Grease (1978) Randall Kleiser

Grease Sing-A-LongIt began with an idea from Jim Jacobs who thought it would be cool to do a show with 1950′s rock and roll music. He mentioned it to his friend, and fellow amateur theater associate, Warren Casey. Both men had nine to five jobs, but Casey would soon lose his job, and to pass the time he began to write what would turn out to be the pajama party scene in the finished musical. The two men got together and worked on the book and some music, and then just like in the movies, they managed to put on a show. The venue was in Chicago, a small theater called Kingston Mines. It was a low budget production with cheap painted backdrops; the cast included an unknown Marilu Henner as Marty. The show itself was still evolving, a few of the songs were there from the beginning (Beauty School Dropout, Grease Lightnin’), others would be added later. Two New York producers saw the show and thought with a few changes, but keeping its rough edges intact, the show would make for an interesting Off-Broadway production. Continue reading

On the Town (1949) Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen

New York! New York! It’s a wonderful town!

The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down

The people ride in a hole in the ground

New York! New York! It’s a wonderful town!

And with these words “On the Town” gets off to a rousing start gliding us through a montage of three sailors on a one day pass seeing the sights of the city, New York City. The Brooklyn Bridge, the Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. It’s a world wind tour, a sparkling pioneering opening and possibly an early inspiration on music videos. Based on the 1944 hit Broadway musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The book, also by Comden and Green, was based on an idea for a ballet called “Fancy Free,” by Jerome Robbins who choreographed the stage production. In 1949, MGM brought the musical to the screen and of course had to change things including dropping most of the original songs and adding new ones (Bernstein’s music was considered too highbrow for movie audiences), this despite the fact that MGM was an investor in the stage production! Only four songs survived and, of those, the opening number had to be “toned down” (the line New York, New York, It’s a hella of town was change to read it’s a wonderful town) to appease the censors and blue noses. Additionally, the storyline was changed, enlarging and focusing more on Gabey (Gene Kelly) and Ivy (Vera Ellen) than Ozzie (Jules Munshin) and Claire (Ann Miller). Continue reading

Singin in the Rain (1952) Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

I’m singin in the rain

just singin in the rain

What a glorious feeling

I’m happy again

I’m laughing at clouds

So dark up above

The sun’s in my heart

And I’m ready for love

Is there anything more exuberant than watching Gene Kelly singin’ and dancin’ in the rain? Generally considered one of, if not, the grandest of all musicals, and whom am I to argue, “Singin’ in the Rain” is a joyous delight, celebrating movies, music, dance and the talent of a cast and creators who rarely were better. Critics over the years have been in agreement, from Pauline Kael who called it “the most enjoyable of musicals” to David Kehr, who said it is “one of the shining glories of the American musical’ to Roger Ebert who wrote, “There is no movie musical more fun as ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ and few that remain as fresh over the years.” Even New York Times curmudgeon Bosley Crowthers wrote at the time of the film’s release, “Guaranteed to put you in a buttercup mood.” And let’s face it, if a film can put old sourpuss Crowthers in a “buttercup mood” that my friends, is one hell of a movie! (1)

Surprisingly the film, while it met with good reviews, was not considered the instant classic, top of the heap, musical it would be judged in later years. Sure, it was a hit financially but overshadowed in accolades by Kelly’s previous film, Vincent Minnelli’s “An American in Paris,” released only five months earlier and destined to win Best Picture of the Year for 1951.(2) The Kelly/Donen film’s only Academy Award nominations were for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Jean Hagen and Best Musical Score for a Musical Picture (Lennie Hayton). This was the year of DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth,” generally considered the worst film to ever win Best Picture. Other nominees that year included Fred Zinnemann’s “High Noon,” thought to be the early favorite, John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge,” John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” and the mediocre “Ivanhoe.” Hard to believe no one thought the joyous MGM musical was worthy of a spot on the Best Picture nominee list that year. Continue reading

Footlight Parade (1933) Lloyd Bacon

Check out my fifith of seven entries I am writing for the Musical Countdown being hosted by WONDERS IN THE DARK. Here is the link.

http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/footlight-parade-no-17/

Jailhouse Rock (1957) Richard Thorpe

Many true heart Elvis fans consider “Jailhouse Rock” one of his best films. As a movie, I much prefer “King Creole” with its better cast, script, director and overall a better musical score. However, Elvis never looked as good as he did in “Jailhouse Rock,” young, sensuously dangerous, and still wildly untamed from what would soon become the chain around his neck, his manager Colonel Tom Parker.  It was only Elvis’ third film, first came “Love Me Tender,” a film already in the works at 20th Century Fox before Elvis came on board, and originally was going to be called “The Reno Brothers.” With Elvis’ involvement, the title was changed to one of his hit songs. The film starred Richard Egan and the lovely Debra Paget, Elvis’ credit read “introducing Elvis Presley.” It was a fairly typical low budget western except for the four songs tossed in for Elvis to sing, along with a bit of shaky legs, and some girls in the crowd giving in to some half hearted screams that all seemed totally inappropriate for the Civil War setting.  Then there is Elvis’ horrible death scene, a guilty pleasure all itself, his acting is just dreadful; I believe he really died here of embarrassment and not from the gunshot wound. His next film, “Loving You,” would in many ways mirror Elvis’ life up to that point, that of a young country boy who becomes a big time singing sensation.  The film was a step up from his first feature; it even had an older woman, film noir favorite Elizabeth Scott, getting the hots for the young rock and roller. Still it was all very wholesome, even had Elvis’ mama in the audience for one scene while he is on stage singing, “Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do,” and his true love in the film was the virginal and future real life nun, Dolores Hart.  

Continue reading

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) Howard Hawks

This is the first of seven entries I am writing for the Musical Countdown being hosted by WONDERS IN THE DARK. There are actually two reviews of the film posted, the other by Jim Clark. Below are links to both.

http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/gentlemen-prefer-blondes-no-56-john-greco/

http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/gentlemen-prefer-blondes-no-56-jim-clark/

Found this photo below, most likely a publicity stunt, where some swimsuit attired ladies were protesting the film in front of Graumans Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The women rightly claiming “they have everything blondes have.”

Dancing Lady (1933) Robert Z. Leonard

The same year Warner Brothers released 42nd Street (1933) MGM came out with Dancing Lady, a backstage musical complete with a Busby Berkeley style finale. If you had to compare the two, the win would certainly go to 42nd Street, one the great Warner Brother musicals of all time. However,  Dancing Lady is entertaining if not exactly a knockout, the film can certainly hold its head high. It is just not in the stratosphere of great musicals like its better known counterpart.

The film has a pedigree cast with Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone in the leading roles. Joan is Janie “Duchess” Barlow, a virtuous downtown burlesque dancer whose dream is to make it to the big time on Broadway. Slumming one evening with his multiple girlfriends is millionaire playboy Tod Newton (Franchot Tone). The Burlesque house is raided that same evening and Janie and the other girls are all hauled off into court. Tod and his entourage decide to go to court for the entertainment value of the proceedings. Once there Tod suddenly takes a surprising interest in Janie and ends up paying her bail. Continue reading