Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Favorite Musicals of All Time ""

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Favorite Musicals of All Time

So the wife and I just watched Busby Berkeley's film THE GANG'S ALL HERE last night. As was to be expected from a Berkeley film, it was darn stylish and the musical numbers were pretty elaborate and colorful. Highly recommended if you like his stuff. Got me thinking about my favorite musical films. I didn't intend this blog to be a running group of lists, but that's just the kind of mood I've been in lately.

As a general rule, I'm not a huge fan of musicals so I have probably skewed the definition of what a musical film is to fit in the movies(that involve music) that I most enjoy. I think for me seeing the actors have fun and make everything seem effortless is really key in my enjoyment of such films. You'll note that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is a little lower on my list. I have to be honest here. I like the film a good deal, but sometimes I feel like I can see a little bit of the strain that the actors are going through to pull of some of the films very memorable scenes. For instance, Donald O'Connor's infamous "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence has always made me a little uncomfortable. I realize that the slapstick humor he is demonstrating is a throwback to vaudeville etc, but I never really thought it was very funny or wacky. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy good slapstick and his agility is nearly unmatched as far as pulling the sequence off. He is a remarkable talent. If you've ever seen his dance sequence on roller skates(!) in I LOVE MELVIN you cannot help but be dazzled by him. I recently listened to the Criterion laserdisc commentary for SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and learned that O'Connor had been smoking about 4 packs of cigarettes a day at the time of starting to rehearse the "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence. So needless to say it was quite a workout for him. They filmed the whole sequence, after which O'Connor spent the following day in bed as he was totally wiped out. Gene Kelly then told him that the film had been fogged during the takes they had done at that he would have to do the whole thing over again. O'Connor complied, but was then bed-ridden for three days after. O'Connor being a consummate pro, does make the sequence look very good. Still, I must say that part of me feels the efforts of a man trying really hard to stay cheerful when I watch it. I think I get that sort of feeling from several sequences in the film and that makes it harder for me to enjoy. I can't connect emotionally to the characters for that reason. I feel kind of the same way about YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. There is absolutely no denying James Cagney is stupendous in the film. I just felt no real connection to it. Now you take a duo like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and, for me, they never make it seem forced(not that Cagney does either mind you). They are both just angelic and effortless and that's what really makes me love their films. I feel myself so much more engaged when I watch them. I should also note that I decided not to mention any Marx Brothers films on the list, but please don't mistake that for a lack of interest in the songs from their films. ANIMAL CRACKERS, DUCK SOUP and HORSE FEATHERS all have songs I enjoy very much. I even made a "Hello, I must be going..." ringtone not too long ago. Their songs often get stuck in my head for days and I love that. I also realized how much respect I have for Paul Williams as a songwriter and lyricist in that I included two of his films in my top ten. Please keep in mind that I am not saying that one film is better than the other, the list is more just in order of my preference if I was going to pick a musical to watch. Anyway, without further ado, the list:

1. Top Hat(1935; Mark Sandrich)
2. Rock 'n' Roll High School(1979; Alan Arkush)
3. Swing Time(1936; George Stevens)
4. Phantom of the Paradise(1974; Brian De Palma)
5. The Muppet Movie(1979; James Frawley)
6. Golddigger's of 1933(1933; Mervyn leRoy)
7. New York, New York(1977; Martin Scorsese)
8. Singin' In the Rain(1952; Stanley Donen)
9. A Hard Day's Night(1964; Richard Lester)
10. The Gang's All Here(1943; Busby Berkeley)
11. Hellzapoppin'(1941; H.C. Potter)
12. Clambake(1967; Arthur H. Nadel)
13. I Love Melvin(1953; Don Weis)
14. The Wizard of Oz(1939; Victor Fleming)
15. The Merry Widow(1934; Ernst Lubitsch)
16. Voyage of the Rock Aliens(1987; James Fargo)
17. Bedknobs and Broomsticks(1971; Robert Stevenson)
18. 42nd Street(1933; Lloyd Bacon)
19. A Star is Born(1954; George Cukor)
20. Ziegfeld Girl(1941; Robert Z. Leonard/Busby Berkeley)

In going over the IMDB's list of the highest rated musicals, I am sure there are some I need to see or rewatch. I've never seen the Ken Russell's film THE BOY FRIEND, but have always wanted to. The same goes for ON THE TOWN and FOOTLIGHT PARADE, both of which I am sure I would probably like. Ruben Mamoulian's LOVE ME TONIGHT with Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald is also going straight to the top of my Netflix cue for sure. I also just realized that I left off some of the more downbeat musicals that certainly influenced something like NEW YORK, NEW YORK. Things like MY DREAM IS YOURS, BLUE SKIES and THE MAN I LOVE. Maybe even I COULD GO ON SINGING. All of these are worthwhile. Even films like BUGSY MALONE, XANADU, THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T , PENNIES FROM HEAVEN(1981) and Chris Guest's A MIGHTY WIND (though much less offbeat than those other four)have quite a lot of appeal for me. I guess I am more a fan of musicals than I first thought...


CitizenRobots said...

Did you watch Meet Me in St. Louis yet?

This one is a super chick pick, but I still love My Fair Lady even though Audrey Hepburn is grossly miscast in it. Cukor just does a lovely job making that movie look so good.


Rupert Pupkin said...

Started to watch St. Louis a week or so ago and couldn't get into it. Need to give it a proper watch. My Fair Lady is one I grew up with and it still pretty funny. "Get me to the church on time" can get caught on a loop in my head I must admit...

deadlydolls said...

