The Case of the Movie Musical Part 1


Talking pictures and movie musicals started at the same time. Back in 1927, the first-ever talkie, “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson came to theatres. This was the first time audiences heard actors’ voices, and the novelty of sound in movies inspired others to make musicals!


The 1930’s

    • The Jazz Singer (1927)
      • Starring Al Jolson, this is considered to be the first talkie! Although other films prior to this one has synchronized sound for music and sound effects, this movie marks the end of the silent film era and started musical film
      • The movie was based off of a 1925 play, and the first line of the movie was, “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet”
  • Song Included:  Blue Skies
  • Broadway Melody (1929)
    • The song on this list, “Broadway Melody” is the title song of this musical about two sisters trying to make a name for themselves in Vaudeville
    • This movie won the Oscar for best picture and was the first talking picture to do so
    • It’s also worth noting that many other talkies came out to capitalize on the success of The Jazz Singer, but this was the most successful of the time
    • Song Included: The Broadway Melody
  • 42nd Street (1933)
    • Busby Berkeley, a former Broadway dance director created the most popular musical films of the early 1930’s including “42nd Street”
    • The song on our list is the title number which includes an elaborate dance sequence for which Berkeley was famous
    • Song Included: 42nd Street
  • Top Hat (1935)
    • The “Berkeley spectacles” were replaced by dancing teams like Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald or Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire
    • The song from Top Hat on this list: Oh What a Beautiful Day (To Be Caught in the Rain) features choreography from Rogers and Astaire
    • Song Included: Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To be Caught in the Rain)
  • Shall We Dance (1937)
    • “Shall We Dance” is another example of how musicals starring this dancing duo gained popularity in the mid-to-late 1930s
    • Musicals are meant to be seen as much as heard, and these sequences are an example of that
    • Song Included: Shall We Dance
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
    • One of the most popular and influential musical films of all time, The Wizard of Oz starred a 16-year-old Judy Garland
    • It was a marvel for its use of technicolor, which required the sets to be lit so intensely that it was often almost 100 degrees
    • Song Included: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The 1940’s

  • For Me and My Gal (1942)
    • Another Judy Garland film, this was the first time the actress got top billing! It was also the film debut of Gene Kelly who became a major musical star of the 40s and 50s
    • Song Included: For Me and My Gal
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
    • This biographical musical starred James Cagney and told the story of George Cohen aka “The Man Who Owned Broadway”
    • The musical contains many of Cohen’s most famous tunes including “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Over There”
    • Cohen was awarded a congressional medal for his work inspiring American troops during WWI
    • Song Included: Yankee Doodle Dandy Medley
  • Holiday Inn (1942)
    • This Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire film was the first to include “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin
    • Berlin wrote 11 original songs for the film, White Christmas being the most popular
  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
    • Musicals were starting to show a greater unification of music and plot by the mid-1940s
    • This film was directed by Vincent Minnelli, the father of Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli
    • “The Trolley Song” was done in one take; another famous song from this musical is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
    • Songs were written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane
    • Song Included: The Trolley Song
  • The Pirate (1948)
    • This film stars Judy Garland and Gene Kelly once again and includes Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown”
    • Cole Porter was a prominent songwriter of the time period (Anything Goes) and his song was lifted from this musical and fitted with new lyrics for “Singin’ in the Rain”
    • Song Included: Be a Clown

The 1950’s

  • An American in Paris (1951)
    • A musical film based on a 1928 composition by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin wrote the lyrics
    • Arthur Freed, the producer of most of MGM’s musicals of this time period, wanted an original musical and made more original musicals like “Singin’ in the Rain”
    • Song Included: I Got Rhythm
  • Showboat (1951)
    • Based on the stage musical by Jerome Kern and Hammerstein, this musical had been filmed in 1929 and 1936
    • The song on the playlist, “Old Man River”  is the most notable from the musical and is considered to be an American masterpiece
    • Song Included: Ol’ Man River
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
    • This Arthur Freed production was an original musical about the dawn of “Talking Pictures” and the movie musical
    • It stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds and is considered by many to be one of the best musicals from this era
    • “Make Em Laugh” is a direct plagiarism of “Be a Clown” but Cole Porter never acted against the studio for lifting his song
    • Song Included: Make ‘Em Laugh
  • White Christmas (1954)
    • Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen
    • The movie included a new version of “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, sung by Bing Crosby
  • Guys and Dolls (1955)
    • Based on the 1950 stage musical by Frank Loessor, this musical starred Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando
    • The popularity of original film musicals dwindled, and more movie musicals were adapted from the stage
    • Song Included: Guys and Dolls
  • Oklahoma (1955)
    • Based on the stage musical by Rogers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma starred Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones (in her film debut, Carousel came out a year later)
    • The film is about a farm girl who is being courted by two suitors
    • Song Included: Oklahoma!
  • Jailhouse Rock (1957)
    • Throughout the 50s and 60s, musicals began to exploit the appeal of popular stars like Elvis and The Beatles
    • This is just one example of the many films made with Elvis
    • Song Included: Jailhouse Rock

