Blog Directory CineVerse: Home run of a movie musical

Home run of a movie musical

Thursday, April 30, 2015

"Damn Yankees" may not be a household name among fans of Hollywood musicals, but it holds its own as a crowd-pleasing Eisenhower-era artifact that will get your toes tapping. While it certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel or outshine most anything by MGM's Arthur Freed unit, this little slugger can still hit for power in the charm department, even if gets picked off base here and there. Here's our scouting report, CineVerse style:

How is this film different from and similar to previous Hollywood musicals?
It’s a surprisingly spirited and lively musical, thanks to strong music and the dynamism of Gwen Verdon as Lola, despite the fact that its songs and repertoire are not as memorable as those from other classic Hollywood musicals.
Aside from the then-popular heartthrob idol Tab Hunter, the cast is not as well known; that’s because the filmmakers chose to primarily cast the performers from the original Broadway theater production.  The advantage of doing this is that they know and fit their parts well; the disadvantage is that there are no major movie stars featured in this picture.  Contemporary musical adaptations that also followed this formula are The Pajama Game, South Pacific, and Oklahoma!.
On that note, and to the movie’s credit, the casting of Gwen Verdon is a curious but correct one; she’s arguably not as attractive or glamorous as a known Hollywood starlet might have been, but she’s an excellence dancer with kinetic panache, rhythmically energetic sexuality, and undeniable screen presence.
One of the film’s secret weapons is the brilliant choreography by Bob Fosse, who also appears onscreen as a dancer.
Like other musicals of this Cold War period, Damn Yankees perpetuated a proclivity for Americana and all-American virtues, as evidenced in other big screen musicals of this era, like Oklahoma!, State Fair, and Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
Unfortunately, as can be argued about Brigadoon and some other film musicals of this period, there’s a staginess and somewhat static theatricality that pervades throughout Damn Yankees.  It simply doesn’t play very well cinematically.  The picture wastes its widescreen aspect ratio by not maximizing its compositions spatially and by keeping the camera fairly immobile.  Many critics also maintain that the acting is flat and impassionate.
Also, many feel the film fizzles out by lacking a grand finale musical number to close out the picture.
Due to censorship issues, some of Lola’s sizzle is muted; she isn’t allowed to swing and sway her hips and flout her legs as seductively as she does in the Broadway version, critics and scholars contend.  As vibrant and alluring as she is, and the codes and mores of the 1950s mandated that her sex appeal be toned down and her movements carefully edited.
Reviewer Matt Bailey summarized musicals of this period accurately: “In the late 1950s, the movie musical fell on hard times. The decade began with the genre at its incontestable peak: lavish, extravagant films like Showboat, An American in Paris, and Singin’ in the Rain were the order of the day. As the years progressed, however, movie musicals continued to be made but delivered diminishing returns. Whereas the start of the decade offered back-to-back productions by MGM’s legendary Arthur Freed crammed with astonishing song-and-dance numbers, the end and the start of the next put forward nothing but dull, widescreen vistas of obvious soundstages where singers flown in from Broadway (or worse—Hollywood actors who couldn’t sing) stood around and declaimed on love and marriage in adequate but unmemorable song. With hoofing and tapping somehow hopelessly out of fashion, the movie musical became staid and unexciting: the poor man’s punishment for not being able to see the original Broadway show.”

Other films that damn Yankees brings to mind:
The Devil and Daniel Webster
Angels in the Outfield (1951)

Other movies directed by both George Abbott and Stanley Donen:
The Pajama Game

Other films directed or co-directed by Stanley Donen:
On the Town
Royal Wedding
Singin’ in the Rain
Funny Face

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