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The Progress of the Hollywood Musical

When Hollywood musicals first appeared in the 1920’s no-one may have realised just how significant an impact they would have on society, how they would grow to such amazing and immortal proportions and, of course, how they would affect Hollywood itself. The musicals evolved at a fast pace, changing over the decades according to the demands and trends of the public, creating the proper studio technology as it went along. A lot of ground-breaking technolgy in film-making today owes much to the progress made in musical production.

The musicals had to draw upon society, too, for it’s inspiration and appeal to public opinion. To be endearing, the musical had to relate to it’s viewers and apply to the times they lived in. In the 1920’s the first musicals were naturally seen as revolutionary and exciting but lacked sophistication and natural acting. They relied heavily upon the glamor and personal appeal of its stars. The 1929 Wall Street crash saw to it that many New York theatres closed their doors, resulting in the move to Hollywood of performers such as Fred Astaire, Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald.

The Broadway Melody (1929) used the ever-popular ‘back-stage in the theatre’ theme and, although filming was scratchily done with exaggerated mimicry in comparison to later standards, they helped the public step into a make-believe life of song and dance which was a world apart from the real-life problems of the fnancially broken decade. The 1930’s formed the decade of depression. Reflecting these gloomy times, Hollywood grew more colorful and more exotic. The struggling public enjoyed an inexpensive means of escapism.

The musicals were fantasy with glamorous costumes, filming techniques and staging. Fred Astaire’s dance routines were imaginative and fast-paced placing an emphasis on choreography in film. Many of the most outstanding musicals of our time, such as Top Hollywood Musical 3 Hat (1935), were made in this era of depression. The Wizard of Oz (1939) was the first Technicolor musical film and set a standard. Judy Garland won over the public and Hollywood and went on to star in dozens of box-office hit musicals with proper storylines.

Society accepted their stars breaking into dance and song as completely natural in films. In the 1940’s musicals had reached their Technicolor peak and the public enjoyed a variety of musicals teamed with romance and comedy to help get through the war. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra starred in Anchors Aweigh (1945) depicting the current environment. Society identified with the war heroes in many of the films, and many musical female stars became pin-ups for soldiers. The decor and choreography of the musicals were extravagant, themes followed with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in singing comedy serials.

Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby are amongst the biggest stars who continued to shine in musical films throughout the 1940’s and all through the 1950’s. However, the 1950’s produced two types of musical. While the genre of Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain (1952) with extensive choreography continued to be hugely popular and many theatrical productions were successfully made into musical film, the arrival of rock’n’roll in the mid-fifties brought about a whole new type of musical film.

The public was young and energetic and this ultimately reflected on Hollywood. There was less emphasis on choreography, with more emphasis on the stars and the songs. The musicals had left the extravagant stages of the studios for more down-to-earth settings, such as Jailhouse Rock (1957), and Frank Sinatra continued to grow evermore popular. The films were actually more colorful and the acting toned down.

Finally, That’s Entertainment in 1974, while celebrating the golden era of Hollywood with it’s lucrative musicals also proved that the musical had run it’s course and seemed to be no longer in demand by the producers or by the public. Hollywood Musical 4 …

References

MGM (1929). The Broadway Melody. USA. RKO Radio Pictures (1935). Top Hat. USA. MGM (1939). The Wizard of Oz. USA. MGM (1945). Anchors Aweigh. USA. Loew’s (1952). Singing in the Rain. USA. Avon Productions (1957). Jailhouse Rock. USA. MGM (1974). That’s Entertainment. USA.

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