The 1960’s

  • West Side Story (1961)
    • “Modern” day Romeo and Juliet starring Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, and Richard Beymer
    • Adapted from the 1957 Broadway Musical
    • Won 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Sound, and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture
    • Song Included: Gee Officer Krupke
  • The Music Man (1962)
    • Stars Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, and Ron Howard
    • Based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name by Meredith Willson
    • Song Included: Ya Got Trouble
  • Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
    • This movie is the film debut of Dick Van Dyke who plays the same character as he did on Broadway
    • The movie also starred Ann Margaret and Janet Leigh
    • The story is based on the phenomenon of Elvis Presley being drafted into the US Army in 1957 (the same year Jailhouse Rock premiered)
    • The songs were written by Charles Strouse and Leigh Adams
    • Song Included: Telephone Hour
  • A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
    • Another example of musical film capitalizing on the fame of pop stars, this is just one of the many movies inspired by and starring The Beatles
    • The movie covers 36 hours in the life of The Beatles and was a critical and commercial success
    • Song Included: If I Fell
  • The Sound of Music (1965)
    • Adapted from the 1959 stage play, this is another Rogers and Hammerstein classic
    • It stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and was based on a memoir about The Trapp Family Singers
    • This was a big moment in Julie Andrews’ career, since she had just won an Oscar for Mary Poppins
    • Song Included: The Sound of Music
  • Hello, Dolly! (1969)
    • Featured in Pixar’s “Wall-E”
    • When the play premiered, it won 10 emmy awards and held the record for the most Tonys for 37 years
    • It was directed by Gene Kelly and starred Barbara Streishand and Walter Mathou
    • It chronicles a widowed matchmaker at the end of the 19th century
    • Song Included: Put on Your Sunday Clothes

The 1970’s

  • Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
    • Starring Topov and Norma Crane
    • Was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won 3 of them
      • Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Scoring
    • In order to get the “earthy” look the director of photography Oswald Morris stretched brown panty-hose over the lens
    • It is based on Tevye the Dairyman and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. (The Jewish Mark Twain)
    • Song Included: If I Were a Rich Man
  • Cabaret (1972)
    • Starring Liza Minelli and Michael York
    • Won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
    • Won 8 Oscars including Best Sound and Best Director. Lost best picture to The Godfather
    • Song Included: Cabaret
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
    • Starring Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Curry
    • Based on the Stage Play by Richard O’Brien who loved classic sci-fi and horror films
    • Director Jim Sharman has said that they were going for a darker version of the 1939 Wizard of Oz.  For instance during “The Time Warp” the backup singers vocals were sped up to sound munchkin like.
    • Song Included: The Time Warp
  • The Wiz (1978)
    • Starring Diana Ross, Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson
    • An adaptation of The Wizard of Oz that had an all black cast and captured the African American experience
    • This was the first time the witches were given names, Evilene and Evermean, until the novel “Wicked” came out
    • Song Included: Ease On Down the Road
  • Grease (1978)
    • Starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta
    • The highest grossing movie of 1978
    • Grease won every People’s Choice Award for which it was nominated: Favorite Motion Picture Actress (Olivia Newton-John), Favorite Motion Picture Supporting Actress (Stockard Channing), Favorite Musical Motion Picture, and Favorite Overall Motion Picture.
    • Based on the 1971 musical of the same name by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Plots and characters were taken out and songs removed and changed.
    • Song Included: Greased Lightning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s