#111 Singin’ in the Rain

Watched: June 10 2017

Director: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen

Year: 1952

Runtime: 1h 43min

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A musical classic which we, like probably most of you, have seen numerous times before, there’s nothing not to love about Singin’ in the Rain. In the late twenties, silent movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont (Kelly and Hagen, respectively) have to make the transition into talkies or fade into obscurity.

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And these guys ain’t ready for fadin’!

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They have one problem though – Lina Lamont has the most grating, annoying voice in history, and an accent which in no way matches her glamourous image. The solution: get aspiring actress and Don’s love interest Kathy Selden (Reynolds) to dub all of Lina’s dialogue and singing, against the star’s wishes.

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Unfortunately, the two women didn’t exactly get off to a good start

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With the help of the studio heads and sidekick Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), Don and Kathy create a success with their musical version of the silent stinker Don and Lina were supposed to put out.

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And they sing and dance their way through the process!

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Gene Kelly is, as always, amazing, as are Reynolds and O’Connor. The romance between Don and Kathy is very sweet – after the initial bickering which all film romances must go through, they are actually adorable together. Meanwhile, Cosmo’s snarky one-liners, cheerful disposition and fantastic physical comedy and dance moves make him the ultimate sidekick.

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Pictured: the real romance

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We love the musical numbers, the many many films within the film, the discrepancy between the stories Don tells the media vs. the real version of events, the physical comedy and basically everything about this film. It’s just a magical experience which will make you happy no matter what, and if it doesn’t you might need to see a doctor because you have no heart and you’re probably dead inside.

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This film is even better for curing the blues than pictures of puppies. Trust us – we’ve done a study

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What we learned: There’s nothing like a good behind-the-sofa fight scene and a great dance number!

Next time: Duck Amuck (1953)

#106 An American in Paris

Watched: May 14 2017

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, Nina Foch

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 53min

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An American in Paris marks a return to the wonderful world of musicals, and it’s a great one at that. Jerry Mulligan (Kelly), an American ex-soldier and aspiring painter, has taken up residence in Paris after the war ended. While his accommodations are small, IKEA has nothing on this guy’s smart living solutions, and he spends his time sleeping, painting and trying to sell his work in the streets of the city.

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His low sales numbers might be attributed to him berating and insulting potential customers

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He also spends time with his pianist neighbour Adam Cook (Levant) and the latter’s associate, singer Henri Baurel (Guétary), and together the three dance with adorable old ladies and talk about their lack of success. In between all these fine activities, Jerry also makes time to teach local kids English through the medium of song and dance.

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An elaborate dance routine really is the only way to teach kids these days

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Mulligan finds himself a sugar mama in Milo Roberts (Foch) who promises to make him a household name, but falls in love with Lise Bouvier (Caron) who, unbeknownst to Jerry, is already engaged to marry Henri. Complications ensue, but so too do magnificent dance numbers.

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Making the most out of the fact that it was filmed in colour

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There are so many great scenes in this film, such as the introduction of Lise with the different sides to her shown through dance, the old lady Kelly dances with in the café, and of course the grand finale which we cannot even begin to describe. We have an affinity for musicals, especially ones with great dance numbers, and so this one was right up our alley.

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We also have a weakness for serial killer thrillers, so were ever so slightly disappointed when they both survived their first date by the river in the fog…

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The story itself is fine, although it might just be an excuse to throw in some truly excellent dance scenes. That hardly matters though because the musical scenes are well worth the ticket price alone (in our case, borrowing a free DVD at the library – thank you social democracy!), and we’ve found new ways to enjoy another favourite pastime – reading books.

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It really is the only way to read

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…except for this way, of course

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If you like dancing, music, Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, romance, snarky pianists, fantastic costumes, clever solutions to small living spaces, or just interesting new ways of doing everyday activities, look no further than An American in Paris. It really does have it all.

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Yes, fountain lovers – there’s even something in there for you

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What we learned: When you ain’t got any money it takes on a curious significance.

