This is one of three movies that paired Gene Kelly and Judy Garland (another being For Me and My Gal). In this one, Judy plays a farmer who lets a theatre troupe (led by Director Gene) put on a play in her barn in exchange for chores. Eventually, Farmer Judy is forced to take the leading role, discovering her true calling! People fall in love, there is singing and dancing. We are not told for sure, but presumably Judy does not lose her farm and Gene becomes very successful on Broadway.
I guess this movie fits in the big bucket of musicals which are fine, but not particularly special in any way. There are funny bits and poignant bits and the songs are pretty good, but you get the feeling that the only thing keeping this movie afloat is the cast. If it were starring a lesser pair, it would pretty much suck.
Songs and Dance: well, excellent, of course. If you like singing, there is Judy and if you like dancing, there is Gene. There are a couple of scenes where Farmer Judy is just going about her day - getting dressed, driving a tractor - and she's singing. A lot of people don't like musicals because they find it unrealistic that people just sing all the time, but I think that if I were Judy Garland, I would sing ALL THE TIME. I would sing while getting dressed and driving a tractor, plus while clipping my toenails or waiting in line at the DMV. I don't know if Judy actually did that, but I like to think that she did. The same is a bit true for Gene - even when he's walking, he's dancing just a little bit. Must've driven his downstairs neighbors crazy.
The movies features "Get Happy," which you've probably heard. It was inspired by a movement within African American Gospel Music. Getting happy means to receive the Holy Spirit, which makes you want to sing. I'm not going to post that song, though. I'm going to post Gene Kelly dancing with a newspaper and a creaky floorboard.
Will I Make Josh Watch It: Nope.
When I first started watching this movie, having basically no idea what it was about, I was amazed that I had not heard of it before. It takes songs from Bizet's opera Carmen, throws some Oscar Hammerstein II words on it, and sets it in the rural South with an all-black cast. That sounds awesome! Then I watched some more of it, and I realized that for all its grand ambitions, this movie is a swing and a miss.
What bothered me the most about this film was that it was supposedly a black movie, but there was nothing really black about it other than the people. There were occasional half-hearted attempts at dialect in the dialogue and lyrics, but they seemed to come and go. I expected some black culture. It's possible that the point was just to have a popular musical film with all black actors, and maybe for the time that was revolutionary enough. But I was repeatedly disappointed whenever there was a musical number. I wanted rhythm and blues, and what I got was Bizet and Hammerstein.
Maybe that's not fair. I wonder if I would have liked the movie if it had been cast with the standard lily-white actors that are usually in musicals from this era. That way, I would not have been distracted by whether it was a "black" movie or not. This movie seemed little more than just an all-black version of Oklahoma!. Which is fine, I guess, but it could have been so much more. We already have Oklahoma! and fifty thousand-million musicals just like it.
Okay, I probably would not have liked it anyway, since the plot follows the slow decline of a good and honorable man after he falls in love with a loose woman, our titular character. He shoulda stuck with the sweet and stable Cindy Lou, the girl he had in the first place. We're supposed to see Carmen as this beautiful and tragic figure, but I just relate more to nice girls. How can I relate to Carmen when the movie is telling me that nice boys everywhere will drop girls like me for girls like her?
Songs and Dance: You already know the tunes. Bizet's opera has managed to sink into the public consciousness through cartoons and commercials and whatever else sneaks classical music into our lives. And Hammerstein's lyrics were excellent as well. I would like to say nice things about the singing of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge's singing, but they were both dubbed. So I'll just say that he was handsome and she was lovely. Pearl Bailey was not dubbed, and she was wonderful (and lovely).
Here's Pearl Bailey singing "Beat Out That Rhythm on the Drum." It really illustrates perfectly my problem with the whole movie. She's singing about that bump-bump-bumpin' in the music, but this particular song surely doesn't have any bump-bump-bumpin'. And then there is the dancing. Seriously? I saw that same exact dance in the barn-raising scene in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
To the movie's credit, the drummer is Max Roach, who was a famous jazz percussionist (and was born in North Carolina).
Will I Make Josh Watch It: Nope. He wandered in with about ten minutes left and called it a blaxploitopera.
West Side Story
Man, Stephen Sondheim sure can write lyrics. I feel so silly saying that this movie is good, because everybody knows this movie is good. But this was the first time I had ever seen it, so I'll just say, this movie is good, y'all.
For the other two people who haven't seen it, this movie is yet another retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but with dancing street gangs. Shakespeare never saw it coming.
One of the best things about this movie is the way it goes back and forth between the two plots. One storyline is the continuing feud and upcoming rumble between the Sharks and the Jets. The other is the budding romance between Tony and Maria. So you have a scene with some hoodlums, the singing and dancing kind. Those scenes are incredibly depressing, because everyone is caught in this inner city quagmire. Even if they did manage to stop killing each other over territory, everyone's lives would pretty much still be rotten by my privileged middle-class standards. The white kids are talking about their terrible home lives, what with their abusive and drug-addicted parents, while the Puerto Ricans are talking about the awful way they are treated, but it's still better than the old country.
And then! You have Tony and Mario, who are in love. Their love creates a little bubble for them and even as everyone around them is caught up in this gang war, they are oblivious. So you've just spent a scene being thoroughly depressed at how much it sucks to be an immigrant, when all of a sudden you are bombarded with sweetness and light. It's a good thing, because this movie is pretty dark.
Songs and Dance: Wonderful, all the way through. There are plenty of songs that you might recognize, including "I Feel Pretty" and "Something's Coming."
I'm going to post two clips, because this movie is just that good. First, the Jets singing about why they're such bad kids. You might recognize Russ Tamblyn as Riff, who is just so cute, especially for a singing and dancing hoodlum.
And since I'm equal opportunity here, a song by the Sharks. The women are singing about how awesome it is in America, while the men counter with the troubles of being immigrants. Everybody dances!
Will I Make Josh Watch It: He watched it with me, then looked up the lyrics to "Gee, Officer Krupke" because he thought it would be fun for his band to cover.