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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 09/ 5/2006

Sizing Up Movie Musicals

By Liz Kelly

Today is a momentous day in the history of television, what with Rosie and Katie's big debuts. That's why I thought it would be a good idea to turn our attention to something completely different and of much more pressing import: movie musicals.


Judy Garland warbles a little song about rainbows in 1939's "The Wizard of Oz." (AP/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The American Film Institute (AFI) has been up to its old tricks again, releasing yet another list created, it would seem, solely to vex the movie-loving public. This time the group has listed what it deems to be the "25 Greatest Movie Musicals of All Time."

AFI's list is topped by "Singin' in the Rain," which is a fine film, but no "Sound of Music" (which surprisingly only rated as fourth best). The top five is rounded out by "West Side Story," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Cabaret." (Full List)

AFI may have beat us to a list of best movie musicals (though they left something important or two out), but I'm more interested in the best song and dance routines from the musicals. Who can top the creepy catchiness of "Oliver's" Ron Moody melodically coaxing his army of snot-nosed small boys to "Pick a Pocket or Two" or Michelle Pfeiffer as "Grease 2's" tough cookie belting out her desire for a "Cool Rider" while straddling a ladder?

No it's not Friday (our traditional list day), but dammit, I'm having a root canal in about an hour and an emotional roller coaster as interpreted through the enchanting medium of song (with a healthy dose of codeine) may be just what I need to fully recover.

So share your favorite musical moments -- from "The Wizard of Oz" to "West Side Story" to "Moulin Rouge." What elevates a song from the mundane to make it the song to remember from a movie? (The official AFI ballot (PDF) lists all 180 movies in the competition and may help jog the memory. Is it just me or does it stink, badly, that "Camelot" is not even listed on the ballot?)

P.S. If you'd really rather talk about Rosie's "View" debut, please do so in the form of a catchy musical number.

By Liz Kelly  | September 5, 2006; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Friday Lists, Miscellaneous, Pop Culture  
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Comments

How about the segment "Shall We Dance" from the King and I?

Posted by: Sandy from NH | September 5, 2006 12:02 PM | Report abuse

"For Me and My Gal" with Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. Pure bliss.

Posted by: Amanda | September 5, 2006 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Finally, and AFI number one I can agree with. "Singin' in the Rain" is the perfect musical. It was already set in another era (the start of talkies) when it was made, so it's not dated. It almost makes sense to have people singing at random intervals. The Comdon and Green script is fun and funny and full of great characters. And the "Moses Supposes" number is just fantastic pure dancing. I'd argue that "Cabaret" shouldn't be in the top five, but I just am not a big Liza fan.

Posted by: Phan | September 5, 2006 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Two great moments: first, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy doing a soft shoe in Way Out West to a cornpone quartet singing "At the Ball". Yes, they're in front of an obvious back projection. I don't care. Their dance is bliss.

Since the boys are a taste that not everyone shares (there seems to be a M/F divide on this) then how about Donald O'Conner by himself on a set with a couch, a large rag doll and incredible energy in "Make 'Em Laugh" in Singin' in the Rain. He really did those somersaults off the walls. Joyous and incredible!

Posted by: Bob from IN | September 5, 2006 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Ok, this is a great list! Do we know where South Park ended up on the final tally? It's a genius work and would have been my pick above Moulin Rouge for sure.

Posted by: annie | September 5, 2006 12:17 PM | Report abuse

"o brother, where art thou?" didn't even make the original list?? big mistake...

Posted by: coen bros... | September 5, 2006 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Gold Diggers of 1933 tops my list, which includes the classic "We're in the Money" (sung by a young, beautiful Ginger Rogers, with verses in pig-Latin!). But "Petting in the Park" from this film is a downright hoot, a classic, a must-see.

Posted by: Paul | September 5, 2006 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Moulin Rouge is still one of my favorite movies! My friend and I used to redo the scene at the top of the elephant when Christian convinces Satine they should get together. He would be Satine. We also drove up 18th st singing "I will follow him" from Sister Act once, too.

Posted by: not bluto | September 5, 2006 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I got to put in a vote for Hello Dolly. I got a soft spot for "Before the Parade Passes By" and "Hello Dolly" ... and for ole Barb in general.

Posted by: Shelley | September 5, 2006 12:47 PM | Report abuse

is it wrong that i like Fiddler on the Roof, too?

Posted by: not bluto | September 5, 2006 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Well, yes, Singing in the Rain is the best movie musical ever, easily. But we most definitely need South Park Bigger, Longer, Uncut on that list. So hard to pick the best moment -- the sweeping opening tune? Saddam's cheeky "I Can Change"? The inspirational "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" Or, the rollicking Terrence and Philip classic "Uncle %$#@^"? Brilliant.

Posted by: Annie get your gun | September 5, 2006 12:54 PM | Report abuse

How is it possible that "Annie" is not on this list? You cannot beat Carol Burnett playing Ms. Hannigan.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2006 12:56 PM | Report abuse

As much as I generally dislike movie musicals, how can you have the top 25 without Oklahoma?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2006 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I'm a Sound of Music girl myself. But I have to agree... South Park's "What Would Brian Boitano Do? should be recognized as pure genius!!

Posted by: DC | September 5, 2006 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Where's Gigi? Thank Heaven for Little Girls?

Posted by: G'burg | September 5, 2006 1:10 PM | Report abuse

OMG!!! Like, how is High School Musical not, like rated number 1. "Breaking Free" has got to be the best song EVER!

Posted by: HS Fan | September 5, 2006 1:10 PM | Report abuse

annie is an oversight.

i also grew up on the wiz and a chorus line.

and am always partial to all things elvis, but in this case i understand his exclusion.

Posted by: m | September 5, 2006 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Fame?

Posted by: b | September 5, 2006 1:14 PM | Report abuse

What about Rocky Horror? "The Inquisition" from History of the World?

Posted by: b | September 5, 2006 1:16 PM | Report abuse

where the hell is weingarten

Posted by: Lost | September 5, 2006 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Ouch! No "Nightmare Before Christmas" fans? A fine musical.

Posted by: Steve | September 5, 2006 1:22 PM | Report abuse

How about Ann Miller's performance of "Too Darn Hot" in Kiss Me Kate? Or Jane Russell's "Anyone Here for Love?" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

Posted by: CentrevilleMom | September 5, 2006 1:37 PM | Report abuse

C'mon, people. A musical is more than a movie with songs in it, which is why South Park and O Brother Where Art Thou are NOT musicals. In a musical, significant chunks of the story must be sung.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2006 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Singin' in the rain is in a class by itself. But I still love the barn-raising scene in Seven Brides for Seven Bros.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2006 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Best routines: South Pacific (what girl hasn't washed some man right outta her hair?), It's a Hard Knock Life from Annie (soooo Broadway good with the cleaning), Trouble from the Music Man, and while I love them all, I like Guenevere from Camelot.

Posted by: No Show Mo | September 5, 2006 1:55 PM | Report abuse

The AFI's list is actually not too bad, though I have some quibbles with the some of the inclusions in the second half of the list (Show Boat instead of Folies Bergere? Guys & Dolls instead of Gigi?). And there are a number of non-American musicals that might make a case for inclusion (the 1983 Carmen directed by Carlos Saura, perhaps).

But that's not what you asked. If you want an individual number that will knock your socks off, hardly anything beats the unbelievable closing dance sequence by the Nicholas brothers in _Stormy Weather_ (1943). Not a candidate for top-25 musical because there's barely a plot, but there are also a number of super performances by Bill Bojangles Robinson, Lena Horne, Fats Waller, and Cab Calloway.

Posted by: David | September 5, 2006 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Lemme guess, 1:39: you're not actually familiar with the South Park movie, are you? I wouldn't kick Beauty and the Beast off the list in its favor, if AFI's only allowing room for one animated musical, but it's certainly part of the same genre.

*sings under breath "And we'll save Terence and Phillip, too, 'cause that's what Brian Boitano'd do."*

Posted by: fs | September 5, 2006 1:57 PM | Report abuse

"Newsies" too.

Posted by: mw | September 5, 2006 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I am sorely disappointed that "1776" didn't make the list. What a great show: swell tunes, great acting, good plot, AND it keeps you riveted wating to see how it will all end.

Posted by: Fairfax | September 5, 2006 2:15 PM | Report abuse

fs.lol

Posted by: DC | September 5, 2006 2:20 PM | Report abuse

This a great list. The only change I would make is to replace Beauty and the Beast with The Lion King.

Posted by: AB | September 5, 2006 2:28 PM | Report abuse

How could they leave off "Earth Girls are Easy"? It's easily the ultimate 80's new wave musical!

When Julie Brown breaks in her song "Cause I'm a Blond" to make her acceptance speech upon winning the title August's Miss Blond, she says:

"I just want to say that being chosen as this month's Miss August is like, a compliment I'll remember for as long as I can. Right now I'm a freshman in my fourth year at UCLA, but my goal is to become a veterinarian, 'cause I love children."

It's still a touching, moving speech.

Posted by: Umm Yeah... | September 5, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

While not from a musical technically, I think my most memorable (and by "most memorable" I mean "permanently branded onto the surface of my brain") musical moment from a film is the Every Sperm is Sacred song from The Meaning of Life. Thanks Liz, I am already looking forward to the next few days of never-ending loop of sperm song in my head!

