Music – that enchanting and captivating melody that has encompassed every form of art and transformed them within and without. I cannot conceive of anything around me which isn’t touched by sound – the sound of music. Movies are the one form of medium where the role of music had rendered itself essential even during the days preceding the talkies! Even when talkies came, they were more of ‘sing’ies than ‘talk’ies really! In India, there were movies done with nearly 72 songs! Even if it were a couplet or a sentence, it wasn’t worth conveying unless it was through crooning. Hollywood could certainly not have been left out of its grasp! They may mock the Indian cinema for its sheer number of songs and the camera work, but Hollywood itself had its own bout of experimentation with the musicals that has now spanned several decades! This post is an exploration of some of my favorite musicals from Hollywood. 🙂 I am not limiting them on the numbers (no top 10, no top 25, no tops! 😉 ) and the order of their listing certainly doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It’s just an unraveling of my memory – a travel since my childhood that exposed me to ‘The Sound Of Music’.
The Sound of Music: The Mountains, the woods, the lakes, and the beautiful Salzburg scenery – Julie Andrews as a boyish wannabe nun, 7 kids and a handsome Christopher Plummer. There hasn’t been a magic similar to this that has been woven since! The songs of this wonder have been etched in my memory since well over 25 years now! And this, when I can’t even remember what I was doing during those days! The most endearing aspect of the songs in this movie was its sheer simplicity. Some of these songs could’ve easily passed on to become children’s rhymes! “Do Re Mi Fa..”, “I am sixteen going on seventeen”, “Edelweiss”, “The Hills are Alive”, “These are a few of my favorite things”, “The lonely goatherd (Yodley-hoo)”, “Climb every mountain”, “So long, farewell” – these were but a few songs that I had religiously memorized with more vigor than my multiplication tables! Inspiring Gulzar’s “Parichay”, this movie has continued to remain one of the most favorite and evergreen movies since well over 4 decades now!
Mary Poppins: Julie Andrews’ debut movie produced by Walt Disney Pictures, is a must watch for every child! The picture of Mary Poppins flying with her umbrella has been endlessly used down the generations in various avatars! This movie was sufficient in itself to make me want to have the Poppins peppermints every time I had a chance to! For some reason, it was my firm belief that, that was how I could get Mary Poppins to visit me! For some unknown reason, I also believed that it was manufactured by her! Eeenyways, we’ve grown since, but never grown enough to not jump up for joy when something “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” happens! Many “a spoonful of sugar” has made the medicines of life go down my throat, and the “Chim Chim-ney Cheree” has brought a smile to me even when I was feeling like the bottom-most rung of a ladder! The laughter of “I love to laugh”, the desire to have “a perfect Nanny”, the playful “Jolly Holiday” – oh every song of this movie makes me wanna go back to my childhood!
Singing in the Rain: No matter how much Hollywood may revel in its technologically superior movies and brazen plot lines of the recent years, the movies that have survived the erosion of time are the ones that have a heart warming plot line and when it is a musical, “Singing In the Rain” is one movie that will always feature amongst the best. The film featured the talented Gene Kelly as a silent movie star coming to terms with the popularity of “Talkies” and the travails he encounters making a talkie movie with his lead female star with a horrendous voice (played by Jean Hagen) ! He falls in love with another struggling stage artist (the pretty Debbie Reynolds) and eventually after a whole lot of hilarious sequences, they come together and their talkie movie becomes a grand success. “Singing In the Rain” is a sensational musical – making one want to literally dance and sing; rain or no rain! 😉 The title track, “All I do is dream of you” (Why can’t they keep this, as a rhyme for kids!!!!), “You are my lucky star”, “Good morning”, “You were meant for me”, “Beautiful girl”, are some of my favorite songs from this movie. The tap dance sequences used to make me wanna do that all the way through the singing – one thing that has stuck through with me all these years. The fun of wearing a new pair of shoes and tapping away… ah! simple joys. Isn’t it? 😉 Oh if you haven’t watched this movie.. watch it! For its sheer simplicity, humor and liveliness!! 🙂
My Fair Lady: I cannot think of anyone who’d not wanna go down on their knees for this flower girl who eventually turned out to be such a Fair lady, that even the Buckingham palace was fooled to believing that she was a duchess! And it was Audrey Hepburn who carried it off with much aplomb! Based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, this is an evergreen movie for more than one reason. Peppered with humor, irony, sarcasm, and brilliant acting, this movie won rave reviews. In certain scenarios the setup is almost like a theater play – with people freezing to create a picture of London’s daily life. Interestingly enough the role of Eliza Dolittle was essayed by Julie Andrews in the Broadway version. But because Julie Andrews wasn’t an established star (she hadn’t started her film career by then) Jack Warner didn’t want to risk casting her in the main role, and instead it was Audrey Hepburn who received it. The movie won 7 Academy awards including best picture, best costume, best original score, best actor and best director. However, Audrey didn’t win the best actress award as the songs were sung by Marni Nixon. The movie ofcourse has a whole treasure of unforgettable songs including the heart warming – “All I want is a room somewhere”, “Rain in Spain”, “Am just an ordinary man”, “I could’ve danced all night”. Songs such as “Why can’t the English learn to speak”, “Just you wait ‘enry ‘iggins” are funny and littered with sarcasm! With rich costumes and camera work (the scene of the flower market with arrays of fresh blossoms has been my favorite aspect of this movie) the movie was a visual treat!
