• Welcome to The Fedora Lounge!

Favorite Use of a Song in a Golden Era Movie

Discussion in 'The Moving Picture' started by Fading Fast, Oct 10, 2017.

  1. There are some songs that just pop in a movie - they advance the plot, define a character, set a tone, evoke the right mood or, heck, they just work 'cause they are done so darn well.

    Some of my favorites are:
    • (My least original thought ever, but it's that good that I still love it): The "Marseillaise" in "Casablanca" as it both reveals Rick's truer sympathies and, heck, I was ready to grab a gun and start fighting to free France as it was so powerful
    • "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön" in "Love, Honor and Behave" as Priscilla Lane's character belts out a great version and, basically, the song tells why she's in love as the title of the song translates to "to me your are beautiful."
    • "Put the Blame on Mame" lip-synched by Rita Hayworth in "Gilda." What a mood setter - the words don't really matter, it's sultry, she's sultry, the dancing is sultry and, by proxy, the entire effort is sultry - that song is the backdrop vibe for the movie

    Some other classic ones:
    • "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" in "Holiday Inn"
    • "We're Off to See the Wizard" in "Wizard of Oz"
  2. Casablanca - As Time Goes By.

    No explanation necessary...
  3. "Everyone Says I Love You" in the Marx Brothers' "Horse Feathers."

    It's a cute, chirpy little Kalmar-Ruby pop tune of the moment, but it's deconstructed by each of the four Brothers in his own distinctive style. Zeppo sings it first, to Thelma Todd, in the manner of a flat-footed, utterly insincere movie crooner -- and anyone who doubts that Zeppo had a comic purpose in the Brothers' act will be brought up short right here, because his performance is, if you know the tropes of movie crooning at all, absolutely hilarious. Chico performs it as a snappy piano solo, with comic variations on the the vocal, Harpo does a gorgeous harp performance of the number -- directed to his horse, and Groucho caps it by playing it -- badly -- on his guitar while Thelma Todd rows him across a lake in a boat. He sings his own sarcastic variation on the lyric, and punctuates his performance by throwing the guitar, and eventually Thelma herself, overboard.

    None of this would have worked if the song was a serious Gershwin/Kern/Porter type of sophisticated Broadway song -- but "Everyone Says I Love You" is so adorably and deliberately hokey and cheesy in its tune and its lyrics that it begs to be sent up, and all four of the Brothers rise fully to the occasion. One of my favorite musical numbers in all of 1930s film.

    Another one I like, for different reasons, is Johnny Mercer and Dick Whiting's "Let That Be A Lesson To You," from "Hollywood Hotel." This is a swingy arrangement performed as a big production number in a snazzy neon-bedecked Hollywood drive-in restaurant, with succeeding choruses performed by Johnny "Scat" Davis, Dick Powell, Rosemary Lane, Mabel Todd, and a carhop chorus to the accompaniment of Benny Goodman and his Orchestra. The visuals and the arrangement are pretty much the apotheosis of the late thirties musical, and it's a fun, clever song besides.
    52Styleline likes this.
  4. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

    Lieutenant John Chard: [the Zulus are chanting before their final charge] Do you think the Welsh can't do better than that, Owen?
    Pte. Owen: Well, they've got a very good bass section, mind, but no top tenors, that's for sure.
    If there's a song that relates to a film and a film that recalls a song, then Ivor Emmanuel, in the role of Private Owen takes some beating. It's pure fiction of course but their rendition of Men of Harlech, in the film, Zulu, was inspired.

    Music does have some very strong influences. Who can listen to Offenbach's: "Orpheus in the Underworld," without an image of The Cancan going round their head.
    And David Rose, "The Stripper," enough said.

    Other great songs that just made the movie. Gene Kelly, "Singing in the Rain." Tex Ritter, “The Ballad of High Noon” (or “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin’”)

    My all time favourite has to be: Swing Time, with Fred & Ginger dancing to: "Pick Yourself Up" by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields.
  5. ⇧ Great Fred and Ginger choice. I've also always loved "Isn't This a Lovely Day" from "Top Hat," in part, I think, because Ginger's in pants and low-healed boots and looks likes she's having more fun than ever - it's less fussy, more casual and still has the Fred & Ginger magic:

    Another great "music video" inside a movie is Crosby and Sinatra's number "Well Did You Evah" in "High Society"
    • First, you have Sinatra and Crosby together - 'nuff said
    • Plus, it captures the lighthearted approach this remake of "The Philadelphia Story" took
      • The entire movie is basically a long play video with some dialogue thrown in - you watch the original for the movie and this one for the music
  6. Crosby shows Frankie what "cool" really is in that picture.
  7. Bingo

    Could not agree more - Bing is cool, Frank works at it.

    Another Bing-is-cool moment - his duet video of "Little Drummer Boy" with David Bowie. He has none - zero - of the snark or condescension that many of his generation showed toward the rock and rollers. He was old-school awesome in that and showed a continuum of music / an evolution of sound from his style to Bowie's that was wonderful.

