Francis Ford Coppola (nominated for the Best Picture
                winner The Godfather (1972))
               and Fosse's experimental, semi-autobiographical All That Jazz (1979) featured
                Roy Scheider in the lead role as gifted but driven, hard-drinking and self-
                indulgent New York choreographer Joe Gideon ("It's show time, folks"); it ended
                with an exhausted Fosse's open heart surgery staged as a musical, reminiscent
                of the extravagant numbers during Busby Berkeley's era; the highly-praised film
                garnered nine nominations and four Oscars - it was one of the few Oscar-
                nominated musicals that originated on the screen rather than on Broadway. [It
                would be another 22 years for the next live-action musical to be nominated for
                Best Picture: Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge (2001)]

Alan Parker succeeded with Fame (1980), a story of struggling young dancers - so popular that it
helped launch a television show. Director Michael Apted's Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) with
Best Actress-winning Sissy Spacek was a quasi-musical/biopic about country music singer
Loretta Lynn. Pink Panther-director Blake Edwards' Victor/Victoria (1982) with a Henry Mancini
score featured the director's wife Julie Andrews in a 1930's Parisian story "of a woman pretending
to be a man pretending to be a woman." [In 1996, Victor/Victoria was transformed into a
Broadway musical, again directed by Edwards and starring Andrews.]

Barbra Streisand's directorial debut film Yentl (1983), the story of a young Jewish woman
disguised as a boy, won only one Oscar (Best Original Song Score) from its five nominations.
And the 1984 Best Picture Oscar victor, Amadeus (1984), was a drama/musical about child
prodigy Mozart. An off-Broadway musical called Little Shop of Horrors (1986) that was based
on horror film director Roger Corman's 1961 low budget cult favorite, was also successful.

Rock 'N' Roll Films:

Inventive rock 'n' roll films and rock musicals have become a popular musical
sub-genre. The first mainstream feature film to use rock music (Bill Haley's Rock
Around the Clock) - during the opening credits - was in Richard Brooks'
Blackboard Jungle (1955). The original musical film was becoming an
endangered species, pushed out by rock 'n' roll songwriters and new tastes
among the record-purchasing public. The hip-swiveling king of rock 'n' roll, singer
Elvis Presley broke into films, making a total of thirty-three films in his career
from the mid-50's to 1970. Although most of them were forgettable, formulaic,
low-budget, sappy 'boy-meets-girl' pictures sprinkled with hit songs, Jailhouse
Rock (1957) captured the real magnetism of the music star. Elvis' hit film tunes
included "Love Me Tender" and "Can't Help Falling in Love."

The Beatles' improvisational and imaginative first film was producer Richard Lester's A Hard
Day's Night (1964), made at the peak of "Beatlemania" popularity. It captured a surrealistic day
and a half in the lives of the "Fab Four" Beatles from Liverpool, and heralded a new kind of
musical. Their music was also featured in Yellow Submarine (1968), an animated musical feast.
Two great rock documentaries focused on the life of singer/writer Bob Dylan: D.A. Pennebaker's
Don't Look Back (1967) followed his 1965 tour of England, including appearances by Joan Baez
and Donovan, and Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home (2005) focused on the first six years of
Dylan's career.

Jim Henson's The Muppets:

Puppetmaster Jim Henson's loveable creatures, the Muppets (from Sesame Street and The
Muppet Show (1976-1981)), including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and a host of others, crossed
over to family-oriented feature films in the late 70s. Inevitably, the films in the original trilogy
included energetic and silly musical numbers:

               director James Frawley's The Muppet Movie (1979), with the Oscar-nominated
                "Rainbow Connection" song
               The Great Muppet Caper (1981), Henson's feature film directorial debut film
               director Frank Oz's The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

A Revival of Dance Pictures:

Dance pictures were revived in the late 1970s by director John Badham's classic
dance film Saturday Night Fever (1977) that starred John Travolta (with the
film's sole nomination for Best Actor) as a vulgar, blue-collar Brooklyn paint-store
clerk - transformed into a pulsating, white-suited disco king Tony Manero who
struts across a dance floor of rainbow-colored squares. The famous disco film
featured a popular Bee Gees soundtrack (un-nominated by AMPAS!). Dance
champion Denny Terrio and choreographer Lester Wilson trained Travolta, who
was a teen idol and starring on TV's Welcome Back, Kotter (as Vinnie Barbarino),
to swivel his hips on the dance floor. The film, costing about $3.5 million, made
almost $300 million for Paramount Studios.

The next year, Travolta co-starred with Australian singer Olivia Newton-John in Randal Kleiser's
popular, spirited, nostalgic 50s film Grease (1978) with smutty dialogue - it was a former 1972 hit
Broadway musical that brought two big hit songs: "Summer Nights" and "You're The One That I
Want", to the charts. (The film's only nomination was Best Song for "Hopelessly Devoted to
You.") It was about two lovers, Australian transfer student Sandy (Newton-John) and American
greaser Danny Zucko (Travolta), who enjoyed a summertime romance but had to adapt to new
roles back in their high school cliques, the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies. Its popularity made it one
of the highest grossing movie musicals ever. Olivia Newton-John's follow-up film was a disaster --
the musical roller disco fantasy Xanadu (1980), in which she starred as a Greek muse in Los
Angeles alongside co-star Gene Kelly.

Patricia Birch's lesser sequel, Grease 2 (1982), her debut film as director (she had
choreographed the original film) maintained the same locale, Rydell High School, but brought a
new cast including Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield. A run of hippie/religious musicals
included Godspell (1973) - adapted from the successful Broadway musical, Norman Jewison's
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) (with an Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice score), and Milos
Forman's version of Broadway's Age-of-Aquarius hippie stage hit Hair (1979). One of the most
enduring cult musicals of all time was The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) - adapted from a
1973 stage production. It was a bizarre midnight movie favorite that built a reputation for audience
participation during screenings. Herbert Ross' energetic rock/dance film Footloose (1984) with
Kevin Bacon was a culturally-significant film with a pounding, hit soundtrack. Similarly, the
sleeper hit film Dirty Dancing (1987) with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze provided nostalgia,
great dance routines, sexy young stars, and a coming-of-age story. The film sparked a short-lived
revival of the sexy Latin dance - the lambada - with such exploitative films as Joel Silberg's
Lambada (1989), and The Forbidden Dance (1990), starring Laura Elena (Martinez) Herring
(the first Latina to win Miss USA - in 1985).

Arnold Glimcher's The Mambo Kings (1992) celebrated Latin American music with its story of
two Cuban brothers Nestor and Cesar Castillo (Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante) in a NYC
mambo band in the early 1950s. Martin Brest's dramatic Scent of a Woman (1992), with a Best
Actor-winning role for Al Pacino as blind, irascible army veteran Frank Slade, was most notable
for his passionate tango scene with Donna (Gabrielle Anwar). Australian director Baz Luhrmann's
first film, Strictly Ballroom (1992) told the story of ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (Paul
Mercurio) and his Hispanic partner Fran (Tara Morice) who refused to follow the conventional
rules of a Dance Federation during the film's final Pan-Pacific dance competition. Although The
Mask (1994) was basically a fanciful comedy, the film featured a memorable dance routine
("Cuban Pete") by the mild-mannered, geeky bank teller (Jim Carrey) while wearing his magical
mask to successfully woo the beautiful Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz in her screen debut).