Gigi: Another memorable Leslie Caron musical, this movie was about Gilberte (known shortly as Gigi; and what a tricky pronunciation!!) who is an unassuming lass being groomed to become a courtesan by her aunt Alicia. Gigi’s fumbling during her training and her relationship with the handsome Gaston (played by Louis Jourdan) form the crux of what is indeed a must-watch funny and warm musical. Incidentally the theatrical version of the movie (The movie was itself based on a novel by Colette which was adapted to stage first, before being made into a movie) was the debut for Audrey Hepburn on stage! She had played the lead role of Gigi but however she wasn’t cast in the movie. An interesting thing about the songs in this movie was was that they were all first recorded in the original voices of the actors along with the piano accompaniment and later on dubbed by the actual singers. One of the chief aspects of movies like Gigi and My Fair Lady was costume and indeed this movie too won an Academy award in that category as well as in others including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Score. The songs include some memorable ones like “Say a Prayer for me tonight”, “The Night they invented Champagne”, “I’m glad am not young anymore”, “Gigi”, “Thank heaven for little girls”, and “I remember it well”.
All that Jazz: Wichita State University had a small but a wonderful collection of movies in its library. It was in there that I discovered this wonderful movie. It was smart, touching, poignant, musically brilliant and a very thought provoking movie. An outstanding example of Bob Fosse’s brilliance, this semi-autobiographical movie has been amongst my most favorite movies for very many years now. The movie is about workaholic director Joe Gideon (played brilliantly by Roy Scheider) who due to his vagabond life is at the brink of death. The entire movie turns into a reflection of his own self, and his fascinations. It’s a journey through his life and his mind – his hallucination wherein he conceives of death has a beautiful lady (played by the brilliant Jessica Lange) he flirts with. Even in his death, he imagines a magnificent show put up to bid “Bye Bye (to) Life”. The movie had what seemed a very rich and jazzy (true to its name) setting and some memorable musical numbers. “Bye Bye Life”, “A Perfect Day”, “After You’ve Gone”, “Sing sing sing”, “Some of these days” are some of the regular features on my playlist.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Remember “Satte pe satta”? Amitabh Bachan and Hema Malini with their troupe of 7 brothers falling for 7 girls and the hullabaloo that it all leads to? Voila! This is the original version for you! Unlike the bollywood version which had a couple of croonable songs, this movie has been ever listed amongst the top musicals over several decades. The songs not only taught us the basics of dating and wooing, but many basic dance steps too! The movie had beautiful scores like “Wonderful Wonderful day”, “June Bride”, “When you’re in Love”, funny ones like “Goin’ courting”, & “Bless your beautiful hide” and some foot tapping numbers too. The songs by June Powell are particularly very memorable as also was the song “Lonesome polecat” the tune of which lingered on for many days in my head.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Much before the time of “Tarzan” cars, and Fast and Furious four wheeler, there was a sweet car that could communicate, fly and float too!!! This was a car that was made for children! It was one of my most memorable movies as a kid! This was the movie that opened me to the world of Roald Dahl which ofcourse led me to the chocolate factory of my dream! The story is about an eccentric scientist, his children, a sweet upper class lady and ofcourse the wonderful refurbished Grand Prix car – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! The adventure they embark upon in the imaginative land of “Vulgaria” fighting the evil Baroness and the Baron was a fantasy that was relived many times in my mind. Then ofcourse there were the songs – “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, “Hushabye Mountain”, “Choo-chee face”, “Doll on a music box”, “Toot Sweets” – all of which are absolute fun. It certainly has a strange comic feeling to be seeing people talking one moment and instantly break into a song in the same breathe!
Most of these movies listed so far (and more yet to come) had a very simple story – one that touched the chords of our heart, or the fantasies that we had as children. There wasn’t too much of technological spell that was cast with giant autobots nor were there sexy babes in swanky cars totting guns at everything. And yet, its these simple movies that have sustained in my mind for all these years! Maybe its because of their connections with my childhood and school days, or maybe it’s just me! I dunno.. nor do I care.. as long as the happiness they give me, and the memories they bring are cherished.
The Wizard of Oz: There used to be a children’s magazine called “Misha” (published from Russia) that my father had subscribed for me. This was the greatest highlight of my school days from 3rd to 5th standard. I was so much in love with this magazine, that I’d religiously save every copy of it and send my paintings/drawings to them hoping they’d publish it someday! Anyways, that never happened. But what did happen was I came to know of a quaint little place called Kansas in the USA, where tornadoes blew so hard, that people got transported to fairy lands – the land of Oz for example! And so it was that I first read about the Wizard of Oz! And after a few years, when I realized that there is also a movie done on this story, the only logical thing to do was to watch it! The rest as they say, is history. The beautiful Judy Garland singing “Somewhere over the rainbow”, the funny little munchkins (the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”), the unforgettable “Precious” remark by the wicked Witch (decades before Gollum!)…Oh!! I can watch this movie (and I have) hundred times and over! Those were the days I had made up my mind to name my first dog Toto (never happened) and embark on a journey to Oz myself! Oz didn’t happen either, but Kansas certainly did! 😛 The sheer brilliance of the camerawork, the rich settings and a story that every person could relate to, this movie has singularly been amongst the most spectacular movies of the last century!
P.S: When I first decided to write about this topic, I thought I could cover it all up in one post. As I began listing out the movies, I realized what a mistake that assumption was! So the list shall continue on to a second part too, where I’d want to talk of the movies that set my heart racing as a teenager! Movies such as Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, and many more all the way into this year. But all of that for the next post! ;)
Videos courtesy: Youtube and Posters: Several sources!