They say that hindsight is 20/20. The recent release of My Week With Marilyn takes audiences back to the 1960s while Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest film, J. Edgar, rekindles old questions about whether the fearsome head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was a closet case.
To my mind, a much richer decade for source material is the 1920s, when the financial disparity in American society was almost as obscene as today’s economic divide. This was, after all, the decade of flappers, Prohibition, bootlegging, Al Capone, and the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
First created in 1926′s Chicago (written by Maurine Dallas Watkins), Roxie Hart is still on Broadway in the long-running revival of Kander & Ebb’s hit musical, Chicago. From 1960-1962, ABC ran a popular show which starred Dorothy Provine as Pinky Pinkham, the star of the Charleston Club. Everyone knew the theme song to The Roaring 20s.
On March 21, 1967, Thoroughly Modern Millie (starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, and Beatrice Lillie) was released. Its trailer promised a happier look at the Roaring Twenties.
Two biopics of musical comedy stars were released the following year. The media frenzy over Barbra Streisand’s screen debut on September 10, 1968 in the role that made her famous on Broadway made it difficult for a similar film to gain traction. Watching the trailer from Funny Girl offers a quick reminder of the film’s many delights:
Recently, San Francisco’s 42nd Street Moon mounted semi-staged revivals of the 1926 Gershwin Brothers musical, Oh, Kay! and Cole Porter’s 1933 London hit, Nymph Errant. Both musicals were created as showcases for Gertrude Lawrence.
In searching for videos to include with my reviews of these productions I was reminded that, fresh from her successes with Mary Poppins, The Americanization of Emily, The Sound of Music, Torn Curtain, and Thoroughly Modern Millie, Julie Andrews had made a musical biopic about Gertrude Lawrence. Notable for its musical numbers (staged by Michael Kidd) and Daniel Massey’s portrayal of Noel Coward (who, in real life, was Massey’s godfather), Star! has some great songs by Noel Coward, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Kurt Weill. It will undoubtedly prove quite satisfying for fans of Julie Andrews. The following five clips contain some of the film’s musical highlights.
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In terms of cinema, the 1920s was the decade in which silent film peaked and then suddenly fell victim to the invention of “talkies.” In reading some of the reviews posted about The Artist (the delightful new film by Michel Hazanavicius), I’ve been shocked by how many critics are questioning its box office potential because (a) the film is made in black and white, and (b) it’s a silent film.
They seem to think that no one in his right mind has ever seen a silent film.
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