When Our Favorite Broadway Composers Go Hollywood

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! In today’s post, we’re highlighting some of the best motion picture scores written by Broadway composers. On Mondays we cover musical theatre exclusively, but we’ve done shamefully little on this blog with musical films. (Stay tuned — there may be one coming up really soon on Film Fridays.) To remedy this, I thought I’d list some of my favorite composers and feature songs from some of their best cinematic works. (You’ll find that there’s a lot of Fred Astaire!)

 

Cole Porter

Born To Dance (1936)

A sailor on leave helps a young dancer make it to the top on Broadway. Starring Eleanor Powell, Jimmy Stewart, Frances Langford, Una Merkel, Sid Silvers, Virginia Bruce, and Buddy Ebsen.

One of my favorite Porter scores, this was reportedly one of Louis B. Mayer’s as well. Where else can you hear Jimmy Stewart sing? Sing, no less, a song that reportedly stumped William Gaxton! The song is “Easy To Love,” and though you probably know it from its interpolation back into Anything Goes revivals, this is the original as sung by Mr. Stewart.

Rosalie (1937)

A West Point cadet falls for a European princess. Starring Nelson Eddy, Eleanor Powell, Frank Morgan, Edna May Oliver, and Ray Bolger.

You may recall that the Gershwin brothers teamed up with Romberg for a 1928 stage adaptation of Rosalie that starred the divine Marilyn Miller. MGM, however, decided to commission an entirely original score by the man who gave them Born To Dance. The most famous number from this film is “In The Still Of The Night,” performed here by Nelson Eddy.

Something To Shout About (1943)

A recently divorced woman decides to use her alimony settlement to produce her own show. Unfortunately her chief backer insists on starring in it. Starring Don Ameche, Janet Blair, Jack Oakie, and William Gaxton.

This is practically an all but forgotten score — never before given proper release on home video or soundtrack. There are several really fun numbers, most notably “Through Thick And Thin” and “Hasta Luego,” which reinforces Porter’s Latin infatuation. But the standard to emerge was “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” One of my favorites, here’s Ambrose and his orchestra.

 

George Gershwin

Shall We Dance (1937) (Lyrics: Ira Gershwin)

A ballet dancer and a showgirl fake a marriage for publicity purposes, then fall in love. Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Edward Everett Horton.

Every Gershwin work seems packed with gems, and his elegant film scores are no execption. I’m sure the tunes from this picture sound familiar: “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off,” “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck,” and “They All Laughed.” But my absolute favorite from the score is “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Here’s Astaire with a true classic.

A Damsel In Distress (1937) (Lyrics: Ira Gershwin)

An American dancer on vacation in England falls for a sheltered noblewoman. Starring Fred Astaire, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Joan Fontaine, Reginald Gardner, Ray Noble, and Constance Collier.

What a film; what a cast; what a score! Can you imagine a musical that not only stars Fred Astaire with Olivia de Havilland’s sister, Joan Fontaine, but also includes the comedy stylings of Burns and Allen? Well there’s all that plus a tops Gershwin score. Another string of hits, but I think I’ll include “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” which WASN’T written for a 2011 musical of the same title.

The Goldwyn Follies (1938) (Lyrics: Ira Gershwin)

A movie mogul hires an innocent girl to teach him what the average audience member likes. Starring Adolphe Menjou, Vera Zorina, Kenny Baker, Helen Jepsen, Bobby Clark, Ella Logan, The Ritz Brothers, and Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy.

This film has gained notoriety for being the score George Gershwin was working on during the time of his untimely passing. “Love Is Here To Stay” is often cited as the final melody that he wrote, and I’ve shared that one before. But there are several songs from this score that I enjoy. Here’s “I Was Doing All Right,” as recorded by original cast member Ella Logan.

 

Irving Berlin

Top Hat (1935)

A woman thinks the man who loves her is her best friend’s husband. Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Edward Everett Horton.

This may be the quintessential Astaire/Rogers film, and it may be appearing soon on this blog in its own post. (An upcoming 1935 Film Friday, perhaps?) As one of Berlin’s greatest, this was, not surprisingly, adapted for the London stage in 2012. Again, I adore this score, which includes, “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)” and “Cheek To Cheek.” But this one above is my favorite.

Follow The Fleet (1936)

Two sailors on leave romance a dance-hall hostess and her prim sister. Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, and Harriet Hilliard.

I’m finding it difficult to come up with new ways to say “this is a great score!” I guess listing the tunes will suffice: “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket,” “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan,” “I’d Rather Lead A Band,” and “Let Yourself Go.” Here’s Rogers with the final title in that list — she and Berlin sizzle!

Carefree (1938)

A psychiatrist falls in love with the woman he’s supposed to be nudging into marriage with someone else. Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Ralph Bellamy, and Luella Gear.

I’ve always gotten the impression that this was considered a lesser Astaire/Rogers film, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The performers are superb, the script is funny, and the dances are divine. Maybe there are less standards than the two films above, but we still have classic Irving Berlin. Here’s one of my favorites, “Change Partners,” as sung by Mr. Astaire.