Animated Musicals from Disney Revived:

Animated musical blockbusters from Disney's studios also succeeded with high-quality feature
films that kept musical scores alive:

               The Little Mermaid (1989), based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale with
                the popular songs "Part of Your World," "Kiss the Girl," the Oscar for Best
                Original Score (Alan Menken) and Best Song-winning "Under the Sea"
               Beauty and the Beast (1991), the classic French romantic fable that was the
                first Best Picture-nominated animated musical feature film, with the Oscar for
                Best Original Score (Alan Menken), a Best Song-winning title tune, and others
                including "Gaston", "Be Our Guest"; its success was recreated when it was
                adapted into a Broadway show
               Aladdin (1992), with the Oscar for Best Original Score (Alan Menken), the Best
                Song-winning "A Whole New World", and Robin Williams as the voice of the
               The Lion King (1994), with a pop music score by Elton John and Tim Rice,
                including the Oscar for Best Original Score (Hans Zimmer), the Best Song-
                winning "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," also "Circle of Life" and "Hakuna
                Matata"; later became a Broadway hit musical
               Pocahontas (1995), with Academy Awards for Best Original Score (Alan
                Menken, Stephen Schwartz) and Best Song-winning "Colors of the Wind"
               The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
               Tarzan (1999), with Best Song-winning "You'll Be In My Heart"

Dreamworks' attempted to compete with the Disney animated musicals with Prince of Egypt
(1998), and won the Academy Award for Best Song (Stephen Schwartz) for "When You Believe."
Another unbelievable animated musical was director Trey Parker's tasteless and independent
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999), based upon a cable-TV series with foul-
mouthed characters, had an obscene title song ("Blame Canada") that was nominated for Best
Original Song.

Modern Day Musicals:
Live-action musicals seemed to almost fade in the 1990s. There was only one successful live-
action musical in the 90s - director Alan Parker's musical drama Evita (1996), adapted from the
1976 theater version by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, with Madonna (singing the Oscar-
winning Best Original Song "You Must Love Me"). There were just a few other musicals to be
mentioned in the 90s:

               Woody Allen's musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You (1996), with non-
                singing stars such as Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton, and Alan Alda belting out
               the dramatic musical biography of Tejano recording artist Selena (1997) with
                pop-star diva Jennifer Lopez in the lead, breakthrough role

It would take the new millennium to bring more well-received musicals, but the first few struggled
to find audiences: Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare-inspired musical comedy Love's Labour's
Lost (2000), Lars von Trier's dramatic musical Dancer in the Dark (2000) with Bjork, and John
Cameron Mitchell's rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001). Baz Luhrmann's eye-
catching and dazzling, Best Picture-nominated Moulin Rouge (2001) (the first live-action musical
to be nominated for Best Picture since All That Jazz (1979)), and choreographer Rob Marshall's
debut feature film and Best Picture winner Chicago (2002) proved that adaptations of modern
stage musicals (a rock-opera bio in this case) or inventive fantasy musicals were still possible.
Marshall's film was a musical drama and a screen adaptation of the 1975 Broadway hit musical
Chicago from John Kander and Fred Ebb, originally directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse,
and revived on Broadway in 1996.

However, the trend may be short-lived, due to the total box office failures of stage-t0-screen
adaptations of such acclaimed and popular Tony-winning musicals as The Phantom of the
Opera (2004), Rent (2005) and The Producers (2005), as well as other notable musical flops
such as From Justin to Kelly (2003) (starring American Idol singers Justin Guarini and Kelly
Clarkson), Beyond the Sea (2003), Camp (2003) and De-Lovely (2004).

Director Bill Condon's Dreamgirls (2006) was a lavish and vibrant screen adaptation of Michael
Bennett's popular Broadway musical about a trio of soul singers The Dreams, in a thinly veiled
roman a clef of the real Motown singing group The Supremes. It acquired eight nominations but
came away with only two wins: Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Hudson), and Best Sound
Mixing, even though it won at the Golden Globes awards as the Best Musical or Comedy.
Hairspray (2007) - the song-and-dance adaptation of the Broadway smash hit, with stars Nikki
Blonsky and John Travolta, became one of the few movie musicals that grossed over $100
million, joining Chicago (2002), Dreamgirls (2006), and Grease (1978).

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