I am not generally a fan of musicals, especially theatrical ones. I have never seen a Lloyd-Webber, and have nothing good to say about ‘Les Miserables’, or ‘Moulin Rouge’. However, there are some film musicals that I do like, and it is those I recommend here. Most, if not all are well known, so nothing to surprise the reader.
The Producers. This original 1968 version, written and directed by Mel Brooks, still makes me laugh 45 years later. The story is about an unscrupulous Broadway producer (Zero Mostel) duping old ladies into backing a production that is designed to be a failure; then all the backers lose their money, and the producers of the title clean up. At least that is the plan. He recruits a shy accountant (Gene Wilder) to fiddle the books, and buys a sure-fire disaster of a script from a Nazi fanatic, entitled ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ They recruit a spaced-out lead actor to play Hitler, ( a wonderfully over the top Dick Shawn) and feel that they have guaranteed to put on the biggest flop in history. On opening night, it all goes wrong, when the crowd see the whole thing as satire, and begin to laugh. By the end of the show, it looks like becoming the biggest success in New York, and the producers have to think how they will deal with their multitude of backers. This film is a delight, from start to finish. Everyone acts their socks off, and the staged musical numbers are just brilliantly funny. If you have never seen it, give yourself a treat. Here is a clip of the production number ‘Springtime for Hitler’. Great stuff.
Bugsy Malone. In 1976, when this film was released, I was a serious 24 year old film fan, and I was not about to bother to watch a comedy musical starring lots of irritating kids pretending to be gangsters, firing custard pies out of ‘splurge guns’. So, I didn’t actually watch the film for at least another 20 years, finally catching it on TV one day. I had to eat my words. It is a great idea, and so well realised, with a cast of dedicated youngsters, taking it all very seriously. And it has great songs, and a superb atmosphere. Spoofing every gangster film ever made, and turning all the Prohibition cliches around, the whole thing just works, and works so well. Pedal-car gangster vehicles, sharp-suited ten year olds, and knowingly marvellous leads from a young Jodie Foster (she was 14), and Florrie Dugger, just swept me up in it all. I saw it again recently, and enjoyed it just as much as before. Give this one a chance, don’t believe the critics. Here is one of the musical numbers from the film, to give an idea.
Cabaret. (1972) This musical mix of the Berlin novels of Christopher Isherwood first found fame as a stage musical. On film, it gets its wings, and can break out of the set, and film on location. However, it is still at its best in the smoky confines of the Kit Kat club, in 1930’s Berlin. Outside, the Nazis are on the up, and there is a hint of the terror and persecution to come. Inside the club, there is innuendo, satire, cheeky songs, and ribald performances. The ingenuous Brian (Michael York) arrives from Britain, and is caught up in this heady world, of the singer Sally Bowles, (Liza Minnelli) and her rich, bisexual lover Max (Helmut Griem). Joel Grey won an Oscar for his part as the club compere, LIza Minelli won the best actress Oscar for her lead role, and Bob Fosse took another, for best director, with the film getting 5 more. You can see all the eight Oscars in every frame, and rarely has a film won so many, and deserved them all. Whether dealing with brownshirt violence on the streets of Berlin, or featuring a solo from the heartbreaking Miss Minnelli, this film delivers at every level. It is simply marvellous. Here is a clip, from the nightclub scenes.
42nd Street. In 1933, America was in the lows of the great depression. Hollywood responded with fantastic musicals, adorned with massive sets, attractive stars, and memorable songs. This would give the viewing public time away from their worries, and let them escape for a few hours, into the fantasy land on screen. Choreographer and set designer, Busby Berkeley, produced some of the most well-known synchronised dance routines ever staged, on magnificent Art Deco sets in huge Hollywood sound stages. This film assembled some of the greatest stars of the day, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, and a young Ginger Rogers, for some of the best ever set piece dances, and some timeless songs, all together in one classic musical. This is history on film, and you will find your toes tapping too. Here is the title song, from the original film.
West Side Story. In 1961, Robert Wise brought the story of Romeo and Juliet bang up to date, setting it in the mean streets of New York, and adding an unforgettable jazzy score, courtesy of Leonard Bernstein. Two rival gangs, the Jets and The Sharks, represent the racial divide of young whites, and immigrant Puerto Ricans. There is energetic dancing, great performances from Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn, and songs that we all know, but fail to remember just how good they are. (‘Maria’, ‘I feel pretty’, ‘Tonight’, and the anthem-like ‘America’). Played with great energy, and true to Shakespeare’s intentions, this is an almost forgotten gem, from a time when musicals were all the rage. And it won 10 Oscars. Here is the opening scene, with the marvellous soundtrack included.
Something different from me for a change. No subtitles to be seen anywhere, and all American films too. (Though Bugsy Malone had an English director, and many of the cast were British). Have a good old singalong, and forget the embarrassment; just enjoy yourselves.