 

Richard Rodgers 

Love Me Tonight (1932) (Lyrics: Lorenz Hart)

A Parisian tailor falls in love with a princess. Starring Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charles Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, and Myrna Loy.

This is unquestionably one of the best original film musicals of all time. The cast is great, the score is great, and the music combines with the cinematography to tell the story. Several divine numbers emerged from Love Me Tonight. They include the title song, “Mimi,” “Lover,” and “Isn’t It Romantic?” Here’s MacDonald’s cover of the latter.

Mississippi (1935) (Lyrics: Lorenz Hart)

A coward joins a riverboat and is branded a killer following a barroom brawl. Starring Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, Joan Bennett, Gail Patrick, and Queen Smith.

This little known film has a strong cast and a solid Rodgers and Hart score, that, while not a Love Me Tonight equal, does present some of the best from their Hollywood years. This film helped provide a further boost to Crosby’s up-and-coming career. He gets several nice numbers. Here he is with the most famous from the score, “It’s Easy To Remember.”

State Fair (1945) (Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II)

An Iowa family finds romance and adventure at the yearly state fair. Starring Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine, Charles Winninger, William Marshall and Faye Bainter.

This is the second of three adaptations of State Fair, and the first of two to feature the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Undoubtedly my favorite adaptation, the cast shines, and the score, though not as strong as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s surrounding stage efforts, is pleasant, engaging, and right for the story. Here’s “It’s A Grand Night For Singing.”

 

Harold Arlen

The Wizard Of Oz (1939) (Lyrics: E.Y. “Yip” Harburg)

A Kansas farm girl dreams herself into a magical land where she must fight a wicked witch to escape. Starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton.

What is there to say about this classic? If you’ve been faithfully following my blog, you’ll know that I consider “Over The Rainbow” to be one of the finest songs ever written. But the entire score is so glorious and memorable. It’s simply a part of American culture, and it always will be. Here’s Ray Bolger’s “If I Only Had A Brain,” including the extended dance break.

The Sky’s The Limit (1943) (Lyrics: Johnny Mercer)

A pilot on leave falls for a pretty news photographer. Starring Fred Astaire, Joan Leslie, and Robert Benchley.

Arlen’s scores are so bluesy and ear-catching that I wish more of his work was revived. This particular film contains one of the bluesiest and ear-catchingiest tunes — “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road).” Astaire (yes, he’s in this one too!) is marvelous in this sequence. Here he is, once again.

A Star Is Born (1954) (Lyrics: Ira Gershwin)

A falling star marries the newcomer he’s helping reach the top. Starring Judy Garland and James Mason.

The second of three adaptations of A Star Is Born, this is definitely my favorite. Though they each have something unique to offer, no one seems as right for this role as Judy. Intended as one of her big comebacks, this lavish affair houses some iconic songs by Arlen and Ira Gershwin. The most famous is “The Man That Got Away.” Guess whose rendition this is.

 

Jerome Kern

Swing Time (1936) (Lyrics: Dorothy Fields)

To prove himself worthy of his fiancee, a dancer tries to make it big, only to fall for his dancing partner. Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore, and Helen Broderick.

The sophisticated Jerome Kern teams with Dorothy Fields to create one of Astaire/Rogers’ best scores. Truly. If you were to know any song from this score, it would probably be “The Way You Look Tonight.” But I’m crazy about “A Fine Romance” with those clever Fields lyrics. Here’s Fred and Ginger!

You Were Never Lovelier (1942) (Lyrics: Johnny Mercer)

An Argentine heiress thinks a penniless American dancer is her secret admirer. Starring Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, and Adolphe Menjou.

This film contains two wonderfully unique pairings that make for some real cinematic magic: Astaire with Hayworth and Kern with Mercer. The duos blend most delightfully and yield a couple of truly memorable tunes. Perhaps the most well known is “I’m Old Fashioned,” one of Astaire’s most romantic. Here he is again.

Cover Girl (1944) (Lyrics: Ira Gershwin) 

A nightclub dancer makes it big in modeling, leaving her dancer boyfriend behind. Starring Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Lee Bowman, Phil Silvers, and Eve Arden.

I’m not crazy about the story, but I’m crazy about all the performances and the entertaining score by Kern and Gershwin! The film is aesthetically beautiful to boot, with several very memorable sequences. The most notable number is “Long Ago (And Far Away),” and here’s the chillingly romantic tune as sung by Gene Kelly and Martha Meers, who dubs for Hayworth.

 

For the record, my other favorite Broadway composers include: Eubie Blake, Cy Coleman, Noel Coward, Vernon Duke, Rudolf Friml, Ray Henderson, Jerry Herman, Jimmy McHugh, Sigmund Romberg, Arthur Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne, Kay Swift, Kurt Weill, and Vincent Youmans. (I also like Harry Warren — but he’s almost exclusively a Hollywood man.) But we’ll save them for a later post!

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Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Hercules and Xena!

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