Cynthia (1947)

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Majorly adult themes like regret and loss take a teenage turn in Robert Z. Leonard’s 1947 film Cynthia, based on the play The Rich, Full Life by Viña Delmar. Mary Astor and George Murphy star as a set of parents who sacrificed their own young-adult ambitions for the sake of raising their sickly infant daughter, who, now at the cusp of adulthood herself (and played by Elizabeth Taylor), is beginning to bend after shouldering the weight of these sacrifices her entire life. This film is an interesting examination of the American teenager, which was a relatively new designation at this point in history, yet a natural story to be told.

James Stewart in Born to Dance (1936)

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Before Vertigo, before The Philadelphia Story, and before Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, James Stewart was, like so many actors of the time, an MGM contract player, toiling away in quickly churned-out comedies and romances for $350 a week.  Though he’d ultimately garner more acclaim for his later dramatic roles, Stewart also appeared in a handful of musicals in these early days—sometimes in smaller supporting roles, like as the fugitive brother in Rose Marie—but MGM was also testing him out as a leading man, harnessing his talents in musical features like Born to Dance. It’s a bit of a strange situation seeing Stewart hoofing it and belting out Cole Porter tunes, but with a cast that also includes Eleanor Powell, Una Merkel, and Buddy Ebsen, it’s a fun flick—albeit, perhaps, indicative of why Stewart didn’t ultimately pan out as a musical star.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)

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Baseball’s back in full swing, and as part of Forgotten Films‘ baseball blogathon, I’ve chosen to cover a very fun baseball movie that, admittedly, is perhaps not the most stellar example of actual gameplay: 1949’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It’s a fun, somewhat historical counterpoint to many baseball movies that choose to focus on real ball players or, you know, real ball games. But no matter, because what this one may lack in authenticity of sport, it more than makes up for in movie musical cred: it’s directed by Busby Berkeley, produced by Arthur Freed, with a story by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, and choreography by Gene himself. It’s also one of three glorious instances where we see Gene teamed up with Frank Sinatra, so, really, there’s not too much to complain about.

The Harvey Girls (1946)

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While I’m never really expecting to see Judy Garland involved in a bar brawl, or threateningly brandishing a pistol in each hand, I really wasn’t expecting to see it happen in The Harvey Girls, a wholesome 1946 musical based on the true story of a restauranteur’s trainside western empire. But that’s what happened, and I’m glad it did—as little surprises like this were part of what made the film charming, if a little creaky, to behold.

Words and Music (1948)

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Before Rodgers and Hammerstein, there was Rodgers and Hart: Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, that is, the popular Depression-era songwriting duo responsible for a bevy of songs now commonly accepted as American cultural currency—”Blue Moon,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” and “My Funny Valentine” included, among many others. Their sometimes prolific, sometimes turbulent partnership is the focus of the 1948 musical comedy, Words and Music, starring Tom Drake as Rodgers and Mickey Rooney as Hart. Though many of their most famous songs embody a kind of wistful, depressive nature, and their partnership ended on uncertainly unhappy terms, this film is highly sanitized depiction, and really uses only the most basic elements of the real-life story. Any weaknesses in the plot, though, are ably enhanced by some fun dance numbers from an exceptional array of guest stars and cameos brought in to celebrate the pair.

Show Boat (1951)

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Despite being readily available on pretty much every format out there, I admit I’d been avoiding Show Boat, the 1951 film version of the stage musical, until now, when I’m running low on titles for my That’s Entertainment quest. It’s partly because I haven’t really been drawn to the musicals I’ve seen so far that are set around that time period—I think they require a certain level of nostalgia to stretch back into that time, which I don’t quite have—and I’d also read the brief description of the film, which signaled that I should be expecting some vintage, 1951 racial politics. That’s not something I seek to expose myself to on a typical basis, but I mustered onward for the sake of completion.

La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935)

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“La Fiesta de Santa Barbara” is a very colorful, very wacky musical comedy short from MGM, featuring a collection of many of their greatest stars at the time. It ostensibly takes place at a Spanish/Mexican-themed festival in Santa Barbara (though it certainly appears to be a backlot production), and it’s narrated in the classic newsreel style so as to properly highlight all of these famous faces.

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