The rise and fall of Hol­ly­wood mu­si­cals

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Arts - jmey­ers@hearst­medi­act­post.com; Twit­ter: @joesview Joe Mey­ers

Film critic and his­to­rian John DiLeo dug deep into the his­tory and evo­lu­tion of the Hol­ly­wood mu­si­cal in a re­turn en­gage­ment to the Palace Theatre in Dan­bury.

DiLeo’s Jan­uary ap­pear­ance, which cov­ered mul­ti­ple movie gen­res, was so pop­u­lar that the venue in­vited him back for an evening de­voted to the movie mu­si­cal. The Palace part­nered with Hearst’s Movie & A Mar­tini pro­gram for the event, which drew about 100 movie buffs.

The critic fo­cused on the orig­i­nal mu­si­cals that flour­ished from the 1930s through the late 1950s.

“In the 1960s the orig­i­nal mu­si­cal faded out and was re­placed by big- bud­get ver­sions of re­cent Broad­way hits,” DiLeo said of the three best picture Os­car winners, “West Side Story” ( 1961), “My Fair Lady” ( 1964) and “The Sound of Mu­sic” ( 1965). The pop­u­lar­ity of those three pictures led to a se­ries of ex­pen­sive duds — “Camelot” ( 1967) and “The Song of Nor­way” ( 1970), among them — that more or less finished off the genre, the critic pointed out.

“You’ve had an oc­ca­sional hit since then — ‘ Grease’ ( 1978), ‘ Chicago’ ( 2002) — but there are few mu­si­cals be­ing made to­day,” DiLeo said.

Orig­i­nal mu­si­cals took a big hit in the late 1950s and 1960s from the rise of va­ri­ety TV pro­grams that brought for­mer mu­si­cal film stars such as Frank Si­na­tra, Judy Gar­land and Bing Crosby into peo­ple’s homes for free, the critic said. Block­buster Broad­way adap­ta­tions like “West Side Story” gave au­di­ences ma­te­rial they couldn’t see on TV.

DiLeo steered the au­di­ence in the di­rec­tion of some less well­known mu­si­cals in the clips he se­lected, in­clud­ing a tan­ta­liz­ing glimpse from the 1932 “Love Me Tonight” which he called “the first great mu­si­cal.”

Di­rected by Rouben Mamou- lian, the film co- stars Mau­rice Che­va­lier and Jeanette MacDon­ald ( the lat­ter be­fore she teamed up with Nel­son Eddy for a se­ries of sen­ti­men­tal mu­si­cals that were widely par­o­died even at the time of their re­lease). As DiLeo pointed out, there is great charm in the long “Isn’t It Ro­man­tic?” num­ber which is sung by a wide ar­ray of char­ac­ters in the movie be­fore MacDon­ald picks it up and fin­ishes the song.

As mu­si­cals be­came more elab­o­rate, the songs were gen­er­ally pre- recorded so that many takes of a com­pli­cated num­ber could be filmed with­out wear­ing out the per­form­ers’ voices. “Love Me Tonight” fea­tured live record­ing of the singing as well as the di­a­logue, giv­ing it a fresh feel­ing that has held up for more than 80 years.

DiLeo showed a clip from “The Pa­jama Game” ( 1957), fea­tur­ing Doris Day, and talked about how the wind­ing down of mu­si­cals in the late 1950s steered the star in the di­rec­tion of “Pil­low Talk” ( 1959) and the other ro­man­tic come­dies she made in the 1960s.

The critic opened the Dan­bury pro­gram with a col­lec­tion of bloop­ers that made it into the fi­nal prints of ma­jor films, in­clud­ing a boy in the back­ground of a shot who puts his hands up to his ears be­fore Eva Marie Saint shoots blanks at Cary Grant in “North by North­west” ( 1959).

“Hitch­cock must have done sev­eral takes be­fore he got what he wanted. The boy must have been tired of hear­ing that gun go off,” DiLeo said.

The au­di­ence saw sev­eral ex­am­ples of con­ti­nu­ity er­rors in ma­jor mu­si­cals, in­clud­ing Cyd Charisse’s out­fit chang­ing from shot to shot in a clip from “Silk Stock­ings” — she goes from a skirt to cu­lottes and then back again dur­ing the course of one dance se­quence. An­other mu­si­cal num­ber in­cluded a amus­ing glimpse of a crew mem­ber think­ing he was pass­ing un­no­ticed be­hind the singing and danc­ing cho­rus.

“It was an­other great pro­gram,” Palace Theatre man­ager Carol Spiegel said af­ter the show. “We hope to bring John back again.”

MGM/ Con­trib­uted photo

The 1957 Fred As­taire and Cyd Charisse movie “Silk Stock­ings” was one of the mu­si­cals ex­am­ined by critic John DiLeo in his sec­ond Hol­ly­wood his­tory pro­gram at the Palace Theatre in Dan­bury.

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