Ryan Gosling paid tribute to Debbie Reynolds at the Palm Spring Gala, recalling the cast of "La La Land" watching "Singin' in the Rain" for inspiration. It would be unfair to cite Reynolds's bleeding feet after rehearsing with Gene Kelly for hours, which wouldn't be imaginable nowadays. Damien Chazelle's love letter to MGM would be seen in "La La Land", and Reynolds was part of that dream factory. Those who were unfamiliar with Reynolds's filmography should find a copy of "I Love Melvin", which was released a year after "Singin' in the Rain". The then-teenage star shared top billings with Donald O'Connor, who also appeared in "Rain". This Don Weis musical was full of youthful exuberance, and Central Park was a silent witness to their budding romance. MGM honchos knew Reynolds and O'Connor would make a great screen couple after "Singin' in the Rain". Was it the greatest musical ever made? It would depend on the fans.
Alan Crosland's "The Jazz Singer" (1927) coincided with the last days of the silent film era and the advent of the talkies, with Al Jolson delivering a poignant performance. (Jolson was the titular character who was torn between professional success and his Jewish tradition.) Some would see it as the representative of the musical during the 1920s while others won't think twice about including it in the esteemed list. It won't be the case with the following films:
The Gold Diggers of 1933 (1930s). Many would remember "The Wizard of Oz", which catapulted Judy Garland into stardom. Her deep voice was filled with innocence and warmth, which defined this musical fantasy motion picture. But this adaptation of Avery Hopwood's play stood out for several reasons. The title referred to a quartet of aspiring actresses who wanted to escape the Great Depression. Mervyn LeRoy may have directed a deliberately-paced musical, which don't have a dull moment. The lithe elements weren't missing at all, though. This was a momentary escape from the harsh reality until the final production number was a reminder of why audience flocked to the theaters (to see this film).
On the Town (1940s). It was hard to find fault in this energetic musical, about a troika of sailors who took a leave from their duties. New York offered everything (including their possible loves of their lives). The screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden had that wisecrack attitude, which tickled the audience. Gene Kelly found the perfect company in Frank Sinatra, Ann Miller, and Betty Garrett. They could sing, they could dance, and they could tell good jokes.
The Band Wagon (1950s). Fred Astaire was perfect in the role of an aging performer hoping for a comeback, and how a young dancer became a blessing from heaven. Cyd Charisse had a memorable turn (with Gene Kelly) in "Singin' in the Rain", and this one was her first starring role in a musical. She exceeded expectations, showing that she was as good as her veteran partner.
The Sound of Music (1960s). Robert Wise's adaptation of the play, which was based on Maria von Trapp's memoir, had its faults. Then again, it was hard to dislike the soundtrack. Julie Andrews was like the morning sun, which could cheer anyone. Ask Wednesday Addams.
All That Jazz (1970s). Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical musical may be too dark for Academy voters, but this defined the troubled decade. There was no doubt about his reputation (of how difficult he was to work with), but people loved a successful outcome. And this one was blazing with fire. It turned out that Fosse had an illness, and his days were numbered. What could be a better way to end the show with a big bang?
Victor Victoria (1980s). If camp (and mean stuff) would be your thing, then Frank Oz's remake of "Little Shop of Horrors" would be your favorite musical from the 1980s. If you're a diehard Grease fan, then you could tolerate the sequel. But Julie Andrews and Robert Preston were too good in this caper.
The Lion King (1990s). This was far from the Broadway musical, yet this ended up on the big stage. It was probably the most original Disney film in decades, but the soundtrack did it. You could cavort at one moment, and then put yourself in a pensive mood. Disney knew Shakespeare too well.
Dancer in the Dark (2000s). Lars von Trier indicted the American judicial system on the big screen, but all was lost in those spellbinding song-and-dance numbers. Music, which was supposed to uplift the audience, would turn them into hapless witness to a great tragedy.
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