Movie Musicals

Movie Musicals

Movie Musicals, of course, originated from the theater stage, but these motion pictures with song (and sometimes dance) are as varied as any other film genre. Some have songs that advance the plot, some are simply intentional breaks of spectacle from the story. Some have their characters sing directly to the audience, some sing only to the other characters. Some use already existing music, some have original songs written directly for the movie. Musicals!!!
Also check out the titles available to stream through Kanopy and Hoopla.


Compiled by:
Brandon R.
42nd Street
Adult Audiovisual DVD - For

A "classic, fast-paced, backstage movie musical - a refreshing film that changed the film musical forever and saved Warner Bros. studios from bankruptcy, helping it grow into a major studio. It is also notable for introducing the masterful dance choreography of Busby Berkeley. It's a great Pre-code musical (the songs all allude to sex in one way or another) set and filmed during the Great Depression.


1776
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Sev

This musical, about the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was brought to the screen with a majority of the Broadway cast replaying their roles from the stage. Some of the words of dialogue and lyrics are taken directly from later letters and memoirs of the real-life characters (though many of these characters differ from their historical counterparts). 


All that Jazz
Adult Audiovisual DVD - All

Bob Fosse directs this highly self-referential, autobiographical musical about a drug-fueled, womanizing dance choreographer (while he was both directing Chicago for Broadway and editing his film of Lenny). His alter-ego here, played in a career best performance by Roy Scheider, Joe Gideon, has dexedrine bottles in his cabinet with Fosse's actual address on them.


An American in Paris
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Ame

This film won 6 Academy Awards in 1952, including Best Picture. Inspired by the 1928 George Gershwin work, the story here is mixed with dance numbers choreographed by star Gene Kelly to the Gershwin music (including the marvelous, 17-minute closing ballet sequence with Kelly and Leslie Caron).


Broadway Melody of 1940
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Bro

A lot of people know the duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but tap dancer Eleanor Powell was one of MGM's biggest musical stars in the 1930s. This one has very little plot, but her six-minute dance with Astaire to Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" at the end of this one is something to see (and hear).

 


Cabaret
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Cab

Based on Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, this Bob Fosse directed, Liza Minnelli starring adaptation of the Kander and Ebb musical, set in Weimer Germany around the rise of the Nazi Party, differs greatly from the original stage show (Kander and Ebb having written new songs for the film specifically). This was Liza's first time singing on screen; the daughter of Judy Garland and director Vincent Minnelli (who suggested she model her look after silent filn m star Louise Brooks) won Best Actress at the 1973 Academy Awards. With its 8 total Oscars, it holds the record for most won by a film not to win Best Picture.


Cabin in the Sky
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Cab

Based on the Broadway musical (though only featuring a couple of songs from the original), this is notable for being one of the first major studio musicals with an all African-American cast (and submitted to the NAACP for approval before production). Many Southern movie theaters refused to play it. This features the major role debut of Lena Horne, who would be seen later in the year in the more successful Stormy Weather, revolving around the story of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.


Curly Top
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Cur

Shirley Temple's childhood films for 20th Century Fox in the 1930s were some of the most popular during the Great Depression. This musical drama, based on the orphanage story Daddy-Long-Legs, features her well-known performance of "Animal Crackers in My Soup".


Grease
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Gre

While 'numerous liberties' were taken with the original stage musical, this became the highest grossing musical film ever at the time. The original 1971 show's title is a riff on "Hair", the Broadway hit about the 1960s that had come out a few years before "Grease" (set in the 1950s).


Guys and Dolls
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Guy

After winning the Tony and Pulitizer Prize in 1950, MGM brought this musical, based on stories by Damon Runyon, to the screen. Frank Sinatra replaced the original actor Sam Levene to many (including the director)'s chagrin. Gene Kelly was not available to play Sky Masterson, so Marlon Brando was chosen because he was hot off On the Waterfront. Both Brando and Jean Simmons surprisingly provided their own singing voices without being overdubbed by professional voices.


Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

One of the most successful New Bollywood musicals in the 1990s, this is the debut film of director Karan Johar. This film, along with a few others, helped make Shah Rukh Khan a romantic idol. While Indian Cinema is as varied as any national cinema, it is perhaps best known outside its own borders as producing some of the most enjoyable musicals (and/or masalas) out there.


