Growing up one of the biggest influences on my film life was my father. He introduced me to a wide variety of cinema, all the classics and all the ones he thought were worth watching; he liked all kinds and as a child I didn’t really differentiate between films from different genres or time periods so it never bothered me how old they were or what they were about. As a filmmaker and student now I’m so grateful that I was lucky enough to experience some of the greatest films when I was so young, and it’s left me with some of my fondest memories. Among the most influential, and memorable, films we were watched were musicals. Both my father and I are huge fans of musicals, and if you tell either of us a film has Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire in it we’ll likely enjoy it. Although now I’m older and more knowledgeable about films I can see the flaws in various musicals, I still love them, and they’re the only type of film I can still watch without drastically analysing them. So I thought I’d share my top five classic musicals…
5. Easter Parade (1948)
Directed by: Charles Walters Written by: Sidney Sheldon, Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich Music by: Irving Berlin Starring: Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ann Miller
From the opening sequence of Fred Astaire singing and dancing in a toy shop – and cheating a child out of a toy rabbit – you know it’s going to be a good film. Although his character has the same kind of irritating charm most Astaire characters do, the character is excellent, and Astaire’s talent is undeniable. Throw in Ann Miller’s beautifully whiny too-good-for-anyone character and Judy Garland’s naive underdog, and you’ve got an excellent film. Plus, it has a cute puppy.
4. Singin’ in the Rain (1953)
Directed by: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly Written by: Adolph green, Betty Comden Music by: Nacho Herb Brown, Arthur Freed Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds
I’ll probably get battered for not putting this at number one, and please don’t get me wrong, it is a spectacular film and musical – the dance sequences, the jokes, the songs, they’re all spot on. The only reason this doesn’t place higher on my list is because the others set the bar so damn high. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor were probably the first ‘BROTP’ and there isn’t a scene in this film which I can fault. Apart from anything else, it’s a brilliantly fun way to learn (roughly) about the development of sound in films, and demonstrates a lot of stuff that nowadays we wouldn’t even think about.
3. On The Town (1949)
Directed by: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly Written by: Adolph Green, Betty Comden Music by: Leonard Bernstein, Roger Edens Starring: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller, Betty Garrett, Vera-Ellen
This was the first musical I ever watched and it remains one of my favourites to this day. The cast is absolutely flawless and the songs are really fun. It’s also an excellent film as it all takes place over 24 hours, which is a difficult technique to use for a film without it becoming dull or contrived. The “How would you feel if someone broke your dinosaur?” “I never had one, we were too poor.” scene is without a doubt one of the funniest exchanges in any film, any genre, ever. Jules Munshin is hilarious, and Ann Miller and Betty Garrett bring a wonderful new dimension to female characters in musicals.
2. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Directed by: Stanley Donen Written by: Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Dorothy Kinglsey Music by: Gene de Paul, Johnny Mercer Starring: Howard Keel, Russ Tamblyn, Jane Powell
This one very nearly made first place, and perhaps if Judy Garland had been in it it would have reached that top place. With Howard Keel’s gorgeous bass and Jane Powell’s feisty character you think this film can’t get any better than the first couple of songs, but by the barn-raising sequence (yes, really) you will realise you have never seen a musical like this before. The dancing turns to gymnastics and the music will make you so happy. It shows gorgeous scenery through a year and, while sort of teaching boys to kidnap the girls they like, ultimately does have quite a lot of girl power and undeniably awesome songs.
1. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli Written by: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe, Sally Benson Music by: Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin Starring: Judy Garland, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor
Finally, we have my all-time favourite musical. Whether it’s my love for Judy Garland, for strong female characters, or for seeing films which show all the seasons, I don’t know, but I simply adore Meet Me in St. Louis. Garland’s character is strong, independent and a complete romantic. The entire family is such a perfect representation of family life that it is relatable even seventy years later, and the songs are beautifully written and performed. I rarely see this high on people’s musical lists, but to me it will always be one – if not the – best.
Honourable mentions must of course be mentioned, and they are Top Hat (1935), Sound of Music (1965) and West Side Story (1961). Let me know what your favourite classic musicals are, and if you agree with my list or not!