musicals

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?

Hmm.

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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