Only a few more hours to go—TCM Film Festival is nigh on the horizon. I’m thrilled to be attending the festival once again, and despite my miscalculation in predicting when the schedule would drop, I’m looking forward to attending as much as I can from their offerings. As I’ve done in past, I’ve collected all of the musicals playing this year’s festival, as it’s one of the first criteria I look at in choosing my schedule. The big screen experience improves pretty much any movie, but there’s nothing quite like seeing an opulent movie musical on a huge screen, with sound blasting, and an enthusiastic audience alongside you.
A few of these, I recognize, are a bit debatable in terms of calling them true “musicals.” But I’m taking what I can get, and including here pretty much anything that fits even the loosest definition. Do the characters sing in it? Then it’s a musical.
The Producers (1968)
6:30pm, TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX
If you were lucky enough to snag an Essential or Spotlight pass, you’re pretty much obligated to attend this—the Opening Night Gala—which will boast director Mel Brooks in attendance (in addition to nobodies Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese). In this classic comedy, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder attempt to swindle investors by producing a play that’s sure to fail: Springtime for Hitler, a “gay romp” complete with an SS officer goose-step/can-can and Busby Berkeley-esque overhead swastika dance formation. Though it still seems edgy today, it was even more so when the film came out—just 23 years after the end of World War II—but the over-the-top nature is effectively used to skewer audiences, the theatrical industry, and the nature of taboos.
The Merry Widow (1934)
9:00am, Egyptian Theatre
Based on an early 20th century operetta by Franz Lehar, The Merry Widow follows Jeanette MacDonald, who, after an appropriate period of mourning the death of her husband, is ready to kick off her dreary black robes and hit Paris in a spectacular array of feathers and ruffles. However, since she still owns the majority of land in her country, the king orders dashing officer Maurice Chevalier to woo her and lure her back home. Ernst Lubitsch directs with his signature wit, and while the musical numbers tend to focus on the leads’ singing prowess, dance numbers like the dizzying “Merry Widow Waltz” are a particular delight.
Three Smart Girls (1936)
5:00pm, Chinese Multiplex House 4
Deanna Durbin, Barbara Read, and Nan Grey star as the titular smart girls—three sisters determined to prevent their divorced dad from remarrying a scheming socialite. I approve of any movie where the entire premise can be tidily conveyed in a single promotional photo. Three Smart Girls was 14-year-old soprano Durbin’s first feature film, as she’d recently been scooped up by Universal after MGM let her contract option lapse. This is perhaps more a “movie with songs” than a true musical, but Universal certainly wasn’t going to let the investment on their new songbird go to waste.
Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
9:00am, Chinese Multiplex House 4
The fourth of the Hardy Family films, this incredibly realistic scenario finds Mickey Rooney balancing the advances of Lana Turner (in one of her first onscreen appearances), Ann Rutherford, and Judy Garland. This film was the second time Rooney and Garland appeared together, in what would later become a prolific onscreen partnership at MGM in films like Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), and Girl Crazy (1943). These later movies are probably better examples of classic movie musicals—jazzy ensemble songs, choreographed dance numbers, the works—but Garland still gets to show off her stuff a bit here.
Where the Boys Are (1960)
So, where are the boys? Apparently, they’re in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Connie Francis, Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, and Yvette Mimieux play college co-eds on the prowl; they eventually pair up with George Hamilton, Rory Harrity, Jim Hutton, and Frank “The Joker” Gorshin. The film somewhat awkwardly straddles the cultural divide of sexual politics at this time—though some of the girls are shown to be interested in sex, the film also punishes them quite harshly (especially poor Mimieux) in particularly regressive fashion.
9:30pm, Chinese Multiplex House 1
Leslie Caron stars as Gigi, a young courtesan-in-training in turn-of-the-century Paris. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, Gigi was probably the last of the great MGM/Freed Unit musicals, appearing late in the cycle in 1958. The film also stars Louis Jordan as Gigi’s big brother figure/eventual lover, and Maurice Chevalier as one of cinema’s most iconic appreciators of little girls.
Silk Stockings (1957)
3:30pm, Chinese Multiplex House 1
Did you think Ninotchka was all right, but didn’t have enough song-and-dance numbers? Well, good news. Silk Stockings features Cyd Charisse as the straight-faced Russian operative Ninotchka, tasked with bringing home her bumbling comrades from dazzling Paris. In classic musical remake fashion, the story’s been shifted a bit to allow them to “put on a show”—instead of Melvyn Douglas’ Count, Fred Astaire plays a movie producer. Charisse and Astaire re-team here after 1953’s The Band Wagon, which closed out the festival for me in spectacular fashion in 2016. Music by Cole Porter.