Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ginger Rogers' birthday, and some thoughts on musicals

July 16 marks the 97th birth anniversary of Ginger Rogers. I've recommended several of her movies before, and there are a lot more I could recommend but haven't gotten around to doing yet. TCM has been honoring her with a number of her movies, and I watched Tight Spot over lunch. Unfortunately, it's not available on DVD, so I can't really recommend it right now.

Having recommended movies like Black Widow and Rafter Romance, and knowing that she won the Oscar for 1940's Kitty Foyle, I can easily say that Rogers was overall a talented actress. However, she'll probably always be remembered most for dancing with Fred Astaire. They were fine together, although truth be told, I'm not a big fan of musicals.

I think the thing that I don't care so much for about musicals is that they're terribly unrealistic. Bill Maher encapsulated my thinking when he was the TCM Guest Programmer back in June, and selected My Fair Lady as one of his searches. He commented that musicals are like porn in that in musicals, you have people acting for a bit, and all of a sudden, for no reason, they break out into song. By the same token, in porn, you have people acting for a bit, and all of a sudden, they break out into... well, you get the picture. Maher's line made both Robert Osborne and me laugh.

A lot of the musicals I've recommended, and indeed, the ones that are generally my favorites, have been closer to reality, if you will, in that they're musicals about the entertainment business. If you're writing a movie about the dawn of the talking picture era, it's not unnatural for the movie-within-a-movie to have songs in it, and so the presence of some of the songs in Singin' In the Rain feels more normal. By the same token, the musical numbers fit in even better in 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 (which also stars Ginger Rogers, but which I didn't tag with her name largely because the thread wasn't about her). On the other hand, with movies like Meet Me In St. Louis, the songs are much more tacked on (and the fact that the "Trolley Song" drives me up a wall doesn't help, either). Perhaps the most obnoxiously unrealistic musical -- at least of the ones I've seen -- is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Still, Ginger Rogers is always beautiful dancing with Fred Astaire, and if you pick one of their movies together, you can't really go wrong. The most fun might be Flying Down to Rio, just for the Busby Berkeley number at the end with all the scantily clad pre-Code chorus girls dancing on the wings of airplanes. Unrealistic? Heck yeah. But it's still fun. As for a Rogers non-musical I haven't mentioned before, her screwball comedy The Major and the Minor is a lot of fun.

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