Funny, cause I was just having this same discussion with my fella and he said almost the same thing about Make 'Em Laugh. I love it partially BECAUSE it's so forced and it fits with the theme ("slip on a banana peel the world's at your feet!"). A fine list, and not just cause it has The Muppet Movie!

A few more I'd add:

Dancer In the Dark
The Happiness of the Katakuris
Jesus Christ Superstar
South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut
Moulin Rouge
A Chorus Line (even though it's nothing compared to the stage experience)
Rappin (just kidding...not really)

Rupert Pupkin said...

you know I think you're on the mark about Make Em Laugh actually. Had kind of forgotten how it plays in the context of the film. Still bothers me but I can see how it make sense. Rappin' nice! Almost put Breakin in my honorable mentions but there's not much singing is there? ooh what about Krush Groove?!(Just kidding)

Jennythenipper said...

The Muppet Movie! Yay. I also love The Great Muppet Caper because it has the awesome parody of an Esther Williams pool sequence with Miss Piggy and Charles Grodin singing split screen. But Muppet treasure Island is my favorite. The songs, the script, all of it is great. I know, I know it's post-Jim Hensons Muppets, but it still rocks.

I'd probably have Mary Poppins instead of B&B. I saw that recently and realized how completely derivative of MP the songs are.

I'd definitely have to put West Side Story and South Pacific on any list....

Gosh this is a great meme. I'll have to think on it some more...

Rupert Pupkin said...

There's a lot I like in the Great Muppet Caper. Especially the scenes where they are cross-cutting between Grodin and his team prepping for the heist and the Muppets prepping. Laugh every time at that. I'm not sure I've seen Muppet Treasure Island! Meant to show my son years ago.
I totally understand the Mary Poppins pick. It's close call for me. The songs are certainly better(I mean "Eglentine, Eglentine oh how we'll shine" ain't the most profound lyric I've ever heard). I think nostalgia wins out for B&B for me. Just seen it more and love the combo of animation and live action was the first I'd seen of that as a kid).
I know it's shameless, but I'm just not a West Side Story fan...*ducks*

deadlydolls said...

The Muppets are so generational in more specific ways than I realized. I'm a diehard Muppets Take Manhattan fan, but that's cause I was born in '82 so it was the most accessible for me personally. I'm so not a fan of The Muppet Treasure Island, but I saw it at the age of 16 or so when I wanted to edgier jokes and couldn't really tolerate a blatant kids movie.

Rewatching the Muppet Movie a few months back (at an outdoor screening with was AMAZING), I fell totally in love with that one again. The songs are so darn witty! And I was singing 'Moving Right Along for about a week.

Rupert Pupkin said...

yeah Paul Williams really solidly knocks it out of the park with the songs for the Muppet Movie. They are so well done. We saw it as a family at this outdoor screening last summer and I was really struck by how great all those songs are. Muppet Treasure Island is moving up my queue...

JoeyBanks said...


Where's Bugsy Malone?

Paul Williams.

All those great songs.

Where's your heart boy?

JC (feeling like I've been ruped)

Zachary Kelley said...

I have a couple I have to add here. First off, Cabin in the Sky. Great songs and a great cast even if the antiquated portrayal of African Americans is a bit strange for the modern viewer. The Commitments has also been a longtime favorite of mine as well as the Beatles' Help! If I could wedge I'm Not There (or Don't Look Back) in I probably would. The one film I can't believe no one has brought up is Rocky Horror.

Now I'm not one for the theater experience on this one. I was thrilled when I could watch it at home with friends, but the Audience Participation doesn't matter to me as much al all those great tunes.

Oh, and Wild Zero. That should count too!

Rupert Pupkin said...

JoeyBanks- Can't believe I left out BUGSY MALONE! That should be somewhere in there or just outside the top 20. Love the film!

T.L-Haven't seen Cabin in the Sky. The Commitments is certainly an admirable choice as is HELP. Need to see HELP again, been a while. I also need to see WILD ZERO! Looks cool.

As for ROCKY HORROR, it's kinda like WEST SIDE STORY in that I'm just not a fan. In fact, I kind of detest it(no offense). My hatred is probably a little unfair as I haven't viewed the film in quite a while. Not sure when I'll revisit, but as with many films, it deserves another look from me.

Rupert Pupkin said...

Just adjusted the last paragraph to at least make mention of BUGSY MALONE. Can't believe I left that off! Just got it on Blu-Ray about a month ago!

Ned Merrill said...


LOVE ME TONIGHT is absolutely brilliant and one of my favorite musicals and films of the '30s. I envy you for getting to watch it for the first time. Mamoulian's use of sound is pioneering, there's no getting around it and I guarantee you will have "Isn't It Romantic" running through your heard for days afterwards.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is a favorite and I've never had a problem myself with "Make 'Em Laugh"--always made me do just that, but I can respect your issues with it.

JoeyBanks said...

Rock on Rupert.

I'll get Knuckles on the phone and tell him to call the boys off.


Sorry for the delayed response. I have a brain cloud.

Zachary Kelley said...

No offense taken Rupe. Rocky Horror is not everyone's cup of tea, but I think it's unfortunate that the phenomemon around the film has colored so many people's opinion of it. Check it out again. Forget about all the hooplah, and I think you'll find you at least detest it less.

Rupert Pupkin said...

I will have to check out Rocky Horror again at some point. You may be right about it. I can certainly attest to the fact that all the hoopla has hurt the film a bit for me. I am fascinated by the phenomenon of cult films in general, that is just one cult I've never gotten into.