Wednesday, April 30, 2014

ten favorite songs in movie musicals

Goodbye Old Girl by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross; performed by Robert Shafer and Tab Hunter
in Damn Yankees (1958)

a simple, straight-forward melody. A middle-aged baseball fanatic (who has made a pact with the Devil to become a young athlete) is singing his farewells to his sleeping wife. It's so honest it almost hurts.

On Broadway by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill; performed by George Benson
in All That Jazz (1980)

everything Bob Fosse had to say about the creative and financial battles of dance, theatre and life is right here in this film. Equal parts Fellini and pure Fosse, this was the great showman's penultimate film but his true last hurrah. He even foresaw his own death seven years later. The opening scenes set to Benson's rendition of this classic song are electrifying.

There's Got to Be Something Better Than This by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields; performed by Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly
in Sweet Charity (1969)

a musical adaptation of Fellini's Nights of Cabiria (one of my all-time favorite films starring the immortal Giulietta Masina), Fosse's film has a few moments that truly soar. The rooftop dance number with MacLaine, Rivera and Kelly is the stuff legends are made of.

Sign by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin; performed by Albert Finney and Carol Burnett
in Annie (1982)

too many songs to count as simply perfect in John Huston's film. Considering this is Carol Burnett's finest film performance (and she wasn't even nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar) and Albert Finney is THE definitive "Daddy" Warbucks, it's pretty clear why I chose their show-stopping scene together for this list.

The Boy Next Door by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane; performed by Judy Garland
in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

another film that is absolutely perfect from beginning to end. This beautiful song that made its debut in the film may have become overshadowed by The Trolly Song as well as Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, but it's the real heart and soul of the production. A Technicolor love letter to a bygone era.

Nature Boy by eden ahbez; performed by John Leguizamo
in Moulin Rouge! (2001)

while not an original song written for the film (it was first published in 1947) this version that bookends Baz Luhrmann's lurid recalibration of the screen musical was for me the absolute apex. Maybe it's just 'cause I love the old melody so much. It all seemed to go downhill from there.

On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer; performed by Judy Garland
in The Harvey Girls (1946)

Johnny Mercer is one of my favorite songwriters (any era) and this song (while covered best by Mercer himself) is still one I find myself humming along to when it's stuck on endless repeat in my head (as it often is). I apologize in advance if I ever let the train whistle part slip past my lips on accident. 

I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe; performed by Richard Harris
in Camelot (1967)

Richard Harris was THE immortal screen King Arthur. This particular song was his gift to us mere mortals, and simple folk. Rest in peace, my King.

Ol' Man River by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II; performed by Paul Robeson and men's chorus
in Show Boat (1936)

Robeson was a force of nature, on and off the screen. He effortlessly owns every frame of this film (and Irene Dunne certainly holds her own). On the shortlist of movies that matter.

Pretty Women by Stephen Sondheim; performed by Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman
in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

well, I certainly didn't expect to still be thinking or writing about this film almost ten years later (never was a big fan of the stage version -- sorry, Dame Lansbury). Depp and Rickman (not to mention director Tim Burton) must have somehow known that this would be the last best thing they'd be doing for a while. Their duet verges on the divine.

honorable mention:

Ya Got Trouble by Meredith Willson; performed by Robert Preston
in The Music Man (1962)

being a lover of film musicals, you can imagine how hard it was coming up with this list. Especially since there are so many great scenes that keep jumping to mind (how could I leave out Don't Rain On My Parade from Funny Girl; not to mention Everything's Coming Up Roses from Gypsy; An American in Paris; Funny Face; Easter Parade; the majority of West Side Story??). Alas, these were the first ten that occurred to me, and in hindsight this eleventh entry could very well top them all. If you ever want to see a singular performer bring the house down while doing it outdoors, look no further.

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