Blog

Spotlight: 1930s Germany

Spotlight: 1930s GermanyIf you have just finished reading In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson’s portrait of Germany as the Nazis rise to power and influence), you might like one of the following movie depictions of the same time and place.

Cabaret (1972) is the popular musical starring Liza Minelli as the original “good time girl” who is oblivious to the changes happening around her. Based on The Berlin Stories of Christopher Isherwood.

Three Comrades (1938) is a poignant story of the love between fragile Margaret Sullavan and Robert Taylor. Taylor’s other two comrades are Franchot Tone and Robert Young.  Young, politically active, runs into trouble with the pro-Nazi marchers in the streets.

Mephisto (1981) is a German language movie with Klaus Maria Brandauer, as an actor who sells his soul to the devil in order to keep working in Nazi-era Germany.

The Harmonists (1997) is based on the true story of a successful German singing group that was forced to disband in 1934 because three of its members were Jewish.

Hairspray

Hairspray (2007) PG
Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), an overweight and goodhearted teenager, is able to live her dream and become a regular member of her favorite TV dance program, The Corney Collins Show,which seems to be Baltimore’s version of American Bandstand.

This lively musical is set in 1962 when segregation was prominent. The issues of prejudice and integration are dealt with in an upbeat manner. See John Travolta transformed into Tracy’s plus sized mother. I finished my viewing with a smile on my face and songs in my head, especially “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” (sang by Queen Latifah).

Also costarring Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron, Allison Janney, James Marsden, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brittany Snow, and Christopher Walken.

Hairspray was based on John Waters’ cult film Hairspray (1988) which spawned a Broadway musical and this movie version. Check out the music with the CD Hairspray: original Broadway cast recording.

Sweet Charity

Sweet Charity (1968)
Charity (Shirley MacLaine) is sweet and trusting and easily used by the worthless men she keeps falling in love with. When Charity meets a young insurance clerk who doesn’t know about her life as a dance hall hostess, Charity thinks, “this could be it!”

For another movie choreographed and directed by Bob Fosse, see All That Jazz.

Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) G
This classic musical comedy is pure entertainment. Set in the 1920s, Singin’ in the Rain shows the awkward transition from silent films to talkies. Everything works in this film – the skits, the songs, and the stars.

The greatest movie musical of all time (according to the American Film Institute) stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Jean Hagen. Read Roger Ebert’s take on the film. Check out TCM to watch movie clips and featurettes.

Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! (2001) PG-13
The opening scene of this movie is a frenetic, whirling burst of lights, colors, and music! But try and stick with it because it is one luscious movie!

As the story goes, Christian, an impoverished writer, comes to Paris and falls in with Toulouse-Lautrec and the Bohemians of Montmartre, which leads us all to a merry romp at the Moulin Rouge. Christian meets Satine, the club's star and a beautiful courtesan. When he falls head-over-heels in love with her, a dangerous love triangle begins!

Ewan McGregor is terrific as Christian, Nicole Kidman is perfect as Satine, and they sing and dance! Visit About.com to find more about the movie, the stars, and the music.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
This funny and entertaining musical just might be Marilyn Monroe’s best movie. In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monroe and costar Jane Russell are superb. To publicize the movie, the actresses put their handprints in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – and they both wrote “gentlemen prefer blondes.”

For more fun facts about the movie, visit the TCM website. And enjoy this video of the leading ladies at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Holiday Inn

Holiday Inn (1942)
Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire shine in this classic film featuring the music of Irving Berlin. After his girl leaves him for showbiz partner Ted Hanover (Astaire), Jim Hardy (Crosby) heads to Connecticut to run an inn that’s only open on the holidays. While the best known “holiday” song is the Academy Award-winning “White Christmas (1943 Best Song), other entertaining tunes include ditties for Washington's birthday (“I Can't Tell a Lie”) and Independence Day (“Song of Freedom”). Follow the men as they meet each holiday to compete for a woman – who also happens to be Hardy’s new partner.

Bells are Ringing

Bells are Ringing (1960)
Telephone operator Ella Peterson (Judy Holliday) becomes involved with the lives of all the customers at Susanswerphone, including handsome playwright Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin). When Ella finally meets Jeffrey, its love at first sight, but she can't tell him who she really is--the motherly voice on the phone who has been listening to his problems and giving him advice. Includes the songs "Just in Time" and "The Party's Over." Also with Jean Stapleton (of All in the Family) and directed by Vincente Minnelli. See it at the library on Friday, December 5 at 7:00.

Bride and Prejudice

Bride and Prejudice (2004) PG-13
The stunning Aishwarya Rai stars in this Bollywood reworking of the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice. In the middle of the sparkling musical numbers, a story breaks out! Will the independent Lalita, daughter of the matchmaking Mrs. Bakshi, and Will Darcy (whom Lalita considers arrogant) get together, or will his pride and her prejudice prevail?

If you want the classic Pride and Prejudice, here's what you can find at the library: the five hour BBC version starring Colin Firth, the 2005 movie starring Keira Knightley, the book, CD audiobook, or Playaway.

Lubitsch Musicals

Lubitsch Musicals (2008)

For anyone with an interest in classic movies, this collection of four very early Ernst Lubitsch musicals is for you. The movies – Love Parade (1929), Monte Carlo (1930), The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), and One Hour With You (1932) – star Maurice Chavlalier, Jeanette MacDonald, a very young Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, and Charles Ruggles. These “pre-code” movies will surprise you with their wink wink nod nod innuendo and slinky negligees. Although not to everyone’s tastes, there are many delightful moments in these charming treasures.

Get information about each of the movies, as well as links to reviews in national newspapers and magazines, at the Criterion Collection site. You can also listen to an NPR review of the collection.