Classic Musicals Round-Up

Viva Las Vegas (1964)

George Sidney directs Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret and Cesare Danove in this rock ‘n’ roll vehicle where a racing car driver falls for a pool manager.

Pretty inane, poppy and casually sexist. The best moments are when the whole things abandons the ramshackle plot and becomes an indulgent advert for the Nevada tourist board. Ann-Margaret looks fantastic, whether freaking out with her trademark manic shimmy or being objectified, but she clearly gets short shrift by the editing team… the best takes used are the ones where the stiff Elvis doesn’t shit the bed with his acting… often making her line readings seem ill prepared.


High Society (1956)

Charles Walters directs Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra in this musical retread of The Philadelphia Story with a lesser cast.

Pluses: Who Wants To Be a Millionaire dazzles and Louis Armstrong has a nice role as the Newport Jazz Festival equivalent of a Greek chorus. That aside this is all an update with very little improvement. You’d much rather watch Hepburn, Grant and Stewart. Too glossy to dismiss, too creaky to be fully seduced by. Celeste Holm does sweet work as Old Blue Eyes’ romantic consolation prize.


Meet Me In St Louis (1941)

Vincente Minnelli directs Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien and Mary Astor in this nostalgic musical looking at the Smith family’s ups-and-downs in the build up to world changing St Louis World Fair.

I’ve seen this before on the big screen but it actually works best cuddled up to the one you love with the radiators on full blast and hot drinks steaming in front of you. Judy Garland, aside from her luminous beauty and incomparable singing talent, represents modernity to me in all her films. The ones I’ve seen anyway. Sometimes, whether by tornado or trolley, the world moves a little too fast for her and we share her breathless wonder and excitement. Other times, usually because of stuffy men or awkward boys, society needs to catch up with her race of emotions and yearning. And in this optimistic flash backwards we get the best evidence of her unique place in Hollywood stardom. Meet Me in St Louis is both colourful lament to a passing of an era, and comforting embrace of a future then realised. The Trolley Song and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas are standards for good reason. There are sinister moments and enigmatic moments that don’t really belong in a barefaced family entertainment like this. Whether our anachronistic sensibilities over attune to them is for a viewer smarter than me to decide. All I know is that child star Margaret O’Brien’s portrayal of Tootie Smith is one of the most sociopathic performances outside of thrillers and horrors. The poppet is a candy voiced menace.


Kiss Me Kate (1955)

George Sidney directs Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ann Miller in this backstage musical about a troubled production of The Taming of the Shrew where the leads are a warring divorced pair of prima donnas.

One note and one joke, this often grates rather than dazzles. The dancing is wondrous when given room to breathe. Ann Miller sparkles as the brassy and talented support, her hoofing is pretty spectacular. Otherwise the humour and sexual politics of this have very much had their day.


Top Hat (1935)

Mark Sandrich directs Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Erik Rhodes in this Golden Age musical where a tap dancer’s late night exuberance entangles him with the fashion model who complains about the noise he is making upstairs, complications ensue.

Fred Astaire is a winning screen presence. Kinda like Stan Laurel took a magic potion that made him suave, confident and nimble footed. The innocence and quirky reactions are still there. His and Ginger Rogers chemistry is electric. The script here is witty frippery, standard farce stuff with taut running jokes. Contains Irving Berlin’s classic songs Cheek to Cheek and the title number. All the dance sequences are sublime with antique charm.


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