Sunday, February 15, 2009

Best musical -- ever!

Our local PBS affiliate likes to run classic movies on Saturday nights, a clever counter-programming trick to attract the older more educated demographic and build loyalty for the inevitable Pledge Night.

Last night’s pairing was two musical comedies of the 1950s directed by Stanley Donen. The 2nd feature was the 1951 film Royal Wedding, a nice piece of fluff with Fred Astaire pretending to be 10 years younger and the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II providing a backdrop of pageantry in lieu of fancy sets. Apparently it was so unimportant that the owners let the copyright lapse (shades of It’s a Wonderful Life) as there are at least 7 different copies available for sale via Amazon.

However, the highlight of the evening was Singing in the Rain, the 1952 film with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. At 40, Kelly’s dancing skills were probably at their finest, it was Reynolds’ first major break, and the vast resources of MGM were never better utilized.

I remember watching a documentary on Kelly which explained that — unbeknownst to Kelly — this would be the apogee of his career. Although he had recovered from his artistically ambitious (and commercially disastrous) An American in Paris, both Kelly and the musical would never again be as important with the MGM studio or Hollywood as a whole.

It had been a long time since I saw the movie and I’m not sure I’d ever seen it front to back. It really is as close to perfection as any musical ever was, with memorable songs, terrific dance numbers, and beautiful choreography.

I was thus not surprised to see that it was the only musical in the top 10 films in the American Film Institute’s 1998 compilation of the 100 best films ever. In fact, it’s the only one in the top 30, and one of only two (the other being West Side Story) in the top 50.

My daughter wasn’t home to watch it, but it’s the sort of inspirational fun story — with catchy tunes — that I know she would love. I’m planning on buying it to share with her, in part because I think it might tip her into signing up for musical theater next year in school.

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