Next time: Strangers on a Train (1951)

#50b Dance, Girl, Dance

Watched: February 11 2017

Director: Dorothy Arzner

Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Lucille Ball, Ralph Bellamy, Louis Hayward

Year: 1940

Runtime: 1h 30min

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We’re going back in time to catch up on a recent addition to the list, and what a great addition! Judy O’Brian (O’Hara) is an ambitious young club dancer with ballet dreams. However, when she goes to a meeting with Steve Adams (Bellamy) to audition for the American Ballet Company, she sees the professional dancers and is intimidated by their (very impressive) skills. Thus, she runs out before seeing Adams.

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And it’s back to do the hula for horny men

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Adams leaves his office at the same time and tries out his smooth umbrella game on Judy, but is brutally rebuffed. She goes back to the apartment she shares with a fellow dancer and they are visited by Bubbles, aka Tiger Lily White, (Ball) – a former dancer in their troupe who has made a name for herself in Burlesque. She is looking for more girls and hires Judy as a stooge – she is to dance ballet during breaks in Bubbles’ set to rile up the men who have not paid to see art.

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These people paid good money for a striptease and she doesn’t even have the decency to wear a short tutu!

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As if Judy’s life isn’t complicated enough, she also starts dating Jimmy Harris (Hayward) – a rich drunkard who is still in love with his ex-wife. When Bubbles finds out she goes after Jimmy herself, and the humiliation of her job, Bubbles’ insensitivity and her crushed ballet dreams culminate to enrage the so far kind and sensitive Judy.

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The audience finally gets their money’s worth when a cat fight ensues

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After an amazing speech to the leering audience, Judy gets into it with Bubbles who, after initially playing the outraged victim, reconciles with her fellow dancer and with herself. As for Judy, she has another encounter with Adams and things are definitely looking up.

Dance, Girl, Dance was a great addition to the list. It has strong female characters and great dance scenes – two things we absolutely love. The fact that this is the first film with a female director comes across as well (although there are of course male directors who can write and direct women – we’re not trying to be sexist here). The issues addressed in the film are interesting coming from a female perspective, and Dorothy Arzner handles the lives of dancing girls in the ’40s with a slightly different take than Busby Berkeley. Great dance movie – great movie!

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Also, nearly as many legs as in Dames!

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What we learned: is it worth sacrificing one’s dignity for fame and money? Also, a double feature night of Dance, Girl, Dance and Split (2016) leads to strange dreams of James McAvoy as a ballet dancer…

P.S. Confused about numbering? Check out this handy disclaimer!

Next time: Out of the Past (1947)

#60 Road to Morocco

Watched: November 27 2016

Director: David Butler

Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Dona Drake, Anthony Quinn

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 22min

Note: see note for Cat People. Yup, she was still gone.

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After their ship blows up, two stowaways find themselves on a raft discussing who will eat who first. Luckily, before it comes down to that, they find land and a very friendly camel to take them to Morocco. Yay camels!

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You haven’t lived until you’ve sung a song on the back of a camel. Fact!

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They arrive in a very Arabian Nights-inspired Morocco, complete with princess in distress and violent locals, where they get  up to all sorts of zany antics including, but not limited to, selling each other into slavery. Ah – men, am I right?

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At least, this particular form of slavery consisted of courting a beautiful princess. As far as human trafficking is concerned, it could be a lot worse.

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Once Jeffrey (Crosby) finds out the exact nature of the work he sold Orville’s (Hope) into, he inserts himself into the lives of the newly engaged couple to try to win princess Shalmar (Lamour) for himself. And he succeeds. Which is just as well, as Orville seems more interested in her handmaiden Mihirmah (Drake) anyway.

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Can’t imagine why

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Now, this is when things get really complicated for the two old friends. It turns out the princess is only interested in marrying Orville because a prophecy has foretold that her first husband will die after only a week of marriage, and she is really engaged to a local sheikh, Kasim (Quinn). However, the sheikh cannot compete with the natural charm and musical talents of Bing Crosby, and the princess decides to go with the penniless American instead. The sheikh does not take kindly…

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He doesn’t take kindly at all!