    Last edited: Oct 11, 2017
    Just Jim likes this.
  8. Another real favorite of mine comes from the 1934 Wheeler and Woolsey comedy "Hips Hips Hooray."

    The setup is rather plotty -- W&W are con men trying to help out a couple of young women by getting them financing for their cosmetics company, and to do so they need to commandeer an office in which to sign the papers. They do this by convincing a stuffy Babbitt-type businessman that his house is on fire, and then covering his sign on the door with their own. Events then devolve considerably, when Wheeler and one of the young ladies, Dorothy Lee, go out on the office's balcony and go into a performance of yet another hokey-goofy Kalmar & Ruby pop tune, "Keep On Doin' What You're Doin'." In the office, Woolsey and the other gal,played by Thelma Todd, take the second chorus, with Woolsey writhing lewdly as Todd pulls his underwear out of his pants. The four then proceed to utterly destroy the office, smashing furniture and vases, disembowling the filing cabinets and generally wreaking havoc as they prance around striking sybaritic poses and engaging in vaudeville-style acrobatics which involve tossing Dorothy in the air with a blanket. The businessman returns in an outrage, storms into the office, and is immediately grabbed by Woolsey, who waltzes him gracefully into a closet and locks him in. The four then dance out the door, removing their sign on the door as they go.

    Description doesn't do this bit justice. It's a wild parody of all the lavish production numbers then common in RKO musicals, and a thumbing of the nose at the Production Code, with nothing but insane devastation left in its wake.

    Wheeler and Woolsey loved this sort of routine, and such genial musical chaos turned up in most of their films. Their 1933 feature "Diplomaniacs," one of the most outrageous comedies of the decade, is full of such numbers, including one in which Wheeler is wrestled to the deck of a ship by sex-crazed Marjorie White, who is bellowing a song called "Sing To Me," another which snidely parodies the Paris boulevard musicals of Maurice Chevalier by featuring W&W arising from bed together, with Wheeler in a frilly negligee trilling like Jeanette MacDonald (and in case anyone misses the point, Woolsey gives Wheeler a nice whack across the backside) and a big capper set at the Geneva Peace Conference where Edgar Kennedy presides as chairman with a machine gun to keep order, and a saboteur's bomb goes off leaving the entire delegation in clownish blackface, singing a deliberately ridiculous minstrel-show-style number called "Ain't Gonna War No More!" The result is that the world is plunged into war, and W&W end the picture by being drafted and sent off to the front. All that packed into 63 minutes. The mind boggles.
    vitanola likes this.
  9. One of the amazing things about so many of those pre-codes is the amount of plot, action, twists, etc., that they put into movie of an hour-ish in length. We recently discussed the Cagney movie "Taxi" here and it would probably take me longer than an hour to give a comprehensive summary of the plot, yet the movie is all of 69 minutes long.

    A lot of the artsy stuff of today (long panning shots, expansive pensive moments, slow thoughtful "mood setting" pacing to the next action event) was ignored - if you wanted to shoot someone, you pulled out a gun and shot them, you wanted to punch them, you hit them, you wanted to quit a job and start your own company, you did it in thirty seconds screen time ("I quit," new scene: sign going up out front of a freshly painted office, etc.,) - no-nonsense film making. It wouldn't hurt some directors today to go back and watch the pacing of these early '30s movies.
    LizzieMaine likes this.
  10. That's one of the things I really love about "Diplomaniacs" especially -- there literally isn't a single wasted second in the whole picture, and the gags come at you so thick and so fast that you barely have a chance to think before the next one is coming at you. It's one of the most joyfully ridiculous movies ever made -- next to it, "Duck Soup" is a plodding, formalized construction.

    It's also a movie that for a long time you hardly ever saw on television -- and if you did, it was cut to about 45 minutes to eliminate all the offensive gags. Which kind of missed the point of the whole thing -- it was a film that was playing with movie and ethnic stereotypes to ridicule them, not perpetuate them. When you have Hugh Herbert showing up as an aphorism-spouting "sinister Chinese henchman" with a Yiddish accent, you kind of ought to realize the type of ground you're playing on.

    The big blackface climax is like that too -- it uses an over-the-top stereotype to make a very trenchant political comment: to the average American moviegoer in 1933, a minstrel show was the most low-brow, ridiculous, pointless type of outmoded entertainment there was. By turning a "peace conference" full of national stereotypes into a minstrel show, the filmmakers weren't making a racial joke, they were pointing out the stupid, clownish futility of nationalism itself. Pretty heady stuff for a Wheeler and Woolsey picture, but it was, after all, written by Joseph Mankiewicz, who was a pretty bright bulb when he wasn't coming up with insane gags.
    vitanola likes this.
  11. Not my usual fare, but you've convinced me to watch it next time it comes up. What you see in so much of the pre-code and, sometimes, buried beneath he surface in the code-enforced era is that most of our forward-thinking today was already well thought over even back then.

