We all know what a musical is, don’t we? All singing, all dancing… But it’s not that simple, the genre having developed in a variety of ways since its inception. With this mini-season we showcase six key examples of the form.
The Jazz Singer
Alan Crossland | USA | 1927 | 88 minutes
Al Jolson plays Jakie Rabinowitz, the son of a cantor, who must choose between his faith and his love of jazz. Widely acknowledged as the first sound film, The Jazz Singer was a gamble by Warner Bros. that changed the cinema forever. Its use of blackface, whilst uncomfortable viewing today, must be seen in historical context
Gold Diggers of 1933
Mervyn LeRoy | USA | 1933 | 97 minutes
One of the great backstage musicals, featuring the song “We’re in the Money” and dance spectaculars choreographed by Leni Riefenstahl, er, Busby Berkeley.
Mark Sandrich | USA | 1935 | 101 minutes
A vehicle for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Showman Jerry Travers (Astaire) is working for producer Horace Hardwick in London. Jerry demonstrates his new dance steps late one night in Horace’s hotel, much to the annoyance of sleeping Dale Tremont (Rogers) below. She goes upstairs to complain and the two are immediately attracted to each other. Complications arise as Dale mistakes Jerry for Horace.
An American in Paris
Vincente Minnelli | USA | 1951 | 113 minutes
Jerry Mulligan, a struggling American painter in Paris, is “discovered” by an influential heiress with an interest in more than Jerry’s art. Jerry in turn falls for Lise, a young French girl already engaged to a cabaret singer. Jerry jokes, sings and dances with his best friend, an acerbic would-be concert pianist, while romantic complications abound. Gene Kelly plays the title character.
A key film in our 2013-14 programme, on account of both being a film about an American in Paris and for being directed by Vincente Minnelli.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Stanley Donen | USA | 1954 | 102 minutes
Adam, the eldest of seven brothers, goes to town to get a wife. He convinces Milly to marry him that same day. They return to his backwoods home. Only then does she discover he has six brothers – all living in his cabin. Milly sets out to reform the uncouth siblings, who are anxious to get wives of their own. Then, after reading about the Roman capture of the Sabine women, Adam develops an inspired solution to his brothers’ loneliness. A major inspiration for the Spaghetti Western Up the MacGregors! in our Scotland on Screen mini-season.
Bob Fosse | USA | 1969 | 149 minutes
Taxi dancer Charity (Shirley Maclaine) continues to have faith in the human race despite apparently endless disappointments at its hands, and hope that she will finally meet the nice young man to romance her away from her sleazy life. Maybe, just maybe, handsome Oscar will be the one to do it. A more realistic, downbeat musical, inspired by Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria.