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Best Movie Musicals of the 1950's

Flopper

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The 1950’s were a great decade for movie musicals even thou TV was putting big Hollywood studios in crisis mode. While viewers stayed home watching variety shows, comedies, westerns, and mysteries, musicals just didn’t cut it on b&w 17” or 21” screens. Audiences loved musicals on the big the screen with great color and sound. So the studios, particularly MGM spent the big bucks on musicals. Listing the best movie musical of the decade is hard to do because of the number of films and the ones I have seen. I estimate that there are over 400 movie musicals produced by Hollywood in the 1950’s. So I picked a few favorites* by year that I really liked. I have not seen all of the musicals of this decade. There are some I did not include simple because I was not familiar with them. Any comments or some you liked that are not listed, please reply.

1950
*Cinderella

Disney suffered financially after losing connections to the European film markets due to the outbreak of World War II. The studio endured box office bombs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi, all of which would later become more successful with several re-releases in theaters and on home video. By the end of the decade Disney was headed for bankruptcy court. However, they had one more chance, Cinderella. The film was was not just a success, audiences loved it and it spurred two other Cinderella films, toys and hosts of other products. Had it not been for this film we would likely not have a Disneyland or a Disney World. And of course we wouldn't have "A dream is a wish your heart makes"

Annie Get Your Gun

1951
*An American in Paris

The great dancing of Gene Kelly and his choreography made this movie. The film is a Romanic comedy interspersed with dance scenes to the music of George Gershwin. It was a huge success winning 8 academy awards.

Lullaby of Broadway

*Lemon Drop Kid

The only reason we think of this movie as a musical is because of the song, "Silver Bells" which has become a Christmas favorite. The movie is certainly not bad. It is based on a short story by Damon Runyon and has become a Christmas classic.

Showboat

Royal Wedding

1952
*Singing in Rain

Singing in the Rain is on most everybody's list of top ten musicals of all times and many have it as number 1. It is purely a Hollywood movie with comedy, romance, drama, and music. When I feel sad and dejected, it's my goto musical. It's great comedy, great dancing, great songs, and a really funny story. What's not to like.

*Stars and Stripes Forever
If it's marching band music that turns you on, this is the musical for you. It's based on the life of Philip Sousa, "The March King". If you have ever watched a parade with marching bands you have heard his music. This movie is more about his music than it is about Sousa’s life. Although the story is good, it is the music that stands out.

With a Song in My Heart

Hans Christian Andersen

Somebody Loves Me

The Jazz Singer

The Greatest Show on Earth

1953
*The Band Wagon

The Band Wagon along with Singing in Rain is regarded as MGM greatest musicals. It has a great cast headed by Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. It's great music and dancing with a good story.

Call Me Madam

By the Light of Silvery Moon

The Desert Song

*Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a musical comedy based on the 1949 stage production. I believe it is one of Monroe’s best performance. The movie is funny, the music is very good and it is beautifully made. It was critical and box office success.

The Glen Miller Story

Kiss Me Kate

*Lili

Lili is best known for the song Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo and of course the wonderful performance of Leslie Caron playing a naïve young girl who joins a carnival and falls in love. Her performance is captivating. Critics described her as elfin, winsome, charming, graceful, and the "focus of warmth and appeal". It did very well at the box office and got 6 academy award nominations

1954
*A Star is Born

The film stars Judy Garland, Jack Carson, and Charles Bickford. It has been brought to the screen in 1937, 1954, 1976, and 2018. It was also brought to the screen under a different title in 1932. So why all the remakes? It is wonderful story of a young starry-eyed girl who comes to Hollywood, falls in love with an actor who helps her attain stardom. However, as her star brightens his fades. Garland's performance is great but it is not her acting but her singing that critics and audiences loved. The film is quite long and the length of the film is a story in itself. The director's cut was 196 mins, which has been lost. The released version was 182 mins. Over the years it was cut down to 152 mins and many parts of the film were lost however film restoration artists have been able to restore most of the film but about 12 mins are still missing. We have only the sound. The film made money and was a critical success. It got 6 academy award nominations. Columbia Records released the sound track on 10 inch 78rpm records, 7 inch 45rpm, 12” LP 33rpm records, 8 track tape, cassettes, CDs, DVDs, and now streaming on the internet. Over the last 68 years it has never been out of print.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Brigadoon