    I recently watched and wrote about (http://www.thefedoralounge.com/thre...ovie-you-watched.20830/page-1201#post-2303206) "Son of the Gods," a 1930 movie with some very modern-if-adjusted-for-the-times views on racism that would put every smug thinking "I'm so radical because I'm against racism" person today in their place. Thankfully, many got the ugliness of it back then.
  12. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

    Your description sent me to Youtube, where "Just Keep On..." can be found. You're right! Great bit.
  13. And to boot, the choreography for that number was by none other than Hermes Pan, who was just weeks away from beginning his long collaboration with Fred Astaire. I've always regretted that RKO never saw fit to throw Wheeler and Woolsey into an Astaire-Rogers picture, the way Paramount used to stick Burns and Allen into their Bing Crosby musicals, but some things were just never meant to be...
    vitanola and scotrace like this.
  14. "Sun Valley Serenade" is basically an ice-skating movie wrapped inside a series of Glen Miller (what we call today) music videos - "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "Moonlight Serenade," "In the Mood" and several other Miller arrangements get prominent billing - with Glen and his orchestra performing them (some integrated / some jammed into the movie - these were early music videos).

    I saw this movie again recently for the first time in years and was surprised at how prominently Glen, his orchestra and his music were featured. It felt like those early '80s MTV videos from movies - which is just another example of how everything that seems new (MTV and music videos were viewed as groundbreaking when they first came out) has antecedents going way back.

    That entire movie is scenery, skating, music and cuteness - there's a plot of no importance in theory holding it all together, but not really, as it's all about the scenery, skating, music and cuteness. It's a series of music videos and some other stuff bunched together being called a movie. Like videos today, that movie gave fans of Miller's music a way to see it being performed without going to a concert.
    vitanola likes this.
  15. In a lot of ways that picture is a throwback to the plotless "revue" films of the early talkie era -- in 1929-30 just about every studio did a picture like this, throwing a bunch of stars together and having them do speciality bits without any attempt at a plot. Paul Whiteman's "The King Of Jazz" in 1930 is pretty close in idea to the Miller picture -- it's basically just an hour and a half of strung-together Technicolor production numbers spotlighting the band, with little comedy blackouts featuring various Universal contract players dropped randomly between the scenes. They didn't have an ice skater, but they did have a guy who played "The Stars and Stripes Forever" on a bicycle pump.

    Wilbur Hall was a veteran vaudevillian -- can you tell? -- and he lived long enough to do this exact same act on TV's "The Gong Show" in the 1970s. Three times he did it, yet.
    vitanola and Fading Fast like this.
  16. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

    The cartoons of Tom & Jerry didn't arrive on British TV until, probably the 1970's. That's a personal recall, (they were always in colour and we didn't have colour TV until the 70's, I think.) However I do recall Jerry Mouse, voiced by Sara Berner, in a duet song & dance with Gene Kelly, to: "The Worry Song." It was in the movie: Anchors Aweigh.

    For years I thought that the song: "If You Knew Susie," was written for that film, then my Dad told me to look up Eddie Cantor, from that I found that it had originally been written for Al Jolson. Is it any wonder that I love this era?
    There is an amusing postscript to this. If we got our spelling wrong at school in essays or compositions, the word would be underlined in red by our teacher. How was I to know that aweigh was a pun?
  17. ⇧ Somewhat related, but my introduction to classical music wasn't in my home growing up (none of that "highbrow nonsense" in our house), but from the cartoons that used it as the accompanying music to much of the GE era's cartoons.

    Embarrassingly (and my girlfriend still laughs at this), it wasn't until I was an adult and "discovered" classic music for myself that I realized how much of it I knew from cartoons and classic movies.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2017
  18. EngProf

    EngProf One of the Regulars

    One of the best lines from the "Seinfeld" TV show was said by Elaine when Jerry was trying to impress some woman with his knowledge of classical music: "All you know about classical music is what you learned by watching "Looney Tunes".

    My own situation also...

    I know a couple of Professors of Musicology in our Blair School of Music and I have always wanted to ask them if they automatically thought of the Lone Ranger when they heard the "William Tell Overture". ("Hi-Ho Silver! Awaaay!!")
    Fading Fast likes this.
  19. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

    Good job you didn't think of Jacques Offenbach: "Orphée aux Enfers" Orpheus in the Underworld. It ends in the Galop Infernal. (Can can)
    There's a fabulous rendition by Mellanie Holliday, a former dancer turned opera singer, here she is making classical music every schoolboy's fantasy.
  20. "Lara's Theme" from "Dr. Zhivago" fits the movie and character perfectly.

    The song is sad but pretty and fragile (Lara defined / Russia in ways) with an echo of the music stye of the early 1900s.

    When I hear even just a few notes of that song, the movie and its emotions immediate come to mind.


Share This Page