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He kidnaps the princess and her entourage, and leaves Jeff and Orville to die in the desert. It’s up to them to rescue their loves and save the day!

Road to Morocco is very silly, quite raunchy at times, and it breaks the fourth wall masterfully. There’s dancing, action, romance, and cool costumes as well as sometimes sweet, sometimes fun, musical numbers. A great hangover film for early Sunday afternoon. Or Tuesday morning. Whatever rubs your Buddha.

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We all know what he will be rubbing. Ooo – naughty!

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What we learned: make sure your telescope is clean before making life or death prophecies.

Next time: To Be or Not To Be (1942)

#55 Dumbo

Watched: October 30 2016

Director: Wilfred Jackson, Ben Sharpsteen, Jack Kinney, Sam Armstrong, Norman Ferguson, Bill Roberts, John Elliotte

Starring: Edward Brophy, Verna Felton, loads and loads of other voice actors

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 4min

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Poor Mrs Jumbo. She’s the only animal in the circus who’s not visited by the stork, and she’s very sad about it. But wait! The stork was only delayed due to its heavy burden. Hooray! But wait again! What’s going on? Is the elephant baby a freak? The other elephants certainly seem to think so on account of his massive ears. But Mrs Jumbo (where’s Mr Jumbo..?) disagrees – she thinks her child is beautiful and perfect. Thus goes the emotional roller coaster ride which is the opening of Dumbo.

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This may seem blissful now, but just you wait for the trauma that is about to come…

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Mrs Jumbo, fiercely protective of her son, is labelled insane (or, being female, probably hysterical) by the circus owners after attacking some kids who made fun of Dumbo, and she’s sent to solitary confinement, leaving the young infant to fend for himself as the other (very elitist) elephants will have nothing to do with the freak.

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Bitchy, gossipy elephants: many an innocent child’s first exposure to bullying

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Luckily for Dumbo, Timothy Q. Mouse, a mouse(!), takes pity on him and becomes his mentor/manager, trying to get him a good position in the circus show. Which doesn’t go so well. However, after a drunken night complete with pink, dancing elephants, the two (along with some very culturally insensitive, but historically interesting, crows) discover Dumbo’s secret power – his enormous ears are perfect for flying, and they become the salvation of both Dumbo and Mrs Jumbo. Yay!

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Though technically, those ears should have been the death of them all, so science tells us…

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Despite the traumatizing event of Mrs Jumbo being sent to solitary, this is a sweet film about learning to accept your faults, and finding that what makes you weird may also be your biggest asset. We love the “Pink Elephants on Parade” scene (which made us wonder just how many drugs were involved in making this film, and in which quantities) as well as the way Dumbo holds on to the mouse’s tail and follows him around when his mother is no longer around. Perfect Sunday viewing, especially if you have children (or if you can borrow one as an alibi..).

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“You’re my mommy now!”

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What we learned: look out for Mr Stork! Seriously – avoid that bastard.

Next time: Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

#48 The Wizard of Oz

Watched: October 02 2016

Director: Victor Fleming, Mervyn LeRoy, King Vidor, George Cukor, Norman Taurog (clearly, it takes a village…)

Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton, Billie Burke, the Munchkins

Year: 1939

Runtime: 1h 42min

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Really? Do you really need a recap of this? OK, fine, let’s sum it up.

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Girl kills woman and takes her shoes as trophy (in her defense, they’re very pretty)

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Girl goes on adventure/quest with new friends

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Girl is chased by mutant minions of sister of first murder victim. She goes on to also kill the sister.

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Her enemies now slain, the pink, poofy witch finally lets girl go home to her own family

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We love it!

What we learned: there’s no place like home. Also, we do NOT trust that smug bitch Glinda.