Carmen Jones

Deep in My Heart

Rose Marie

The Student Prince

There’s No Business Like Show Business

White Christmas

Young at Heart

1955

*Guys and Dolls

Guys and Dolls is based on the 1950 Broadway Musical which is based on a Damon Runyon story. The movie stars Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, and Vivian Blaine. Who would every guess that Marlon Brando would star in a musical comedy. It is a wonder the movie ever got made. Gene Kelly was the unanimous choice for Sky Masterson but he was out for contract reasons. Frank Sinatra wanted the part but the studio put Brando in the part because he was the biggest box office draw in world. The studio didn't seem care that Brando could neither sing nor dance. Frank Sinatra was relegated by the studio to play Nathan Detroit, which he hated. The director wanted Grace Kelly for the part of Sister Sarah Brown but the studio objected because she was not a strong singer or dancer. So they selected Jeans Simmons for the roll who was less of a singer and dancer than Grace Kelly. Throughout the production there were on going arguments between the cast. Sinatra always referred to Brando as Mumbles which created a lot of friction. Brando didn't want to make the movie and Jean Simmons did not get along with Vivian Blaine. And the director threaten to quick. However the film was finished and became another huge hit. It got good reviews, was a box office success, and was nominated for 4 academy awards.

Ain’t Misbehavin

Daddy Longlegs

Hit the Deck

It’s Always Fairweather

Kismet

*Lady and Tramp

Not the greatest musical of the year just one of my favorites.

Love Me or Leave Me

*Oklahoma!

Oklahoma! Was definitely the greatest musical of the year and one greatest of all time. Oklahoma! is based on the 1943 Broadway musical of the same name by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It was the first of 4 that would be brought to the screen in the 1950's. It stars Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones (in her film debut), Rod Steiger, Charlotte Greenwood, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, James Whitmore, and Eddie Albert. Set in Oklahoma Territory, it tells the story of farm girl Laurey Williams (Jones) and her courtship by two rival suitors, cowboy Curly McLain (MacRae) and the sinister and frightening farmhand Jud Fry (Steiger). A secondary romance concerns Laurey's friend, Ado Annie (Grahame), and cowboy Will Parker (Nelson), who also has an unwilling rival. A background theme is the territory's aspiration for statehood, and the local conflict between cattlemen and farmers.

Critics loved the film and so did audiences. It was nominated for 8 academy awards. It earned rave reviews and in 2007, Oklahoma! was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"

Pete Kelly’s Blues

The Tender Trap

1956
*The King and I

The king and I was the second Rogers and Hammerstein musicals to brought to the screen in the 1950's. It is based on the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, which is based in turn on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam. The story is about a widowed schoolteacher, Anna, who arrives in Bangkok with her young son, Louis, after being summoned to tutor the many children of the King of Siam. As the movie progresses the King is thankful for having a teacher for his many children but disagreed with their teacher on absolutely everything. Eventually the King does come around, a bit however the story darkens and there are many dramatic moments and a few tears to be shed in the audience. The acting in movie is better than in other Rogers and Hammerstein films and plays. The film was a big success upon release, both critically and financially. The King and I won 4 academy awards and was nominated for 6. The most famous songs from the King and I are Shall We Dance, Getting to Know You, and Whistle a Happy Tune.

Anything Goes

*The Benny Goodman Story

I picked this move because I love his music. The story follows his life through his most productive years. Lovers of Jazz and Swing will enjoy some of the great musicians of that era play. Steve Allen did a good job of playing Benny Goodman

The Best Things in Live are Free

*Carousel

Carousel is another great Rodgers and Hammerstein musical brought to the screen in 50’s. It is not one my favorites but songs as usual are great. The story is a bit offbeat because the central character is dead. Like the King and I and South Pacific, the movie deals with serious events. The most well know pieces from the film are the Carousel Waltz, June is Bustin Out All Over, If I Loved You, You'll Never Walk Alone. Although reviews were mostly good and the film did make money it was not the hit the studio at hoped for. The film's often downbeat tone did not resonate with 1950s audiences, nor with me. Yet it is a good movie and the music is wonderful.

*High Society
High Society is a 1956 musical romantic comedy starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra. The music and cast were excellent although I found story a bit thin.