Posted by: Madison | September 5, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Come on man, where's Mulan. "I'll make a man out of you" alone warrants at least an inclusion on the ballot. How can you not love: "Let's get down to business to defeat the Huns"

Posted by: Matt | September 5, 2006 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Also, how can they not include "The Producers"? That's classic.

But anyways, I would have voted for alot of the animated disney movies. That just works better for me than things West Side Story. Having gangsters spin around and sing and snap there fingers is just silly. And alot of musicals, like Music Man, or Oklahoma have paper thing plots with no development of pretty much anything.

The main draws of the disney movies to me are that they never try to take themselves so seriously, and that they aren't so broadway showtune-esque(a style of music I'm not so fond of.) Random outbursts of song are hard to take seriously.

Posted by: Matt again | September 5, 2006 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Camelot and Gypsy were both left off???? :( At least West Side Story and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers made it.....

Posted by: Annapolis | September 5, 2006 3:19 PM | Report abuse

A musical number about rosie? Let's see, what rhymes with catty... Fatty!

Posted by: Heck | September 5, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Singing in the Rain is the best. Period. No discussion.

Best movie musicals without "Gigi"--best song "I remember it well"; with only 1 Astaire/Rogers (the all time greatest is "Shall we Dance"--with the two doing a number on roller skates to "Let's call the whole thing off"--how can you go wrong with a Gershwin score????), no Oklahoma or South Pacific? The original Show boat with Irene Dunne? Guys and Dolls--talk about BAD!!!!!Brando is not a song and dance guy and Sinatra cannot save the whole thing himself. No "Holiday Inn" with the ultimate Irving Berlin score? No Gypsy? Please. This needs to be done over. And just for grins---gotta have an Andrew Lloyd Webber, even if they were terrible movies. (Okay, but the ultimate in bad was Man of la Mancha.)

Posted by: WJ | September 5, 2006 3:24 PM | Report abuse

GIGI WAS ROBBED!!

C'mon! "The Night They Invented Champagne"... I can't even type it without singing it.

Plus, Maurice Chevalier at his most chevaliesque, and Louis Jourdan... He was so dreamy, I wished that he was singing just to me.

I demand a recount. And I cast all my 712 ballots for Gigi. Well, 711. Annie can have one, too.

Posted by: WDC | September 5, 2006 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Cabaret??? What on earth were those folks at AFI smoking? Besides "Wilkommen" and the title song, I defy anyone to name one single song from or even visualize one musical moment from that movie. In contrast, how can you fail to vividly see Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr twirling around the floor or Ray Walston and the boys elucidating the charms of the dame? Sigh.

Posted by: Snarky Squirrel | September 5, 2006 3:39 PM | Report abuse

So many omissions from this list...

I agree that not including "Annie" with Tim Curry, Carol Burnett, Yul Brenner Bernadette Peters cheapens the whole list.

AND, where is Jesus Christ Superstar? Sure, it's dated, but that's part of what makes it camptastic.

The "Music Man" with Robert Preston is another huge omission.

Posted by: Hyattsville | September 5, 2006 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I prefer Little Mermaid to Beauty & the Beast for score.
Oklahoma & South Pacific & Oliver have to be on the list, along with Evita, Phantom of the Opera (better than Moulin Rouge imho), Paint Your Wagon (my husband's favorite), 1776, Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (although it cut some of the good Sondheim songs). I also thought that Twyla Tharp's choreography for Hair helped make it a really good transition to the silver screen, but probably not in the top 25.

While I love Camelot the stage musical, I did not like the movie version at all; I thought it was miscast (why couldn't we have had Richard Burton?)
The movie of On A Clear Day was quite bad, and I really hate Grease!

Posted by: Lindy | September 5, 2006 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Annie was universally panned as a movie when it came out. I liked it, but more for the score than the actual film.

South Pacific is also weird as a film, what with the funky lighting.

Seems to me that the criteria should be not what are the songs people recognize or how famous was the show, but how does it work as a film musical.

Also, I think that the person who said that large chunks of the plot need to be sung was right, but I think that shows how well South Park holds up as a musical. The songs were critical to the plot, IMHO.

Posted by: AH | September 5, 2006 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Always a big fan of So. Pacific, especially "Enchanted Evening" and "You've Got to Be Taught."

Seven Brides should be ranked #150. Ugh.

Liz, for Friday's list, you can have this: a friend and I tried to come up with the all-time worst songs from musicals (non-movies included). Near the top of our list: anything from Annie, I Don't Know How to Love Him, Shipoopi, Send in the Clowns, and Happy Talk.

