Guys, let’s face it. We’re never going to love the musical genre like we love action movies or big rare steaks. But here are five movie musicals that even the manliest man can admit to enjoying.
5. The Music Man
You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a title that sounds more like a lame conventional musical. And The Music Man fills the expectations of a musical in every way, with characters breaking into song left and right and dance numbers that are so ridiculously grand they remind me of nothing more than the over-the-top car crashes in Blues Brothers.
But where Music Man hooks me is, at its core, it’s a con-man story worthy of David Mamet. Dubious salesman Harold Hill (Robert Preston) intends to take an Iowa town for all they are worth by selling them first on the idea of starting a marching band, and second… buying the uniforms and instruments from him at a sweet price. With a silver tongue and a classic song disparaging pool (“Ya Got Trouble”), he almost succeeds.
Enter Marion the Librarian (Shirley Jones). She sees right through Hill, and must be seduced or she’ll spill the beans. What neither of them counts on is falling in love, of course — or maybe that look on their faces is just from trying not too laugh at the antics of Buddy Hackett (as comic relief Marcellus).
Shot in the epic Technirama format, this is one stage adaptation that has been properly converted to the screen. It is essential viewing, and a part of American culture. For example you’ll never understand the episode Conan O’Brien wrote for The Simpsons, which features a smooth-talker trying to sell a monorail to Springfield, without watching this film.
While it may seem that this movie is gayer than a San Francisco street parade, a real man is one who is secure enough to admit that this is a great film. The plot: a down-on-her luck opera singer (Julie Andrews) teams up with a gay night-club singer (Robert Preston again) to convince 1930’s Paris that she’s a man… who cross-dresses as a woman. It’s taking a classic Shakespearean gender-bending farce and kicking it up a notch. Bam!
Written and directed by Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther), the movie is full of great slapstick sequences including one with a cockroach loose in a restaurant that may just be the best slapstick scene that has ever been filmed. Guys will also appreciate the fact that no one in the movie breaks into song apropos of nothing. All of the musical numbers in the movie are stage performances within the story, and they actually move the story forward. Eat that, Moulin Rouge!
3. The Wizard of Oz
Chances are, you don’t even think of this 1939 Technicolor fantasy as a musical. Too bad — it is. With memorable lines (“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto”) and sickly-catchy tunes (“Follow the yellow brick, follow the yellow brick, follow the yellow brick road”) there’s good reason this movie has become a cultural touchstone.
Lest we forget in these CG times, the story of a young farmgirl trying to make it back home from a magical land was actually groundbreaking in terms of special effects. The real wizards of Oz managed to make a sock look like a tornado, monkeys appear to fly and horses change colors.
But it’s the story — with its theme (“There’s no place like home.”) pinned squarely on its sleeve — that has made this a universal hit across borders and generations. We can all relate to the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Lion and especially Dorothy. How comforting to find what we were looking for was something that we had all along.
2. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
This send-up of musicals actually features some ridiculously catchy songs — and the South Park characters. South Park creators Troy Parker and Matt Stone first made a name for themselves with a movie called Cannibal: The Musical. The South Park movie, along with Cannibal and Team America: World Police show their love of the musical genre. Only in this movie could you have a heartfelt ballad from Satan and a rousing paean to figure skater Brian Boitano.
Maybe because this movie is a musical, it doesn’t just feel like a padded version of the t.v. show, as so many t.v. show adaptations do. Parker and Stone love musicals perhaps more than they love making fun of them. The result here is massive laughs.
1. Singin’ in the Rain
What is there to add about Singin’ in the Rain? The movie speaks for itself. If you love movies, you have to love Singin’ in the Rain. It’s not just fine direction by Stanley Donen or the breezy performances by Gene Kelley, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen and Cyd Charisse, it’s the great farcical story written by Adolf Green and Betty Comden.
Singin’ in the Rain is set during Hollywood’s transition from silent to talkie. Silent siren Lena Lamont (Hagen) and her on-screen lover Don Lockwood (Kelley) are making the leap to sound. But while the hardworking Lockwood (a former stuntman) has the voice for it, Lamont doesn’t. Lockwood gets the idea of having the girl he’s just fallen in love with (Reynolds) overdub the voice, but getting Lamont on board is not going to be easy. She’s not only full of herself, she’s in love with Lockwood.
Of course, the moment from Singin’ in the Rain that will live forever is when Gene Kelley sings and dances “Singin’ in the Rain”. Never has there been a purer expression of the moment of falling in love on the big screen. Even the dark parody of it in A Clockwork Orange cannot wipe away the simple joy of the original. The movie magic is hard to explain. Perhaps it is Kelley’s evident joie de vivre so brightly contrasted with the rain effects that makes it shine. Whatever it is, it’s pure gold.