Saturday, January 17, 2009

In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

This week's musical was 1949's In the Good Old Summertime, another MGM musical I had never seen before. I chose this one because it was available on TCM on Demand. Our normal TCM station was not working properly, so I couldn't watch an old favorite On the Town as I had originally planned.

In the Good Old Summertime stars Judy Garland and Van Johnson. It's a musical version of the 1940 comedy The Shop Around the Corner. For those of you who have not seen this musical, the original movie it was based on, or its latest incarnation as You've Got Mail, the plot is this: Veronica (Judy) and Andy (Van) are anonymous pen pals and have fallen in love through their letters. Unbeknownst to them, they start working at the same music store and hate each other. The pen pals decide to meet, but when Andy sees it's Veronica, he leaves before she sees him. He's horrified, but somehow he begins to fall in love with her - and she with him. Then he reveals the truth and they live happily ever after.

I enjoyed The Shop Around the Corner when I saw it years ago, and I like Judy Garland and Van Johnson, so this seemed like a sure winner. This movie was pleasant enough, but was a lackluster musical, if it can even be called a musical. It did have about half a dozen musical numbers worked into the plot, but no one spontaneously bursts into song. Personally, I prefer musicals where the characters just start singing for no good reason and no one thinks it's strange. In this movie there was a perfectly logical reason for Judy to sing each time she did. That in itself doesn't make it bad, but the songs were not particularly memorable. I did like "Play that Barbershop Chord:"

Courtesy of musicalcomedy11111 on YouTube

Probably the best scene was right at the beginning when Andy and Veronica meet:

Courtesy of SolidHepKitten on YouTube

A few interesting tidbits: The little girl who plays their daughter at the end of the movie is Liza Minelli. The movie takes place almost entirely in winter, despite the name.

The one thing I kept thinking while watching this movie was how old Van Johnson and Judy Garland seemed to be, although they were only 33 and 27, respectively. I guess that was a lot older then than it is now.

While not a standout, this was a pleasant musical, and one I'm happy to add to my life list.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's Always Fair Weather (1955)

My first musical of 2009 was MGM's 1955 offering It's Always Fair Weather. I had never seen this one before, although it stars two of my favorites, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. Apparently it marked the end of MGM's great era of movie musicals and didn't do too well in theaters. It was intended to be a sequel to On the Town, but Frank Sinatra wasn't available, so the story was reworked. I think this was a good thing, as it allowed Gene Kelly to break away from being type-cast as a dancing sailor and be a dancing soldier instead.

For a very detailed synopsis, see the TCM site here. Briefly, three GIs (Gene Kelly, Michael Kidd, and Dan Dailey) return from World War II in 1945. They are best friends and vow to meet again in 10 years. They part company to follow their post-war dreams and the years pass. Gene Kelly plans to become a lawyer, Michael Kidd a chef, and Dan Daily an artist. After 10 years they meet again only to find they have nothing in common and have not achieved any of their goals. Gene Kelly has become a gambler and ladies' man in New York. Dan Daily has sold out to corporate America and is creating ads, not art, in Chicago. Michael Kidd is not a chef, but a cook at a hamburger stand - in Schenectady, NY, of all places. Over the course of the day, they go from not remembering why they were friends in the first place, to regaining their self-respect - and friendship - all with the help of TV producer Cyd Charisse.

This was a likable musical with some great dancing, but few memorable songs. My favorite part was the scene when each buddy privately regrets meeting the others again to the tune of The Blue Danube:

Courtesy of marxfan8 on YouTube

The most memorable song (not necessarily in a good way) was Situation-Wise:

Courtesy of marxfan8 on YouTube

There was some impressive dancing including the three buddies dancing with trash can lids and Gene Kelly tap dancing on roller-skates:

Courtesy of Reggieray12 on YouTube

I have to admit these dance routines made me anxious while watching them. I was afraid they would trip on the trash can lids and I didn't see how Gene Kelley could possibly roller skate and tap dance at the same time, since I can't do either separately, let alone together.

I did have some issues with the theme of this musical, though. Initially, it soothed my nagging conscience about all the friends I've lost track of over the years. That's OK, I thought. We've grown apart and wouldn't have anything in common anyway. But then I realized it's because I've sold out to corporate America and I live in Schenectady (well, the suburbs of Schenectady - I guess that's even worse!). Why this Schenectady bashing? It's not that bad (that could be their new slogan). It must have been a very nice town in 1955, and I think it received unfair treatment in the film. Also, I would have been proud to create Miss Klenzrite, the anthropomorphic mop that Dan Dailey is ashamed of drawing. At least I don't gamble.

So the first musical of 2009 didn't turn out to be the uplifting experience I would have hoped for, but I was still happy to see a classic for the first time.

Welcome to the Sound of Musicals

A new year brings new resolutions, and of course, a new blog to document them. This year I have decided not to bother with the typical resolutions of exercising more, eating better, not buying anything made in China. This year I am resolving to do something that I can actually accomplish: watch more musicals.

I grew up listening to and watching musicals. My parents had all the albums of the classic mid-20th century musicals, from Oklahoma! to The Man of La Mancha. I had learned the words to all the songs at an early age and have fond memories of recreating scenes from The Sound of Music and West Side Story with my best friend. Sixteen going on seventeen seemed impossibly old! Of course, I loved movie musicals, too, and never missed a chance to see Singin' in the Rain, On the Town, or Thoroughly Modern Millie. And nothing can beat seeing a live performance, be it my high school's production of Carousel or the Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls with Nathan Lane (both of which I've seen).

I loved musicals so much that when my sister was born, I suggested she be named Maria for two of my favorite musical heroines (actually Bloody Mary was my first suggestion, but was rejected). Although I've never stopped watching or listening to musicals, I certainly haven't seen as many in recent years. So on New Year's Eve when I happened upon the That's Entertainment movies on TCM, I was reminded of just how much I enjoy musicals and my resolution to watch more - hopefully one a week - was born. I realize there are still many movie musicals I've never seen and many I haven't seen in quite a few years. So I'll use this blog to document my efforts. As a special treat, my sister Maria, noted pop-culture blogger of Curly Wurly, will also be posting her impressions of musicals she sees this year, too.