Next time: Fantasia (1940)

#40 Top Hat

Watched: September 28 2016

Director: Mark Sandrich

Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Eric Blore

Year: 1935

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Jerry Travers (Astaire), an American dancer and Broadway star, is bringing his talent to Britain. Producer Horace Hardwick (Horton) and his wife Madge (Broderick) have a plan that their newly imported star should be married (and Madge has an idea as to who his wife should be), but Travers politely disagrees. So of course he falls in love. With the downstairs neighbour Dale Tremont (Rogers) who he annoys by tap dancing on her roof before he drowns her in flowers and sort of kidnaps her. This being an old-timey romantic musical screwball comedy though, he does these things in a very charming and endearing way

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“In dealing with a girl or horse, one just lets nature take its course” – actual quotation

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Their romance is complicated further when Dale (who incidentally is the Jerry’s intended wife) mistakes Jerry for Horace and believes him to be married to her friend Madge. She goes off to Venice with designer Alberto Beddini to meet up with the “betrayed” wife, followed by the admirably dedicated valet Bates (Blore – our favourite).

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“May we take your hat, your coat, and stalk your crush for you, sir?”

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After the very successful opening night performance, Travers and Hardwick charter a plane to Venice themselves, and Tremont decides to play a trick on her “dishonourable” suitor, which backfires horribly and leaves her even more confused. However, this being a comedy, it all works out in the end (thanks to Bates).

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“Thank God Beddini and I never got around to actually…dancing.”

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The plot is farcical and frustrating but it has its moments, some of them laugh-out-loud. Top Hat has an excellent cast of characters – mainly Madge Hardwick and Bates, both of whom we now adore and want to spend our lives with. The real reasons to watch the film though, are the spectacular dance numbers and the amazing costumes. If you like that sort of thing. And let’s face it – who doesn’t.

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Ah – bliss!

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What we learned: For the girls – the kiss. For the men – the sword! Also, SILENCE! Must be observed in the club rooms.

Next time: Modern Times (1936)

#34 Dames

Watched: September 5 2016

Director: Busby Berkeley & Ray Enright

Starring: Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Ezra Ounce (Herbert) has got it going on. He’s rich, eccentric (but he can afford to be), and he has a purpose in life: to raise American morals and more specifically, get rid of Broadway shows. He decides to give his sister and brother-in-law $10 million on the condition that they live up to his standards of “clean living” and help him with his foundation.

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“We need to get rid of the filth that is cleaning ladies who actually enjoy their work!”

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Alas, Ounce’s niece Barbara (Keeler) and his more distant relative Jimmy (Powell) have already fallen to The Theatre (and for each other) and are busy putting on a production which Ounce decides to sabotage. However, star of the show Mabel (Blondell – who also steals the show in the film) has dirt on Barbara’s father Horace (Kibbee) and blackmails him into financing the show.

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Never has a man been more mortified at finding a half naked burlesque girl in his bed. His views do in no way represent the views of the studio or the producers.

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Eventually, the Ounce Foundation for the Elevation of American Morals attend the opening night of Jimmy’s musical and, unwittingly drunk on Dr. Silver’s Golden Elixir, enjoy every minute of it, causing them to change their views on both Jimmy and Broadway shows.

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Strange how scantily clad dames have that effect on sexually frustrated middle aged men

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In many ways, this seems like the most honest of the Berkeley musicals we’ve seen. “The Girl at the Ironing Board” is an unabashed male fantasy of the perfect woman whose happiest times are cleaning men’s clothes, and in the titular number “Dames” they’re not even trying to pretend that the selling point for all these films is anything other than the pretty dames. Still, we enjoyed it a lot although, in our opinion, Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933 had slightly better musical numbers.

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But fewer beds on stage, so we’ll call this a win.

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What we learned: what do we go for? Beautiful dames!

Next time: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

#30 Gold Diggers of 1933

Watched: September 4 2016

Director:  Mervyn LeRoy & Busby Berkeley (choreography)

Starring: Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 37min

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“We’re in the Money,” a big Broadway number, is in rehearsal when creditors come and repossess the props, costumes and pretty much everything but the girls themselves. This is the ironic opening of yet another fabulous Busby Berkeley musical.

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As well as another excuse to feature semi-naked ladies

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Yet again, the plot revolves around Broadway productions and in this one, the producer has everything he needs to put on a great show, except money. He visits the apartment of three showgirls (the titular “gold diggers”) to discuss the prospects with them and hears a composer playing the piano through an open window. The composer, Brad (Powell), is the sweetheart of one of the showgirls, Polly (Keeler), and he offers to put up $15 000 for the production on the condition that Polly gets a leading role. He himself is hired as a composer but refuses to be a stage performer.

