The movies of old, the musicals, and an MGM look ahead – in 1955
George Murphy hosts this short documentary about MGM. It looks at a little of the studio's past when it was the biggest maker of movies in Hollywood. This short coincides with the end of the studio-owned chains of theaters following a 1948 Supreme Court ruling in an anti- trust suit. Murphy doesn't discuss any of that here, but this short seems obviously intended to urge audiences to continue to go to their local theaters. TV viewing was growing by leaps and bounds by the early 1950s. Interestingly, while MGM was the largest Hollywood studio in output, it did not have the largest theater chain. Others were much larger, including those of Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox and Paramount.
This short film highlights MGM's place in making the large-scale musicals which were beginning to die out in audience appeal. Or, so we are told. But, I don't understand that because musicals have continued to be made over the years, and usually they are good ones that are quite successful. Of course, they aren't a steady stream from several studios. And, audiences still flock to concerts and performances of bands and singers. Stage shows with song and dance are still popular at entertainment centers such as Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City and at casinos around the country. Rather, I think that the studios had difficulty finding backing for large-scale productions that often cost far more than most other types of films. And they didn't have the degree of talent for making musicals. In other words, new talent wasn't coming along to replace the old hands in the business. And that means from the writing to the composing to the directing to the performing.
Where were the great songwriters, lyricists, and composers after the middle decades of the 20th century? Where were the new George and Ira Gershwins? Where were the new talents after Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Burt Bacharach, Elmer or Leonard Bernstein, Gus Kahn, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sig Romberg, or so many others? Where were the new great choreographers? Where were the performers – the dancers to replace Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Vera Allen, Eleanor Powell, Ginger Rogers, Danny Kaye, Marge and Gower Champion? There are many bands, singers and individual songwriters today. But, rare are the talents that can compose, choreograph, write and make a story musical, or even a revue type of old. And, then, where are the talented singers and dancers to stage such musicals? Oh, there are some, to be sure. But not many. So, every year or two someone does put together a slam-bang musical that does very well. And there may be a few lesser ones that are OK.
Two big hit movie musicals of the early 21st century support my point. "Chicago" of 2002 and "Les Miserables" of 2012 were huge films with budgets of $45 million and $60 million, respectively. Both were lavish productions and adaptations of earlier stories. They were set to music. They were entertaining and were big box office hits. Yet neither had exceptional musical scores or numbers. Nor did they have big name singers or dancers. The performers were just okay, and the lead actors were passable in their musical numbers (Richard Gere and Hugh Jackman). There were no great hoofers or voices in either of these big films – but they were very successful. We don't seem to have the super multi-talents today that we had in the past. Fred Astaire, the king of dance could also sing and act. Danny Kaye could do them all and some fantastic mimicry and tongue twisting. Marge and Gower Champion were great dancers and choreographers, and he directed musicals for the silver screen and Broadway. Oscar Levant was a composer, pianist, songwriter, author, comedian and actor. There don't seem to be that many talents today who can do just two of those things very well.
Anyway, this film has interviews with some stars and snippets of MGM movies in the making or planned for the future. Murphy takes us onto the sets for "Jupiter's Darling" with Esther Williams, Howard Keel, and Marge and Gower Champion. And, we get trailer snippets of other films being made – "The Glass Slipper," "Bedeviled," "Interrupted Melody," "Hit the Deck," "The King's Thief," "Moonfleet," "Love Me Or Leave Me," and "It's Always Fair Weather." Then we hear of several films planned by MGM based on books.
This is a somewhat interesting and lightly entertaining short about MGM from its glory days of the past to the (1955) present and unknown future.
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