Posted by: Lt. Cable | September 5, 2006 4:35 PM | Report abuse

"Cool" from West Side Story is my favorite from that musical, although Quintet is a close second. I would also add several Fred and Ginger numbers to a list of best musical moments, including "Let's Face the Music and Dance," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and the big number in Swing Shift which I can't name off the top of my head. But their best is the one in the gazebo -- I think it's "Night and Day" -- where Ginger at first refuses Fred's attentions but he gets her to dance and after they're finished he offers her a cigarette. The best dance-as-sex scene ever.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2006 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Baeuty and the Beast? Chicago? But no Music Man or Gigi? How bizarre.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2006 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Camelot is a terrible movie. It epitomizes everything that is wrong with the musical form. I've always assumed that the song Camelot from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was a direct comment on the movie Camelot and that's the main reason I love Holy Grail.

Posted by: Jeff | September 5, 2006 5:43 PM | Report abuse

It's hardly a big movie musical, but Victor/Victoria is one of my favorites. And the South park movie was a musical, and it was great. I especially liked the les miserable-esque "La Resistance" medley. And what about "I want it now!" from Willy Wonka? And I'm obligated to like Paint your wagon 'cause I'm partly named after one of the songs.

Posted by: MM | September 5, 2006 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Favorite movie music moment: Lily von Shtupp's "I'm Tired" in Blazing Saddles OR the Inquisition scene in History of the World: Part 1. And who could forget "Springtime for Hitler"?

This wasn't in a movie, but one of my favorite Oscar music moments was when Robin Williams sang "Blame Canada" from South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, complete with a mountie kickline.

I'm still shocked that Music Man and Rocky Horror were both overlooked. And, with tongue firmly in cheek, how could they forget Li'l Abner?

Posted by: erin | September 5, 2006 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Victor/Victoria was not a Movie Musical, it was a movie made in 1982 that had 2 songs in it. The Musical version Victor/Victoria opened in 1995. The musical version has not been made into a movie.

That is the problem with the list. So many of these shows were great on stage, had great songs, but made terrible movies. Annie, Camelot, A Chorus Line - though I enjoyed all 3 on stage, the movies stank. (Camelot is one of my favorite stage shows)

And peole dismiss things like "South Park" because it was never "theater musical" - thought I think it is great.

Caberet is on of the best adapetations of a Broadway show to the film ever done. As much as Liza is annoying and creepy in real life, the movie is chilling and great. The Bob Fosse coregraphy translated to film exceedingly well - which has been a chanllenge for film musicals made past 1950. Not memorable? Really? "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is one of the most chilling moments in film musical history.

Favorite Numbers:
- "America" "Cool" - West Side Story (The Opening shot over Manhattan is a great opening)
- "Luck Be a Lady" - Guys and Dolls
- "Big Spender" - Sweet Charity
- "Dancing in the Dark" - The Band Wagon

Posted by: Kal | September 5, 2006 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Victor/Victoria was not a Movie Musical, it was a movie made in 1982 that had 2 songs in it. The Musical version Victor/Victoria opened in 1995. The musical version has not been made into a movie.

That is the problem with the list. So many of these shows were great on stage, had great songs, but made terrible movies. Annie, Camelot, A Chorus Line - though I enjoyed all 3 on stage, the movies stank. (Camelot is one of my favorite stage shows)

And peole dismiss things like "South Park" because it was never "theater musical" - thought I think it is great.

Caberet is on of the best adapetations of a Broadway show to the film ever done. As much as Liza is annoying and creepy in real life, the movie is chilling and great. The Bob Fosse coregraphy translated to film exceedingly well - which has been a chanllenge for film musicals made past 1950. Not memorable? Really? "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is one of the most chilling moments in film musical history.

Favorite Numbers:
- "America" "Cool" - West Side Story (The Opening shot over Manhattan is a great opening)
- "Luck Be a Lady" - Guys and Dolls
- "Big Spender" - Sweet Charity
- "Dancing in the Dark" - The Band Wagon

Posted by: Kal | September 5, 2006 6:37 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Gypsy should have been in the top 25. I'd like to see the order of the final tally as well. What was 35 thru 180?

Posted by: Also | September 5, 2006 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Band Wagon gets on there? BAND WAGON?!? Obvious misses:

1. Seven Brides should have been in the top 10.

2. South Park should have been in the top 25.

3. Band Wagon should have been left off.

4. West Side Story is probably too high; it's minor Sondheim & Bernstein (but then, there has never been a great Sondheim movie).

5. They totally missed out on Music Man.

Posted by: Joseph J. Finn | September 6, 2006 1:04 AM | Report abuse

How about "Hedwig & The Angry Inch"?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 6, 2006 8:57 AM | Report abuse

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