Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Why We Love MGM Musicals

I present to you a list of reasons why I think people love the MGM Musicals.

1) The talent and star power is unmatchable.
OK, while many of us still love the "non-MGMers"... Betty Grable, Dan Dailey, June Haver, Gordon MacRae, Doris Day, etc., there is no question that the MGM Contract players were in a class by themselves. No other studio can compare to the MGM's Triple Threat Trio of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Judy Garland (pictured above). It's impossible. The other studios tried, and fared well on the whole, but with those three magic names (among many others), the stars of other studios can't compare.

2) The Freed Unit
What do Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Easter Parade, Meet Me in St. Louis, On the Town, and Gigi have in common? Other than the distinction of being some of the greatest musicals ever made, they were all produced by one magical man: Arthur Freed. While to this day we don't know exactly what his role was and what his specific contributions were to these films, we can say with certainty that his movies and the now famously named "Freed Unit" at MGM are beyond compare. Freed had the gift of honing the best talent, both in front of and behind the camera. Gene Kelly made his film debut in the Freed-produced For Me and My Gal and rarely worked outside the Freed Unit. Cyd Charisse made her journey from featured dancer to leading lady in Freed's capable hands. Vincente Minnelli was brought into films (and directing) because of Freed, who had admired his work on Broadway. He had the knack for choosing the right talent for the right movie, whether it was enlisting arranger/later Associate Producer Roger Edens, voice coach and arranger Kay Thompson, or screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green. For more information on these geniuses behind the scenes, check out Hugh Fordin's book entitled MGM's Greatest Musicals: the most in-depth book published to date about life at the Freed Unit.

3) The MGM Studio Orchestra
While Fox might have had the highest quality sound studio, MGM had the greatest players, conductors, and orchestrators. Once MGM Musicals were becoming really popular (circa 1944), MGM expanded their studio and hired professional orchestral musicians. The result? The signature MGM sound that is heard in every musical from Meet Me in St. Louis and onward. With a strings section without peer, a killer horns section, and brilliant arrangers and orchestrators at the helm like Lennie Hayton, Roger Edens, Alexander Courage, and the grossly underrated Conrad Salinger, MGM's Studio Orchestra possessed a finesse like no other.

4) They make us happy. 
The MGM Musicals are full of iconic moments that just make us smile. Gene dances in the rain and flashes us that dazzling smile. Judy "gets happy" in Summer Stock. Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse magically and effortlessly dance in the dark in The Band Wagon. Judy finally breaks down Fred's impeccable style and class when they mug like "A Couple of Swells" in Easter Parade. Louis Jourdan realizes he's actually in love with Leslie Caron's Gigi. Judy and Mickey sing and dance their way to stardom by "putting on a show" over and over. I could go on and on. I'm sure everyone has that special MGM Musicals moment that never fails to put a smile on your face. I think they're the most joyful films ever made. They're so beautifully made that we cry with joy at their beauty (I know I'm not the only one who has)...

5) We feel comforted by them.
The MGM Musicals stars are our close friends and extended family, our medicine when we're taking a sick day or when we're just feeling down, and they're completely rewatchable treats. I'll never get sick of watching Judy and Gene together in Summer Stock, or Judy and Fred slowly fall in love with each other in Easter Parade. They're the most repeatable films to view on the planet, and, truly, my life is happier and richer with MGM Musicals. As a singer and film buff, they're the perfect movies for me.

I'm so thankful that for a few magical years, the "stars in the heavens" were perfectly aligned, and movie musical magic was created on those MGM soundstages. The films are irreplaceable, and to say they're special is an understatement. They're an important part of film history, and they are eternally joyful.

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