Rock Around the Clock

Serenade

1957
*Funny Face

Funny Face is music romantic comedy starring Fed Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, and Kate Thompson. If features a number of songs by George and Ira Gershwin. The story takes place in New York and Paris and is about the Fashion business. I liked the movie because of Hepburn, Astaire, and the Gershwin music. The plot was ok not great.

Jailhouse Rock

Les Girls

The Pajama Game

*Pal Joey

Pal Joey is a musical comedy adapted from a Rogers and Hart stage production. It has great cast headed by, Frank Sinatra, Kim Novack, and Rita Hayworth. It’s the story of Joey Evans a second-rate singer, a first class heel known for his womanizing ways (calling women "mice") but charming and funny. When Joey meets Linda English (Kim Novak), a naive chorus girl, he finds he has real feelings for her. However, that does not stop him from romancing a former flame. What makes the movie worth seeing is the music. It is filled with some of Sinatra's best, Bewitched, There's a Small Hotel, The Lady is a Tramp, I Could Write a Book, etc. The move was a critical and box success with 4 academy award nominations.

Silk Stocking

Ten Thousand Bedrooms

1958
*Gigi

Gigi is charming romantic comedy with a great cast headed by Leslie Caron, Maurice Cheavailer, and Louis Jourdan. It was a huge success on the stage and the screen. Critics loved it as did audiences. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 98% based on 47 reviews. Gigi won 9 academy awards which broke the record. The American Film Institute listed it 38 on the list of 100 best films.

*Damn Yankees
Damn Yankees is a sports musical comedy adapted from the Broadway play. It is the story of a Washington Senators baseball fan, (Tab Hunter) who says he would sell his soul to devil,( Ray Walston) to see them beat the Yankees. He gets his wish and we get a funny musical with great musical numbers. It got reasonable good reviews from the critics and did well at the box office although it was not huge hit.

The Seven Hills of Rome

St. Louis Blues

*South Pacific

South Pacific is a 1958 romantic musical film based on the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of the same name. This is the 4th Rodgers and Hammerstein musical brought to the screen in the 50's. There will be two more in later years. The film, directed by Joshua Logan, stars Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr and Ray Walston in the leading roles with Juanita Hall as Bloody Mary, the part that she had played in the original stage production. The film won three Academy Awards. South Pacific is set on a Pacific Island in 1943 and it’s about the love of an American Solider for a Polynesian girl which violated the taboos of the native people. The underlying theme of film is racial prejudice and that did not please some people in the country. Rodgers and Hammerstein's use of the Broadway theatre and the screen to make a courageous statement against racial bigotry is the very foundation on which the work is considered a classic.

The words to song Carefully Taught:
You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

This musical has so many songs that have become American classics such as Some Enchanted Evening, Cockeyed Optimist, There's Nothing Like Dame, This Nearly Was Mine, Bloody Mary, Bali Ha'i, and Younger Than Springtime Time.

1959
*Porgy and Bess

Porgy and Bess was adapted from the George Gershwin opera. It stars Sideny Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge in the title roles. A number changes were made in screen version. When the movie was released critic reviews were mixed. The movie was a box office success in spite picketing by Blacks and Boycotts. It ran in all the major cities and a few year latter there a special one time presentation of the movie on television. After Ira Gershwin saw the movie, he called it, “a piece of shit” and the Gershwin estate has refused to re-release the film to the general public.

A Hole in the Head

Li’l Abner

*Some Like it Hot

The film is a romantic comedy written, directed, and produced by Billy Wilder. It stars Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, George Raft, Pat O’brein, Joe E Brown. The film is about two musician who disguise themselves as women to escape from mafia gangsters whom they witness committing a crime. The film is remembered most as a comedy although there are 15 musical numbers in the film. Some Like It Hot was a box office hit as well as being praised by critics. Rotten Tomatoes rated 94% based on 70 reviews. It was nominated for 6 academy awards, included in that National Film Registry and is included the AFI’s top 100 films.

List of musical films by year - Wikipedia
 
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g5000

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I don't watch musicals. Because I'm not gay.

j/k

I can count on one hand the number of musicals I actually enjoyed.

Both the new and the old West Side Story.

And...I think that's it. Nothing else comes to mind.

Watching musicals has always been torture to me. Like opera.
 
OP
Flopper

Flopper

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I don't watch musicals. Because I'm not gay.

j/k

I can count on one hand the number of musicals I actually enjoyed.

