Every film fan needs their candy…the stuff they’ll love no matter what. For me, its MGM musicals. I just eat this stuff up without hesitation. If you’re looking at a good introduction, Warner Bros.’ 2006 set Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. 1 is a good choice. You get your Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli and Arthur Freed. Sure, all five films in the set are lesser known, but it provides any fan of their work a good fix.
- Till The Clouds Roll By – 1946, Richard Whorf – This Arthur Freed production tells a very fictionalized version of Showboat co-writer Jerome Kern’s life. Kern is played to exquisite perfection by Robert Walker and Lucille Bremmer is absolutely gorgeous as Sally Hessler, a fictional creation from MGM’s story department. Van Johnson plays her father (another fictional character). There’s also a great part for Judy Garland and fantastic Kern songs sprinkled throughout.
- Ziegfeld Follies – 1946, Vincente Minnelli – This was actually filmed a few years before it came out and, even though it’s shorter that Till The Clouds Roll By, it sure doesn’t feel like it. It’s a long, boring slog through a parade of sequences with MGM’s big musical stars performing. Some segments haven’t aged well (particularly the comedy bits, although Victor Moore’s hapless subway ride is a little funny), but it’s all worth it for the Gershwins’ “The Babbitt and the Bromide,” which features both Kelly and Astaire.
- Summer Stock – 1950, Charles Walters – Freed wasn’t the only genius producer at MGM. Joe Pasternak had the guts to give Judy one more shot and the result was Summer Stock, a fantastic throwback to her ‘let’s put a show on in the barn’ movies with Mickey Rooney. Kelly replaces Rooney and it’s for the better. He gets some fantastic moments. Of course, the major scene is Judy’s “Get Happy” performance at the end.
- Three Little Words – 1950, Richard Thorpe – I’m not a fan of Red Skelton, but this is a great film, even if it is the most obscure in the set. Vera-Ellen is a stunning beauty and her work with Astaire is nothing short of beautiful.
- It’s Always Fair Weather – 1955, Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen – Betty Comden and Adolph Green once hoped that this would be an On The Town sequel, but it turned out to be much more than that. Although the production was tough, this is one great film. One day, I’ll write a full book on how underrated this film is.