When a Musical Turns Ugly – A Star is Born

Now, I know most people are more aware of Judy Garland’s adult oeuvre than I am, but to me, she represents the young girl in The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St Louis, and today’s subject, A Star is Born, was my introduction to her roles as a grown woman.

This one isn’t an innocent musical comedy, although Garland is cast as a wholesome girl to whom incredible things happen. It deals with alcoholism and pitfalls of celebrity culture in a rather open way. It also tackles suicide.

But even though the themes are heavy, the tone of the picture is quite upbeat and bearable (if you can take Garland’s perkiness for three hours) until about the last half hour when all the darkness that had been building up comes crashing down.

Great film? Definitely. Good film? Not really. The music, strangely for a Garland vehicle, is not particularly catchy, and seems to have been designed to prove that she was talented enough to handle the jazz that was popular in the era. Why this should have been a question is beyond me… Garland could handle anything. I found the songs dull (though, to be fair, the soundtrack apparently hasn’t been out of print since the release of the film) and I also got tired of Judy herself after a couple of hours.

Perhaps I’m not the perfect audience for this. It felt to me like a great film for my mom or any other grandmother out there… the kind of female viewer brought up with high emotional content in their movies. That might not be the exact audience, but the fact that I think so should give you an idea of what to expect.

Anyway, this one is watchable, and even if the plot gets thick and the style isn’t your thing, you can just sit there and admire the singing, acting and dancing of one of the most talented people to ever step on a stage or in front of a camera.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose erotic thriller outside follows a journalist from New York into the murky waters of international smuggling in eastern Europe. You can check it out here.

Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?

The 1001 films list has a lot of ponderous, significant films, but it’s also pretty well stocked with fun movies. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes falls into the latter category, and resoundingly so. This isn’t one that explores a universal truth (despite the title) or one that forces you to think. Even its humor is on a superficial level.

Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful film: fast-paced, funny and colorful, with just enough music to call itself a musical and even an all-time famous song.

Of course, the film is famous for Marilyn and remembered for Marilyn. But…

But she definitely isn’t the female lead in this film I would have chosen if forced to choose. Her throaty, sex-kitten style in this particular movie makes one want to send her into exile in a remote corner of Bhutan (as a civilized alternative to bashing her with a baseball bat, which I hear is frowned upon). It’s just unbearably dumb and looks even worse when cast alongside Jane Russell’s wonderful character who is truly attractive. In fact, she did the same character better in her noir days.

So, in my case, I’d say gentlemen don’t prefer blondes. I’d even go out on a limb and say that most intelligent males of this generation would have chosen Russell over Monroe in this particular instance unless they’d truly been bedazzled by Marilyn’s looks (admittedly, that is pretty likely).

Why do I tell you all of this? Because it’s important for you to know that the most memorable part of the whole film is when Russell impersonates Marilyn in a courtroom scene (wearing a blond wig) and does a sarcastic take on the bubbly blonde that is absolutely for the ages. It’s so well done that it almost comes out as mean-spirited. And since there is no evidence of Russell disliking Monroe, the problem is that Marilyn’s character was just too stupid to believe.

The contrast with the other notable sudden stardom of the era – that of Audrey Hepburn – is striking… with Hepburn being the almost perfect innocent.

That’s not a knock on the film by the way. The character is perfect for the role, and an excellent satirization of a certain kind of woman (who still exists today, albeit in a slightly different form). This is one to watch and treasure for what it is: a bubbly comedy that stands the test of time well. I’d recommend it.

As a final comment, it’s interesting to note that, as a musical, it’s very different from the extravaganzas of the thirties, which smaller set pieces. Many of the songs caught me by surprise, so I guess they could have been more seamlessly integrated. It doesn’t detract from the film overall, but it’s strange.

Anyone looking for a bit of light entertainment could do worse than find a copy of this one.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose sexiest novel contains no kittens, but has a protagonist with the attitude to wear her sexuality well. Timeless is a thriller set in a world of international smuggling and medieval monasteries whose pace never falls off. You can check it out here.

You’ll be Singin’ in the Rain, too

Few films, even on the 1001 movies list, contain any scene as universally known–and universally beloved–as the scene in which Gene Kelly sings and dances the title song from Singin’ in the Rain. This scene is deservedly iconic, utterly wonderful and the highlight of the film.