Meet Me in St. Louis
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Mee

This Arthur Freed musical is widely regarded as one of the best of its era; marking the beginning of MGM's 'Golden Age' (It made more money than any other MGM film since Gone with the Wind). Set during the lead up to the 1904 St. Louis' World's Fair, the film is divided into sections of the seasons over the course of the year in the Smith household. Judy Garland's rendition of the "The Trolley Song" is one of several memorable numbers.


Million Dollar Mermaid
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Mil

Esther Williams stars in this fictionalized biography of swimming star Annette Kellermann. Williams would carry this title as her nickname, while at MGM, and use it for her autobiography (this being one of her own favorite films). The synchronized swimming numbers here, choreographed by Busby Berkley, are memorable (notably recreated, in part, in the Coen Bros.' Hail, Caesar!). Williams broke her neck performing a high dive here; coming "as close to snapping my spinal cord and becoming a paraplegic as you could without actually succeeding" (she was in a body cast for seven months). She made several films after this (including Easy to Love, where she performed all of her waterskiing stunts while pregnant).


My Fair Lady
Adult Audiovisual DVD - My

Based on the 1956 Lerner and Lowe stage musical (which was based on Shaw's Pygmalion), this film won 8 Academy Awards in 1965, including Best Picture. "Hepburn's singing was judged inadequate, and she was dubbed by Marni Nixon, who sang all songs except "Just You Wait", where Hepburn's voice was left undubbed during the harsh-toned chorus and brief reprise of the song and Nixon sang the melodic bridge section." Rex Harrison was given a wireless microphone to record his 'talk singing' by George Groves (the first such use during filming of a motion picture).


Singin' in the Rain
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Sin

Set in the 1920s, this film follows a few film players making the transition from silent to sound pictures (because many of the songs used are back catalog written during that time period). Amazingly enough this was only a moderate hit when it was first released, but is considered one of the best American musicals of all-time now. The iconic title sequence was shot when Gene Kelly was sick with a high fever, Debbie Reynolds feet were bleeding by the end of shooting "Good Morning", and Donald O'Connor was hospitalized for a few days after filming "Make 'em Laugh", but thankfully we still have the film to thank them for their efforts.


A Star is Born (1954)
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Sta

Judy Garland is, of course, most well-known for The Wizard of Oz, and starred in a series of films with Mickey Rooney (that occasionally had songs), but this film is retrospectively the pinnacle of her Hollywood career (echoing shades of her own life). There are several versions of this; some may prefer Janet Gaynor, Barbra Streisand, or Lady Gaga, but Judy is the one who did it best (in my opinion).


Three Smart Girls
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Dea

Universal's 14 year-old soprano Deanna Durbin stars in this Academy Award nominated musical about said three sisters attempting to get their divorced parents back together. By age 21 Durbin would be the highest paid female star in the world (and win a special "Juvenile Award" from the Academy for her work in 1939). By age 27 she would purposefully walk away from Hollywood and celebrity forever for the "life of nobody".


Top Hat
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Top

While some dance critics maintain that Swing Time contained a finer set of dances, this was Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' most financially successful film. This one concerns a mistaken identity plot and features a memorable score by Irving Berlin, including "Cheek to Cheek".


The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Umb

This innovative French musical, told with continuous music by Michel Legrand, launched the career of Catherine Deneuve. The use of color here is unparalleled. What may seem like a simple story of boy meets girl becomes something more contemporary to the time it is set in. Though this is also currently available on Kanopy, I would recommend watching this with the largest screen and best sound as possible.


West Side Story
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Wes

Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and based on on the 1957 Broadway musical, this tale of the rivalry between the Jets vs. Sharks won 10 Academy Awards in 1962, including Best Picture. Most of the main cast had ghost singers; nearly all of Natalie Wood's singing was, even after lip-synching to her own tracks,unbeknownst to her, re-done by Marni Nixon. A new adaptation by Steven Spielberg is expected at the end of 2020.


Yankee Doodle Dandy
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Yan

This biographical musical, about George M. Cohan, "The Man Who Owned Broadway" (an early pioneer of the book musical), stars a singing and dancing James Cagney who won Best Actor at the Academy Awards in 1943. The "Over There" number is especially memorable.