Thursday, July 17, 2008

The musicals I like, part 2

A topic I had originally intended to write about in yesterday's post, but didn't get around to, is movies about musicians, both real and fictional. Here again, the presence of music in the movies makes a lot of sense; a lot of the time, good music will outweigh a lousy plot.

The Glenn Miller Story might just be my favorite biopic, in part because the music is good, but also because James Stewart and June Allyson are both very fine actors, giving convincing performances as Glenn Miller and his wife. Sure, some of the things in the plot are just too neat, but that's par for the course in a biopic; we expect things to be dramatized.

There's actually far more dramatizing in Rhapsody In Blue, Warner Brothers' 1945 biopic about George Gershwin. The writers have Gershwin be torn between two lovers, played by the lovely Joan Leslie and Alexis Smith. However, neither of the two existed in real life!

I see that in my April post on Rhapsody in Blue I mentioned that point of trivia, as well as the next movie, Alexander's Ragtime Band. It's based on the songs of Irving Berlin, which is a darn good thing: the plot is pretty lousy. It's an overworked story about a struggling musician who makes terrible sacrifices for the sake of his music and his band; on top of this, however, is one of Hollywood's most original plot twists: the love triangle. (To be honest, I'm not certain which of the two plot devices is more overworked in Hollywood history.) Fox released this movie in 1938, and it says something about Hollywood that it actually earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Of course, there were ten Best Picture nominees in those days, and one could probably argue that Alexander's Ragtime Band is no worse than some of today's Oscar nominees. Tyrone Power plays the bandleader, Don Ameche the band's pianist, and Alice Faye plays the girl. Despite the silly plot, it's a fine movie for all that music, and is fortunately available on DVD.

And then there are all the movies about classical music. The Great Waltz is a movie full of the waltzes of Johann Strauss, Jr., but the story is unreal -- and sadly, the movie isn't available on DVD. And how much of Amadeus is real?

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