We’ve all seen this scene dozens, possibly hundreds of times. What we sometimes forget is that there’s a movie around this scene, and that movie is unfamiliar to many. In fact, I’d say modern audiences likely have no clue what it’s about. I know I didn’t, despite having caught that scene on TV as a kid several times–I presume I must have been watching the movie at the time.

In short, Singin’ in the Rain is a film about making movies at the very end of the silent era, and it’s one of those that makes you happy to be alive. Not quite as awesome as On the Town, which will likely remain my favorite Kelly musical forever, but it is close. And that iconic song makes might push it over the top for many, many people.

In this segment of the 1001 movies list, I constantly find it amazing how different genres went down completely different paths to try to cater to precisely the same movie-going audience. While crime went to bleak, no-hope, everyone-dies scenarios, musicals expressed the hope of the atomic age in glorious technicolor (I wonder if we’re allowed to use any adjective other than “glorious” to describe technicolor. I may need to ask the blogger’s legal department). I think that’s part of the reason the musicals of the era are so well-loved. The contrast was tremendous.

Other than to recommend tracking down a copy (or finding out when it will be on TV) and watching this one, there’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said. This one deserves its place in the firmament.

Also, a shout-out to Rita Moreno, one of the actresses in the film who is alive today. How cool must it be to be able to say: “I danced in Singin’ in the Rain?”

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is a creature feature with brains, entitled Jungle Lab Terror. You can check it out here.

Jazzy, Jazzy, Funky, Funky… But Not Quite as Good as the Last One

A few weeks ago, we reviewed On the Town, which we found delightful, entertaining and very, very modern.  So when another Gene Kelly vehicle appeared on the 1001 movies list–and one that won the Oscar for Best Picture, to boot–I expected to be blown away.

An American in Paris - Gene Kelly.jpg

An American in Paris is definitely a good film.  It is light and entertaining and colorful and, to a very good degree, fun.  This is a film I’d recommend to pretty much anyone, and remember it beat the profound A Streetcar Named Desire to the Oscar that year… so I’m guessing other liked it, too.  Also, the talent level in this film… off the charts.

As good as On the Town?  In my opinion, not quite.

There are a couple of things which hold it back from achieving that high bar in my mind.  The first is the music.

I’ve already said that On the Town felt spectacularly modern compared to its contemporaries.  One thing that didn’t feel particularly groundbreaking was the music.  It felt familiar in style, confortable and highly catchy… but nothing new (I’m talking about the style, the lyrics, in several places were quite daring for Hollywood).

An American in Paris changes all that.  It takes the full-bore jazzy Gershwin route which, though definitely more modern doesn’t significantly add to the enjoyment. In fact, I personally preferred the musical style of the earlier film.  It’s certainly not a failed experiment… but perhaps taking a musical audience out of its comfort zone is not the way to get them into the movie.  Having said that, any film with chunks of Rhapsody in Blue in it is a win in my book.

The story itself isn’t quite as full-bore fun as On the Town‘s.  This one has a little more emotional conflict and a little less lunacy.  If given a choice, I will always go with lunacy.

An American in Paris French Film Poster

The dancing, as you can imagine, was top-notch, with Leslie Caron playing a classical foil to  Gene Kelly’s signature style (waves to Leslie, in case she’s reading this).  Unfortunately, the signature dance routine at the end does go on a little long… and the sequence where the main romantic interest is introduced is lifted almost directly from On the Town.

But enough with the nit-picking.  This one was enjoyable, and the musical element made it a light-hearted piece that still holds the interest today.  Maybe if you watch just one Gene Kelly musical, the one to see is On the Town, but this one is also worth watching.


Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  Prose, of course, doesn’t have a musical score, but it does have rhythm, particularly in the shorter forms.  Those who enjoy the cadence of a good collection should probably check out his book Love and Death, which you can check out here.

The Palpable Beginning of a New Era

I’ve been watching the 1001 movies you must see before you die, and it’s a list that starts in 1906.  As you’ve seen over the past few years here, and earlier on Livejournal, there are a LOT of good, and a lot of great films in this list.

However, there are very few that make you stop in your tracks and say “this is something completely new which will change everything”.  The Wizard of OzBirth of a NationMetropolis.

I certainly wasn’t expecting a random musical comedy that I’d never heard of to land on that list.  But as I watched On the Town, that was exactly the feeling I got.

On the Town Movie Poster.jpeg

Of course, all the ingredients for a great film were there.  Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in a musical.  The city of New York itself and, of course, the magic of color, growing ever more popular at the end of the 1940s.

