Music hath charms…

I recently watched my copy of William Seiter’s 1935 musical Roberta.  The film stars Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne, and introduced the song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” but it also contains one of my favorite Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical numbers.  I’m frequently accused of giving short shrift to the entire musical genre, but I don’t think that’s quite fair.  There are many musicals I enjoy immensely – they just aren’t the ones that might be foremost in many people’s minds (I’m also frequently accused of being a bit of a contrarian).  At the same time, I have a fairly low threshold for excessive fluffiness – something in which many musicals revel.  There are however, plenty of pleasures to be derived from well-made musical numbers, and I thought I might pass along a few of my favorites.  If you don’t have time for them all, feel free to come back later.  All of them are worth watching.  The clips are from YouTube and the sources may be questionable, but I legitimately own copies of all of these, so I’m just going to tell myself that the links are a fair shortcut.

As I mentioned, I love this clip from Roberta, in part because both Fred and Ginger seem to be having so much sheer fun.  They may have practiced until her feet bled, but it still comes across an expression of simple joy:

The same is true of this jaw-droppingly energetic number from Hellzapoppin’, which make me fear for the safety of the dancers even though I’m sure they’re all well-past being hurt by trying the same moves today:

That same energy is seen in one of America’s favorite musicals, though with a much more serious purpose.  West Side Story may be a collection of overwrought melodramatic moments, but I’ve always thought this particular number is its unquestionable highlight:

Of course, part of the appeal for me is that it’s a very serious song which matches exuberance with social criticism, and that’s a regular prejudice of mine.  I feel the same way about the musically deft depiction of a historical event, as in 1776:

Or Show Boat’s stylized comment on the vagaries of life on the river:

Actually, the seriousness doesn’t have to be that portentous.  It might just revolve around two people falling in love while walking in the park, as in The Band Wagon:

Sometimes it’s not the gravity of the subject that gets me, but my sheer awe of someone’s talent.  Certainly Fred and Ginger fall into that category, but one of the great, underappreciated (at this point) musical stars is Deanna Durbin.  Partly, she was just charming, but even more she was immensely talented.  One of my favorites is her performance with a Russian choir in the seldom seen His Butler’s Sister.  I don’t know what she’s saying, but it doesn’t matter.  She’s clearly saying it very well, singing it brilliantly, and feeling every note.  It’s heart-breaking and joyous in equal measure, and it puts a little lump in my throat to see it:

Another unmatched performance is Robert Preston’s portrayal of Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, and I sometimes end up singing this to myself just because:

The other kind of musical number which fascinates me is the item which is so weird that it can’t possibly be ignored.  I saw Karl Freund’s (yes, the director of the original The Mummy) Moonlight and Pretzels at a film festival years ago, and I can still hum along with the completely bizarre concluding number, which self-consciously tries to sum up the first half of the Great Depression:

At a more recent festival I was favored with one of the greatest novelty songs ever, performed by a collection of film legends including both Cliff Edwards and Jimmy Durante (the copy here is terrible, but it’s STILL worth it!):

Finally, they aren’t true movie musicals, but nobody had a better ear for music than Jim Henson, and he proved it repeatedly.  The following summarize all of the above in succinct three minute clips.  The “Show Tunes Medley” shows an unforgettable performer just enjoying herself, “This Frog” is hilariously off the wall, the minstrel song always puts the thing in my throat, and Rowlf and Fozzie bring us full circle, by always making me happy just by their sheer exuberance:

Muppet Show Tunes Medley

Kermit: This Frog

Kermit: Minstrel Song

Rowlf and Fozzie Piano Duet

As I said, there are a lot of clips here, but I don’t really see that as a problem.  Music is good for you, and if Roberta reliably made me smile, maybe one of these will get your own toes tapping.  Just don’t ever let it be said again that I have some sort of bias against musicals!  It’s just a matter of finding the right ones…


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