I was gonna do a “Margaret’s list” and then I realized before I do a “Margaret’s List”, I should get the “normal list” out of the way. And then the post suddenly got to long so I am splitting them in too. If you want a quick intro to the broad sweep of American musical films, here are all the super important ones in chronological order. And PLEASE, my fellow film musical nerds, start an argument with me in the comments!!!! I have OPINIONS. On EVERYTHING. (oh, and the more excited I am about a topic, the more typos I make. I am very very excited about this topic)
There were musicals before this, the first sound movie “The Jazz Singer” had songs in it. But if you are talking big movie musicals, 42nd Street is your standard. Hit original songs, Busby Berkeley actually using the film medium to do something different, very very light plot tying it all together.
Shall We Dance
Best Astaire-Rogers movie. Sometimes people say Swing Time, but I hate Swing Time, so I’m doing this one instead. Original Gershwin songs, amazing original dance numbers, and fun light silly farce plot. Plus a group of supporting comics and so on to add to that fun variety feel.
On the Town
First famous Gene Kelly musical. He did something different and inserted the “New York Ballet” from Broadway into the middle of the movie, which just blew people’s minds.
Singin’ in the Rain
Next famous Gene Kelly musical, brilliant original script, and a super fun grab bag of songs from the MGM archives, plus Kelly and Stanley Donen just doing crazy things with the visuals.
An American in Paris
And the final famous Gene Kelly musical!!!! Where he really really lost his mind. And had fun because he was working with this mixed cast of talents, trained ballet dancer Leslie Caron, pianist/singer Oscar Levant, and music hall performer Georges Guatery.
The Band Wagon
Fred’s return to relevance. A minority opinion has this as the Greatest American Film Musical (other popular choices are Singin’ in the Rain or An American in Paris). Amazing duet song between Fred and Cyd Charisse, plus huge Kelly style set pieces. And just as An American in Paris brought in a French talent, this film brought in the big British musical star Jack Buchanan.
The Sound of Music
Here’s where a lot of people stop when they think of Hollywood Musicals. It’s big, it’s looooooooooooooong, it’s got a million classic songs, it plays on TV and does tours to this day through special event theaters.
And this is what killed the classic American film musical. Fosse and Liza Minelli and Joel Grey came in and turned music dark and scary and strange and suddenly all other film versions just looked empty. (funny thing to talk about in the Margaret version of this post, Judy Garland and Vincente Minelli started the classic musicals, their daughter Liza killed them: Joel Grey killed the classic musical, his daughter Jennifer Grey secretly restarted them)
La La Land
There’s Chicago and Fame and loads of other musicals after Cabaret. But I am going with La La Land because it is the one that calls back to the classic era, the pre-Cabaret kind of films. And because people say “ooo, I just love musicals, have you seen La La Land” and then I throw something at them.