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“This face would never do on stage!”

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Complications arise, and as Brad is forced to perform on opening night his real identity as a member of a prominent Boston family is revealed. As his older brother J. Lawrence Bradford (William) learns of his activities and his intentions to marry a showgirl, he interferes and threatens to cut him off from his inheritance if he does not leave her. However, when the brother goes to Polly’s apartment to buy her off, he meets fellow dancer Carol (Blondell) instead and mistakes her for Polly. After he thoroughly insults her and third flatmate Trixie (MacMahon), as well as their careers, they decide to take him and his lawyer for a ride.

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“Sisters before misters, bitches!”

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The two girls take the men out, tricking them into paying for all sorts of extravagant things along the way. Naturally, they do a Pride and Prejudice (1813), and Bradford falls for Carol despite her “low breeding” and unseemly profession.

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Them dancin’ legs will take you far, however cheap and vulgar your future husband finds you

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After the happy ending is resolved (with no less than three weddings, in proper Shakespearean fashion) the big musical numbers hit the stage. And my god, what numbers! “The Shadow Waltz” features glow-in-the-dark violins and some truly remarkable skirts and is amazing to watch.

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How convenient that all showgirls are also masterful violinists

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However, the true showstopper is the spectacular “Remember my Forgotten Man” which completely blew us away. If you have no interest in musicals and no intention of watching this film, then at least do yourself a favour and check out this number. You won’t be sorry.

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This picture does not even begin to do it justice

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Another new favourite which solidifies our newfound love of Busby Berkeley.

What we learned: always bring a can opener to a date.

Next time: King Kong (1933)

#29 Footlight Parade

Watched: September 3 2016

Director: Lloyd Bacon & Busby Berkeley (choreography)

Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 43min

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We reiterate: we cannot put into words our newfound love of Busby Berkeley, and we cannot believe it took us this long to find out about him. Thank you, Mr Wright!

Chester Kent (Cagney) is a musical director who is quickly becoming obsolete with the rising popularity of talkies. In addition, his wife wants a divorce, but this doesn’t seem to faze him significantly.

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Who needs a wife when you can have all this?

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He changes his business venture into producing musical “prologues” for movies, dealing with creative exhaustion, corrupt business partners, rival spies and romantic complication along the way. When secretary Nan’s (Blondell) old frenemy Vivian decides to crash at her place, Kent is duped by her perceived worldliness into giving her a job and a marriage proposal, much to the chagrin of Nan who is deeply in love with her boss.

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Luckily, Nan is a saucy minx who knows how to divert his attention away from Vivian

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In order to save the business, Kent and his company need to wow cinema mogul Apolinaris with three spectacular shows to play in all his cinemas, but a rival company has infiltrated the chorus and all their ideas are being stolen. It’s pretty much Bring It On (2000) with better costumes and more sensational routines.

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There’s also a production of Cats before it was cool

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In addition to the main story, there’s a sub-plot romance between secretary-cum-leading lady Bea (Keeler) and juvenile lead Scotty (Powell) which is very sweet, but not that important to the overall plot.

In the end, we are treated to three fantastic Berkeley numbers: “Honeymoon Hotel,” with lots of innuendo; “By a Waterfall,” which features some amazing water scenes; and our personal favourite (mainly for the music) “Shanghai Lil,” in which Cagney himself stars.

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We are beginning to suspect that these films were all a flimsy, high-budget excuse to feature scantily clad ladies, though

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Despite some casual racism, “Shanghai Lil” amazing!

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Like 42nd Street, you can watch this for the story and performances (which we personally thought were slightly better in Footlight Parade), the banter and jokes, or just for the truly spectacular dance numbers. Either way, they should both definitely go on your to-do list. We’re off to watch Gold Diggers of 1933, and we can’t wait!

What we learned: As long as there are sidewalks, we have a job.

Next time: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, surprisingly enough)