Tag: musical

MOVIE REVIEW | Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St Louis
“Meeting him across the lawn for the first time would be so ordinary. I don’t want to be just introduced to him. I want it to be something strange and romantic and something I’ll always remember.”

Judy Garland is one of classic Hollywood’s biggest names, but without searching her name on IMDB, I reckon The Wizard of Oz is the only Garland joint I could name off the top of my head.  Skip to My Lou, The Trolley Song and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas are classic songs that I know without knowing how or where I first heard them.  Well, randomly recording a movie because the title sounded vaguely familiar gave me Garland, and all those songs, and a pretty great example of classic Hollywood firing on all cylinders, in Meet Me in St Louis.

As the city of St Louis gets ready to host the 1904 World’s Fair, it’s just one event exciting the Smith family.  Patriarch, Alonzo (Leo Ames) busts his ass in a law firm all day to provide for his large family and large, opulent home.  Occupying said opulence with Alonzo are his wife and the home’s matriarch, Ann (Marty Astor), eldest daughter Rose (Lucille Smith), second eldest Esther (Garland), college bound son, Lon (Henry H Daniels Jr), and two pre teenage daughters, Agnes (Joan Carroll) and Tootie (Margaret O’Brien).  As well as the kid’s grandfather (Harry Davenport), and a live in maid Katie (Marjorie Main). (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #51. West Side Story (1961)

The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Even a greaseball’s got feelin’s.”

Watching old movies can be great for getting an idea of how the world looked or thought or behaved at a certain point in time.  Sometimes it’s literally there on the screen and in the stories being told.  Sometimes it’s more about the behind the camera attitude of the film makers and writers who are inadvertently giving us a look at that time through their subconscious story telling.

But sometimes, I’m just perplexed by why a movie looks the way it looks, or depicts people and society the way it does.  Sometimes, I really wish I could go back and watch a movie with the same eyes as people did back when it was new.  Because I have no idea how people saw West Side Story in 1961, but with my 2015 eyes, it is impossible to fathom. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | South Pacific (1958)

South Pacific

“It is a common mistake for boys of your age and athletic ability to underestimate men who have reached their maturity. Young women frequently find older men attractive, strange as it may seem.”

Some movie titles are so iconic and engrained in my mind, I assume I’ve seen them before. Or even when I know I haven’t seen them, I assume I at least know what they’re about, what to expect. It was only recently I realised I had never seen South Pacific. It seems like one of those classics I would have caught as a Saturday afternoon movie on telly when I was a kid. Not only had I never seen it before, watching South Pacific for the first time made me realise I knew nothing about its story, apart from its setting.

It’s the Second World War, and while American troops are going through hell in Europe, things against Japan in the Pacific haven’t quite kicked off yet. Bored and secluded on a tropical island, Navy men, lead by Luther Billis (Ray Walston, AKA, My Favourite Martian) kill time trading souvenirs with local islander “Bloody” Mary (Juanita Hall) and ogling the military nurses, represented mainly by Mitzi Gaynor as Nellie. A real mission comes to the island in the form of Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr). (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)

No Buisiness

Wow, I thought I’d seen song and dance numbers before.  But everything until now has been pretty subdued, stripped back, low key, and even a little half assed, compared to visual and aural assault of There’s No Business Like Show Business. And I mean that in a really, really good way.

Ethel Merman and Dan Daily are Molly and Terrance Donahue, a small time vaudeville duo in 1919.  Over the first half hour or so, the movie traces their ever growing family as they all take to the stage.  As adults, their three kids all join the show, becoming knows at The Five Donahues, made up of the parents, eldest son Steve (Johnnie Ray), only daughter Katie (Mitzy Gaynor) and youngest son Tim (Donald O’Conner).

On the road, they meet up-and-comer Vicky Parker, played by Marilyn Monroe, who becomes the object of Tim’s desire, and from here on in, it really become Donald O’Conner’s movie.

There’s No Business Like Show Business is definitely a musical, but it’s not the kind where people spontaneously break into song and everyone else in the street somehow knows the words and choreography.  Well, actually, that does happen once, but even then, it’s shot to seem more like a dream sequence than something happening in the reality of the movie.

But for the most part, the singing and dancing are confined to the stage where the many variations of the Donahues perform for paying audiences.  For me, this made a huge difference in my enjoyment of the song and dance numbers.  There’s something so artificial about most musicals that never quite sits right with me.  By finding a logical way to incorporate these performances, it made me much more willing to go along with everything.

The way the movie is structured, I’m pretty sure the writers came up a list of songs first, then figured out how to wrap a narrative around them.  The story and non-singing scenes are fine, but they never feel like anything more than an excuse to get to the next song.  Which is fine too, because the spectacle of every single song and dance really is amazing.

I think this is the first Ethel Merman movie I’ve ever seen.  And hearing her sing made me understand her iconic reputation.  She’s a super strong presence who is pretty hard to ignore.  And that, along with the inclusion of Monroe, makes it even more impressive that Donald O’Conner steals the show from them both.  As the youngest, most impulsive son Tim Donahue, he definitely gets the most interesting character to play, and O’Conner really takes advantage of it.

There’s No Business Like Show Business is big, over the top, cheesy, broad and hokey.  But it’s all those things in the best possible way.  It totally commits while never taking itself too seriously.

There’s No Business Like Show Business
Directed By – Walter Lang
Written By – Pheobe Ephron, Henry Ephron

MOVIE REVIEW | Fame (1980)

Here’s a movie I was sure I’d seen before, but the more I watched it, the more I realised I had just seen a heap of the sanitised TV version that came out a couple of years later.  And the sanitisation is about more than just the lack of boobs and F bombs.  Because I remember the TV version being pretty fun and light.  But when it comes to its source material, Fame the movie has a pretty strong cynical streak.

It’s late 70s, early 80s New York (since the movie takes place over four years, I don’t think the exact time period is ever defined), and hopeful 14 year old actors, musicians, singers and dancers all descend on the New York High School of Performing Arts.  Through their auditions, we meet the loud mouthed Ralph (Barry Miller), street thug turned dancer Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray), nervous but sensitive actor Montgomery (Paul McCrane), triple threat Coco (Irene Cara), synthesizer enthusiast Bruno (Lee Curreri) and Doris (Maureen Teefy),

That might sound like a lot, but there are at least half a dozen more students and as many teachers who all get their on little story arcs that I never felt enough interest in to mention here.

The story of Fame follows these students over their next fours years as they all grow in varying degrees from cocky to humble, petrified to confident, pretentious to authentic, selfish showboat to team player, and even from closeted to out there and fabulous.  I never found any of these transformations and evolutions in any way surprising or revelatory, but they were all more than serviceable enough to keep my interest.

There’s a lot going on in Fame, but at the same time, there’s not much going on at all.  Laying on character after character after character, giving them all the most obvious story arcs and emotional beats to play, and making sure each of those beats is as obvious and overplayed as possible, means Fame is only ever a very small fraction of the sum of its parts.

At first, I struggled to keep up with all the characters, who was who, their individual, yet clichéd, origins.  But by the end, I realised that was in no way my fault, it was completely the movie’s.  Because by the time they reach their junior year, the movie itself had given up on most of them and only really focused on the trio of Ralph, Doris and Montgomery.  Coco gets an odd mention and the last look we get at Bruno shows him completely beaten down by the school, playing boring piano.

But for all that, there’s no denying that Fame is a really entertaining and amazing time capsule of 1980.  Not real life 1980, but the movie version of 1980.  And the title song certainly is a catchy toe tapper.

Directed By – Alan Parker
Written By – Christopher Gore