Musicals, man

Essential Classic American Musicals

There are certain people who claim that they can’t stand to watch movie musicals, especially the classic, burst-into-song fantasias of Hollywood’s golden age. Perhaps modern moviegoers feel they are too sophisticated to buy into the cornball premise, although considering the $145 million domestic take of Wild Hogs, I’m guessing sophistication has nothing to do with it.

I can’t conceive of a more perfectly cinematic genre than the classic Hollywood musical, especially considering, by comparison, the demented screechiness of last year’s Dreamgirls. Now three classic musicals from three different decades—1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis, 1954’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and 1962’s The Music Man—have been collected in Warner Home Video’s Essential Classic American Musicals box set, for release on April 24.

Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis tells the colorful story of a turn-of-the-century family whose four daughters are turned upside down by the impending World’s Fair and potential romance with the boy next door. This is the best showcase for post-Wizard of Oz Judy Garland, who debuts “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” However, Margaret O’Brien—a child actor who could be unbearable—steals the show as Tootie, the macabre youngest daughter.

Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is most notable for its kinky premise involving kidnapped brides who fall for their woodsman abductors and the insanely acrobatic, borderline dangerous dance choreography of the barn-raising scene. (Here’s where modern movie musicals fall flat: They can’t dance to save their lives.)

The Music Man is the least of the three, but still an engaging, small-town musical anchored by the catchy Meredith Wilson songs—including “Trouble” and “Seventy-Six Trombones”—and Robert Preston’s spritely performance as the con man “professor” Harold Hill. Taken together, these films should serve as manna for musical lovers, and a solid introduction for the curious.