Both the new and the old West Side Story.

And...I think that's it. Nothing else comes to mind.

Watching musicals has always been torture to me. Like opera.
Some people like musicals and some don't. When I was young I hated them. They were an unwanted interruption of the story. The guy walking down the street singing in rain just after his girl said, she said loved him in real life just wouldn't happen but on the silver screen anything is possible. Musicals are all fantasies, where the joy of young love, heartbreak of loss, the anger over injustice, is all expressed in song and dance.
 
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OP
Flopper

Flopper

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Lil Abner and South Pacific were as good as it gets
I never saw Lil Abner but heard it was good. South Pacific was a great musical. However, I thought the yellow tint they used on part of the movie was distracting. I don't think I have ever seen a musical that drove home so well the injustice and pain caused by prejudice and bigotry. I will always remember the words from the song, You've Got To Be Carefully Taught.

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!
 

LA RAM FAN

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Lil Abner and South Pacific were as good as it gets
Failzero an actor friend of mine was in a community theatre production of Lil Abner,it was great,better than the movie IMO.the actors were thst good.
 

Failzero

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Failzero an actor friend of mine was in a community theatre production of Lil Abner,it was great,better than the movie IMO.the actors were thst good.
Not great if it had two Orientals ( Asians ) and several Characters magically turned Black ( And it was Lesbian Sadie Hawkins Day )
 

Hugo Furst

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State Fair
April Love
 
OP
Flopper

Flopper

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State Fair
April Love
I was not crazy about the movie State Fair. It was Ok and music was great but I think Rogers and Hammerstein have done better. I didn't see it on Broadway just the movie.
IMHO, April Love was not that great, however the song is beautiful. Pat Boone just doesn't come across as the bad boy.
 

Bob Blaylock

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1959
*Porgy and Bess

Porgy and Bess was adapted from the George Gershwin opera. It stars Sideny Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge in the title roles. A number changes were made in screen version. When the movie was released critic reviews were mixed. The movie was a box office success in spite picketing by Blacks and Boycotts. It ran in all the major cities and a few year latter there a special one time presentation of the movie on television. After Ira Gershwin saw the movie, he called it, “a piece of shit” and the Gershwin estate has refused to re-release the film to the general public.

It was a truly brilliant and wonderful opera by Gershwin, unjustly labeled by many as “racist”. I understand that the 1959 version with Sidney Poitier was a rather poor rendering of it, but there are some very good performances out there to be found of it.

I've got this version on DVD, but I've seen a few other performances as well.

I had to laugh when I saw the IMDB summary…

The story of a disabled beggar in Charleston, S.C. who falls in love with a prostitute…

I'm pretty sure that Porgy is not depicted as a beggar, and I know that Bess is not depicted as a prostitute. Not in this version, and not in any other version that I have seen.
 

Bob Blaylock

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One musical of that period that I like is Red garters. I cannot think of how to describe this movie to anyone who hasn't already seen it. It's sort of a musical spoof of the cowboy/western genre. Neither the IMDB entry nor the Wikipedia article come anywhere close to adequately describing it.
 

Bob Blaylock

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Lastamender

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"Its Always Fair weather" is the only cynical musical I have ever seen.
 
OP
Flopper

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That was a musical ???
Yep 10 songs with some great dancing by Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. It's a musical satire that didn't do that well at the box office but critics liked it. It is notable that it is the last of the major MGM musicals. It is not one of my favorites but it is a very watchable movie.
 

Failzero

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Yep 10 songs with some great dancing by Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. It's a musical satire that didn't do that well at the box office but critics liked it. It is notable that it is the last of the major MGM musicals. It is not one of my favorites but it is a very watchable movie.
South Pacific stands alone atop the Movie Musical Landscape .
 
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Flopper

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South Pacific stands alone atop the Movie Musical Landscape .
Everything about South Pacific was big. It had a cast 40. It ran 3 hours. It had 16 musical numbers, and almost everyone was a hit song. The dance numbers were so large MGM had to enlarge it's largest sound stage. The cost of the production was nearly 6 million, one of the most expense movies ever made at the time.

My major complaint about South Pacific was the use of filters to create a yellow or orange tint in multiple scenes. I don't think this was very effective in the 50s and today it looks like something is wrong with the film. However, nothing can detract for the wonderful music and story.
 

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