Since today marks the 65th Anniversary of the Singin’ in the Rain release, one of the most celebrated film musicals ever, and one of my personal all time favorites too, I thought it’s a great opportunity to talk about some other musicals – specifically those that I came across throughout my 1001 Movie Challenge.
First of all, let me say – I love musicals! And I was beyond excited and stunned by Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land earlier this year. I could not believe somebody could actually do a musical just like in the good old days! Many times in the past I have thought to myself ‘oh, how I wish they would still make musicals like this’ – meaning the Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly type of films. Because as I have learned throughout the years, there’s not one musical like the other.
The ones I like best, are of course those, where the tap dancing takes place. But also where the storyline, usually really simple, evolves around the main couple: a guy that decides to get the girl (for whatever reason) and the girl who keeps refusing him. The theme of most of Fred Astaire films (which usually includes some identity confusion as well) and Gene Kelly‘s too (after all, Singin’ in the Rain is a shining example of that, too). The charm of these films, besides the dance numbers in the case of these two legends, lies within the dialogues, which are so well written, that despite you having a pretty good idea of how will the story evolve (or end, for that matter) it still keeps you entertained and highly amused for they are fast-paced and effortlessly witty, and just completely adorable.
On the contrary, I’m not much of a fan of the widely beloved family musicals (or family movies in general) a lá Meet Me in St. Louis or Mary Poppins – the ultimate American family classics. I just can’t stand how the (American) family values are being so vividly exposed in these films nor do I find cute all those super clever kids who, as I believe, are supposed to be funny (and cute) – to me, they are just super annoying. And lastly, I do not like the Judy Garland type of singing. Sorry. I’m just all for the guys with the boyish charms who may not be such great singers, yet when they do sing, the lyrics are as enchanting as the dialogues. And let’s not forget the way they dance…! Oh my.
However, sometimes, they don’t even have to dance at all. As was the case of Guys and Dolls and Marlon Brando.
Honestly, as much as I love the old musicals, I had no idea Marlon Brando has ever been in one. Never really heard of Guys and Dolls either and if it wasn’t for the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, I might have easily die without actually seeing it. Call me an ignorant, but the truth is, all these musicals are still pretty much unavailable here in the Czech Republic and really not part of the culture and most Czechs don’t know them (which is why La La Land was so disgracefully misunderstood and underappreciated here). What a shame it would be to miss this one though! This film has become the hidden gem for me and if I did not discover any other treasures while on this mission, it would still be worth it.
It does have the typical storyline I’ve come to love – a gambler (and a womanizer) living in New York (oh, how I love New York!) is challenged to take a cold female missionary (Jean Simmons) to Havana. Yes, the most unlikely of women. Throughout the story they of course fall for each other but before that we get the usual portion of the witty-lady-refusals & the-guy’s-never-giving up kind of conversations. So funny!
Same scheme in most of these musicals, yet every film’s dialogues feel so fresh and new and utterly original – which they are! How did they do it back then?! I have no idea. But I’m loving it.
Especially in the times, when Hollywood seems to be unable to provide any original scripts whatsoever and tends to do only remakes and reboots, it fascinates me all the more, that back in those days, they were writing pretty much the same story all over again and yet every time making it feel new and therefore making it fun. These quick-paced witty dialogues are a real treasure in their own terms and nowhere to be seen in the nowadays films. Which is another thing that made me so happy about La La Land – there it was! Although used much less, but still great homage to the greats.
Anyway, despite not having real dance numbers, Guys and Dolls is definitely one of the best musicals I have seen and my favorite Brando role so far – which once again proves what a versatile actor he was. I had no idea he could be this Gene Kelly-cute type of guy! He could, and he is adorable. And so is Jean Simmons who very much reminds me of Audrey Hepburn in this role by the ease and natural charm with which she portrayed her part (contrary to Grace Kelly in High Society for example, discussed in one of my previous blog posts). And let’s not forget, in terms of singing, it has Frank Sinatra, too! I mean, what more could you wish for?
I love these films. I love them, because they make me wanna dance even if there is no dancing involved. They make my heart sing, even when it seemed to forget the tones. They make me dream and fill my heart with hope. Oh, just how I wish there were more films like these still being made! They may seem utterly simple and naive, but it’s the simplicity and seeming naivety which I love about them so much. And look at it this way – don’t we just make things overcomplicated and our lives and love in particular? Take this one quote from Guys and Dolls which really stuck with me:
When Sarah (Simmons) says she’ll get over her love for Sky (Brando) one of her fellow missionaries tells her:
‘Why would anyone wanna get over the one thing you hoped for since the minute you were born and to the minute you will die! Why? Because it’s the greatest reward a man and a woman can have on this earth? To love and to be loved?’
There you have it! As simple and naive as these films may seem, they might also carry a great life truth – just by looking at it the simple way. After all, it is truth – love really is simple. Only we can make it complicated.
Which once again brings me to my previous blog’s topic: Why Every Movie Matters. Who would have thought I was to find a message in an old Hollywood musical! But I have, and you might, too.
So, what is your favorite musical? And have you seen Guys and Dolls? Tell me in the comments!