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.
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.
“Every Sunday” is another of the shorts featured in Judy Garland section of That’s Entertainment, and it’s a sweet, charming MGM short film… which also belies a slightly more intriguing intent from the studio perspective.
“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.
MGM golden girl Joan Crawford is to thank for a number of uncommon treats airing on TCM this month, including, happily, a rare film featured in That’s Entertainment:The Hollywood Revue of 1929. This film is most notable for being the first onscreen depiction of the now-classic “Singing in the Rain,” but there’s a LOT of other things going on in here as well… and the lack of focus, in turn, is probably why it’s not been seen more widely.
The Broadway Melody is a curious little film, and certainly a testament to the mythos of the Academy, and the weight that a term like “Oscar-winner” is expected to imply. It was the first sound movie to win that now-coveted Best Picture award, but in revisiting it, viewers may find it a little… lacking.