Classic musical films about composers


Six years before his death in 1996, the composer of “Rent” Jonathan larson started playing a semi-autobiographical solo musical “Tick, Tick… ​​Boom!” About a struggling young composer named Jon who fears he made the wrong career choice. After his death, Larson’s show was extended to a three-person play by David Auburn which took place in London, off Broadway and on a nationwide tour. Now is an acclaimed new Netflix movie directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (which appeared in an Encores production of the musical in 2014) and starring Andrew Garfield.

The composer’s genre of bio-film has long been a Hollywood favorite, especially during its heyday. But these bio-photos played quickly and freely with the facts. The Production Code prevented these films from exploring the fact that Cole porter and Lorenz Hart were homosexuals. And some of those composers and / or their families were still alive and wanted a certain image presented on the big screen. As Oscar Levant joked about “Rhapsody in Blue”, the 1945 film about George Gershwin, “even the lies about him were distorted”. Let’s take a closer look at some of these classic musicals.

“Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942)
The Rolls-Royce of the composer-bio pics thanks to Michael Curtiz ‘ fluid direction and Jacques Cagneythe Oscar-winning power performance as George M. Cohan, who was alive when the film was in production and died five months after its release. Cohan had written and produced some 35 plays and wrote 500 songs, including standards such as “Give My Regards to Broadway”, “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”, “Over There” and “Mary”. Although Cagney is best known for playing steel-eyed gangsters, he was a singer and dancer before his movie stardom, and the actor is exuberant in his musical numbers, especially “Give My Regards to Broadway”. It’s a performance for the ages and Cagney’s only Oscar.

Cohan had complained about the way he was portrayed in the script. Associate producer Guillaume Cagney, the actor’s brother, executive producer Hal B. Wallis, and screenwriter Robert buckner sent a letter to Cohan explaining that the bio-photos produced by Warner Brothers often change the facts for dramatic purposes: “Under your construction… the story is largely about your production timeline, interspersed with personal scenes… We believe that The Americanism of your life is much more important than the success story. Thirteen years later, Cagney reprized his role of Cohan in a playful dance number with Bob the hope in “Les Sept Petites Foys”.

“Rhapsody in Blue” (1945)
This “biography” of George gershwin, who tragically died of a brain tumor at the age of 38 in 1937, was a huge success for Warner Bros. Robert alda, Alan’s dad, plays Gershwin in the film starring Oscar Levant, Al jolson and Paul whiteman performing themselves as well as 22 of George and his brother Ira’s most beloved songs. According to, the reason so many writers were put on the project was because “the lack of dramatic material in Gershwin’s life. It wasn’t that her life was devoid of romance. It was said that he had had affairs with everyone from Adele astaire To Fay wray. Friends noticed that he always proposed to beautiful women, none of whom took him seriously. None of this was considered screen-worthy, so the writers Sonya leviem, Elliot Paul and Howard koch created two fictional romances for the film.

“Night and day” (1946)
With the success of “Rhapsody in Blue,” Warner Bros. then explored the life and music of Cole porter of fame for “Anything Goes” who was always a major player on Broadway and in the movies. Cary grant was selected to play Porter and Alexis smith his wife Linda. Curtiz also made this Technicolor hit that totally bypasses the composer’s homosexuality – after all, it’s 1946. The musical numbers are a lot of fun and you’ll enjoy watching Grant in his first color film.

“Until the Clouds Roll” (1946)
MGM recruited their top music stars for this mostly fictional Technicolor bio-pic on Jerome Kern (“Show boat”), including Judy Garland, June Allyson, Van johnson, Angela Lansbury, Lena Horne, Frank sinatra, Catherine grayson and Lucille Bremer to feature in the many issues. The Boy Next Door Star Robert walker plays Kern, who died in November 1945. Critics weren’t happy with this movie, especially The New York Times: Songs of Jerry Kern? And why did he have to do it in such a overused and sentimental way that it struck the sensibilities of even the most affectionate? Yet MGM must have thought that Walker was making fine music composers because the following year he played Johannes brahms in “Love song”.

“Words and Music” (1948)
Sumptuous Technicolor MGM musical bio-pic on composers Lorenz Hart and Richard rodgers (“Pal Joey”, “On Your Toes”) which shies away from reality. Hart (Mickey rooney) was a homosexual, alcoholic, who was only 48 when he died in 1943, and Rodgers (Tom drake) played his personal cards near his waistcoat. The best and only reason to watch the movie is for all 14 musical numbers, including Rooney and Garland singing “I Wish I Were in Love Again” and Lena Horne’s renditions of “The Lady is a Tramp” and “Where or When “. The real pitfall is Gene Kelly and Vera-ellen dancing the sexy ballet “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” from “On Your Toes”.

“Three Little Words” (1950)
MGM was back in the “so-called” bio-business with this Technicolor hit based on the lives and songs of Bert kalmar (Fred astaire) and Harry ruby (red skeleton). The film also stars Gloria De Haven -playing one’s own mother- young Debbie reynolds as singer Helen Kane, as well as Vera-Ellen, who makes a lovely dance partner with Astaire, and Keenan wynn. “Three Little Words” was more factual than the usual organic fare (Kalmer died in 1947) and was one of Astaire’s personal favorites. Among the excellent songs featured, including the title track, “Who’s Sorry Now? And “I want to be loved by you.” And a lot of critics loved the film, including Variety: “For Astaire, this is hands down his best film in quite some time. His [dancing], as always, is top notch, his vocals are adequate and his characterization of Kalmar, while never deeply engraved, does full justice to the many talents of the late songwriter, ”adding that Vera-Ellen matches Astaire“ tap for tap … And seems to be the best partner he’s ever had.

“The best things in life are free” (1956)
When we think of movie musicals, we don’t consider Ernest Borgnine like one of the stars. But Borgnine, then recent Oscar winner, plays the role of the composer Lew brown, who joined forces in the 1920s with other composers from Tin Pan Alley sylva’s boyfriend (Gordon MacRae) and Ray henderson (Dan Dailey). Borgnine doesn’t sing in the movie, but music veterans Dailey and MacRae are in great shape, performing standards like “Button your overcoat” and “You’re the cream in my coffee”, Michael Curtiz, organic veteran -musical photo, was the director. Reviews were mixed. The New York Times found it “sometimes entertaining and generally harmless” because of the music and “a few nice people,” adding “but as a rather polite career biography of three seasoned professionals it seems an extremely sweet reflection. , even neglectful, of the history of show business and the era itself.

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