Here at ORWAV we’re ridiculously excited about last week’s release of the Coen Brothers’ new movie Hail, Caesar! and most of that excitement is down to Channing Tatum doing a Gene Kelly-inspired musical number in a sailor suit.
In celebration of the Coens’ love-letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood, we came up with a list of 10 of our favourite musical numbers in the movies:
10. ‘Springtime For Hitler’ – The Producers (2005)
This might sound like sacrilege, but the 2005 remake of The Producers is infinitely better than the 1967 original. Yes, even with Will Ferrell in it. The 1967 movie is a classic, sure, but Mel Brooks’ timeless comedy about making the worst musical ever was always meant to be a full-blown musical itself, and director Susan Stroman pulled out all the stops for its gloriously tasteless showstopper.
‘Springtime for Hitler’ wouldn’t work if the performers weren’t taking it completely and utterly seriously, and the grins on the faces of the backup dancers as they sing lines like “Don’t be stupid, be a smartie/come and join the Nazi party” makes the horrified reactions of the audience all the sweeter. And as great as the original 1967 movie is, it doesn’t have a blonde-haired John Barrowman singing like he’s having the time of his life.
9. ‘Be Our Guest’ – Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Disney has a long history of great songwriting teams over the years, from the Sherman Brothers to the husband-and-wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, but arguably the greatest pairing in the studio’s history was that of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman.
That partnership gave birth to countless classic Disney songs, but with ‘Be Our Guest’ they – like Lumière the candle – pulled out all the stops in a showstopper which drew inspiration from the work of Busby Berkeley. Jerry Orbach’s thick Gallic charm makes him a perfect maitre d’, and those forks and spoons do a better job than most human chorus lines.
8. ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ – Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
There was no way we could exclude Gene Kelly’s immortal musical from this list. But everyone knows about Kelly dancing in a downpour with a high fever, or Debbie Reynolds dancing until she burst the blood vessels in her feet. We wanted to save a spot on our list for their costar, Donald O’Connor.
As Don Lockwood (Kelly) considers giving up showbiz forever, his best friend Cosmo Brown (O’Connor) reminds him that the show must go on; bursting into an unparalleled sequence of physical comedy complete with pratfalls, backflips and a fight with a headless mannequin. Legend has it the sequence was so exhausting that O’Connor, a heavy smoker, was bedridden for days when he was finished.
7. ‘I Can’t Do It Alone’ – Chicago (2002)
The first musical to win Best Picture at the Oscars since Oliver! way back in 1968, Chicago helped make the musical cool again in the 21st century and proved that the right stars, even if not trained for the stage, were capable of putting on a truly impressive show.
Renée Zellweger’s Roxy Hart may be the star, but Catherine Zeta-Jones damn near steals the show as the singing murderess Velma Kelly. Her finest moment comes when, in an ‘act of desperation’, she tries to convince Roxy to take over her dead sister’s role in their double act. She bounces between two parts in a sequence that’s both impressive and sort of tragic, and Roxy’s silent reaction says more than words ever could.
6. ‘Step in Time’ – Mary Poppins (1964)
There are so many magical moments in Mary Poppins – tea parties on ceilings, horse races in chalk paintings and bedrooms that clean themselves – that the idea of chimney sweeps bounding across rooftops almost seems pedestrian. But with Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood providing choreography, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Sherman Brothers’ lyrics are some of their most simplistic, but the dancing – a glorious eight-minute sequence over the rooftops of London that bursts into the Banks household – more than makes up for it. He may boast the worst Cockney accent in history, but Dick Van Dyke’s dancing is one of the best things about the film – even at the age of 90 the actor proved that he still had the moves on a recent ABC special.
5. The Final Dance Sequence – The Artist (2011)
Michel Hazanavicius’ black-and-white love letter to silent cinema was the critical darling of 2011, going on to win a shedload of awards the following year. But its most interesting sequences were the ones which snuck in some sound – a dream sequence in which silent star George Valentin finds himself mute, and the wonderful finale where his skill as a dancer makes him perfect for musicals.
The routine is an immensely intricate piece of footwork, shot in a single take, but actors Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Béjo look so at ease performing it’s hard to believe they’re not time travellers.
4. ‘The Time Warp’ – The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Is there anything that sums up the bizarre pleasure of watching The Rocky Horror Show like the Time Warp? Watching the film for the first time, it’s hard not to feel like Brad and Janet; innocent and straightlaced, struck dumb by scenes of hedonistic, orgiastic pleasure. Nell Campbell’s tap-dancing may not be as technically polished as some of the other performers on this list, but her enthusiasm and the sparkly gold outfit are impressive enough.
Four decades after it first hit screens, the Time Warp is still the centrepiece of any live performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, thanks in no small part to its simplicity. After all, it’s just a jump to the left…
3. ‘I’d Rather Be Blue’ – Funny Girl (1968)
Not only is Barbra Streisand one of the most gifted singers of any generation, she’s also a brilliant comedian. Funny Girl, the semi-biographical musical based on the life of Jewish entertainer Fanny Brice, is a perfect showcase for both of those talents.
Streisand makes what must have been a heavily choreographed routine feel completely improvised, tapping her head as she knocks on wood and peppering the song with Yiddish words. And frankly, anyone that can sing and dance on rollerskates deserves an Oscar right off the bat. Let’s see you do that one next, Tatum.
2. ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ – 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
The ’90s were a time rife with teen movies, at least 80 per cent of which had ‘One Week’ by the Barenaked Ladies somewhere in their soundtrack, but 10 Things I Hate About You managed to buck the trend by including a good ol’-fashioned song and dance routine.
Sure, it’s a cheesy song. The marching band are out of tune, and Heath Ledger might not have the strongest voice, but it’s hard to care when we see him dancing around the bleachers with two bumbling security guards at his heels. It’s a much nicer image to remember him by than the infamous pencil trick.
1. ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ – Young Frankenstein (1974)
Every time Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks got together, they produced comedy gold practically without trying. Without doubt their finest collaboration was Young Frankenstein, which starred Wilder as a mad scientist trying to replicate his grandfather’s work. When he succeeds in bringing his creature (played by Peter Boyle) to life, he gives a public demonstration that the monster can be a “cultured, sophisticated man about town.”
Resplendent in top hat and tails he gives a rendition of ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ that Fred Astaire himself would be proud of – only to be upstaged at every turn by his creation. Boyle gets just one line to sing, but his strangled delivery only gets funnier every time you hear it.