Christmas and New Year usually brings forth a spate of list programmes; 100 greatest comedians, 10 best kids shows of all time, most awkward bloopers etc etc. But the cuts ran deep this year, so we got re-runs – behold the lists of Christmas past!
One of these pretty crappy shows is ‘100 Greatest Musicals”. Oh goody, I thought, I love musicals, because I had developed temporary amnesia and forgotten how monotonous and uninspired this show was when I watched it last year. This particular list favours the schmaltz fests of the fifties, the light opera toffee tin confections peopled by Julie Andrews and Howard Keel. Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bambi Lynn, brrrrr. My theory is that if Lloyd Webber builds a reality TV show around it (Jesus Christ Superstar, Sound of Music and yes, Wizard of Oz), it is dead in the water.
To my mind musicals have to embrace the impossible, or have a damn good sense of humour. A dream cast for me is Dick Powell (insane to think that he ran two parallel personas; song and dance man and Phillip Marlowe. Eat your heart out, Jackman!), Astaire/Rogers, Marilyn Monroe….and musicals should be off their tits bonkers, without question. The sublime and the ridiculous. So, as an antidote to Channel 4’s vacuum packed twee fest, here’s my top 3 bizarro musical moments.
Number 3: Most Ludicrous Cameo: Harriet Hoctor in Shall We Dance (1937).
Rarely has a moment been more shoe-horned into a film.
By this point, the poor viewer has been forced to accept that Astaire is a classically trained ballet dancer in an impression about as convincing as mine of Kofi Annan. He sort of vaguely whirls around and looks lofty, falls in love with Ginger, falls out of love and then creates a ballet about her. And then, without warning (about a minute and half in on this clip) comes this:
Needless to say, bendy toe-dancing did not have the cultural impact of the Charleston or twist. Perhaps because of its difficulty but more likely because it looks ridiculous. I dare you to break it our next time you’re on the dance floor.
Number 2: Most unsettling viewing experience: Lullaby of Broadway from Gold Diggers of 1935.
I love misreading prescription labels. It allows me to accidentally overdose on antibiotics and have dreams like this:
Vertiginous angles and PVC shorts. Dick Powell’s gurning face adds to the disturbia like a clown doll in a jumble sale. And am I right in thinking this is all a bit fascist?
Honourable mention: The freaky baby (played by Billy Barty) who pervs on the chorus girls in the Honeymoon Hotel number in Footlight Parade. Go see!
Number 1: Sheer lunacy: Ain’t there Anyone here for Love? from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
When I watch this film I make noises like Homer gargling waffles. It is my absolute clothes crush of all time. In the cold light of day, everything about the film is odd (including it’s outmoded misogynistic world-view, thank goodness). Particularly the dance routines, in which Marilyn and Jane Russell look like they are fighting their way out of a series of increasingly tight-fitting polo necks:
If you haven’t seen ‘Ain’t there Anyone Here for Love’, you must, if only to see Jane Russell repeatedly fail to score with a series of fey chorus men pretending to be Olympic athletes. They do fake dancey wrestling in flesh coloured pants and then Jane falls into a swimming pool. I repeat: I cannot urge you enough.
I think old musicals are film perfection. Critics say that they don’t make them any more because the viewing public are more sophisticated, cynical even, and we don’t accept the suspension of disbelief. Poppycock! If we really do view smarter now, how come producers keep casting Gerard Butler as a charismatic lead, something which takes a much bigger leap of faith for the cinemagoer? Nah, they don’t make them anymore because they know they can’t. Why try and improve on such bonkers perfection?
Please add any favourite bonkers musical moments that you have – I am all ears and eyes.