But groundbreaking?  Innovative?

On the face of it, it certainly didn’t seem it should.

But… it FELT brand new compared to the 1940’s films I’d been watching, even when contrasted to the colossal greatness of The Third Man.

Fresh, new, modern… subversive, even, which is not something I was expecting from a film on the cusp of the 1950s.

The reasons are several.  Most obvious is the sexual innuendo that skirted right along the edge of the Hays Code while thumbing its nose at the censors.  Anyone with half a brain knows exactly what was going on while couples who’d only met hours before were offstage, and that is wonderful…

The musical score, as well, sounds a decades in advance of Hollywood’s production to date, despite its somewhat hybrid origins (Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens combined in such a way as to make Bernstein boycott the film).

In addition to this, the female characters are portrayed as New Yorkers, modern women just out of wartime jobs (or not) and sexually liberated, making them much more engaging… and unexpected if your idea of a 1950s woman is a suburban housewife wearing a checkered apron.

The frenetic pace is also hyper-modern, and an ode to the pace of the city.  This also helps the overall feel.

Anyway, it isn’t often I sit up and take notice of how much a film seems to break from tradition.  I didn’t see this one coming, and if there were currents, minor films that led up to it, none of them were on the list (and, if they existed, they probably didn’t have quite the same balance as this one, which is why they didn’t make the list).

When all of that comes at you in glorious technicolor after decades of black and white film… well, it opens your eyes.

Oh, and it’s also fun to watch.  Recommended.


Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book, Jungle Lab Terror is neither musical nor a comedy, but it would make a massively good Hollywood creature feature if they’d only buy the rights.  You can buy your own copy here.

The Early Queen of Technicolor

Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis

As we continue our review of the 1001 films to watch before you die, it has become increasingly obvious that Judy Garland was the early queen of color film.  Most people will remember the scene in the The Wizard of Oz where she opens the door from the black and white world of Kansas to the riot of color that is Oz, but it would take a much more hardcore movie fan to recall the subject of today’s post.

Meet Me in St. Louis is another Garland musical, this time from 1944 which, unlike The Wizard is basically a family drama / romance.  As such, the color is a little more muted – but still stands out among the other great films mainly due to the simple fact of having been filmed in color.  Looking back at the movies we’ve reviewed here at Classically Educated, only The Life and Death of General Blimp was a color film.

So, what did we think?


Not our cup of tea, really.  To be brutally honest, it seemed like an unnecessarily melodramatic treatment of stuff that wasn’t all that serious.  This isn’t entirely a bad thing.  Had this same film been made in modern times, the melodrama would have been created by having someone die slowly of something awful during the entire film, or having someone fight against some terrible social stigma.  In that sense, the Garland vehicle is much, much less unbearable.

Meet Me in St. Louis Scenery

The scenery is also evocative, if much less complex than what you’d see today.  It does make you want to move to St. Louis over a hundred years ago and recreate that idyllic lifestyle.

The central conflicts have to do with a couple of love stories and a possible family move that would disrupt everything, but in the end it’s not really a spoiler to say that things turn out for the best.  It may have unnecessary melodrama, but is in essence a musical comedy.

In its time, it was critically well-received, and even commended for being just a bit darker than similar films which had a more “pollyanna” vibe to them, but that edge – though still visible when comparing to other films of its day – has lost a lot of its bite for modern audiences.

I wouldn’t say that the film was particularly memorable, but it is significant for a few things.  In the first place, it’s where Garland met Minelli, which, eventually, led to a whole bunch of other musicals with Liza in them.  This may or may not be a good thing, depending on one’s point of view, so I’ll leave it at that.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Album Cover

In addition to that, this film saw the debut of the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas“.  This, many, many years later has allowed millions of wives to annoy millions of husbands with the Michael Bublé version of the same while in the car. Again, this may or may not be a good thing, depending on one’s musical taste and gender.  All we can really say for sure is that divorce lawyers seem to be happy with that development.

Finally, this is the first film in the 1001 that we’ve seen that has three surviving cast members: Joan Caroll, June Lockhart and Margaret O’Brien.  If any of them are reading this, Hi!

So, all in all, this is a film we’d probably recommend to people partial to slightly melodramatic musical comedies.  It would probably not go down particularly well with an audience capable of appreciating the finer points of Apocalypse Now, but that isn’t its intention after all.

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