#127 (tie) – Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), dir. Vincente Minnelli


Clang! Judy Garland sings up a storm in Meet Me in St. Louis, a nostalgic musical romp about growing up white and privileged in Middle America at the turn of the 20th century.

The first major sound film — The Jazz Singer (1927) — was a musical. And this is hardly a surprise; early talkies took their cues from the theatrical stage, and singing and dancing have long been a staple of plays and vaudeville. But despite the vast array of musicals that would grace the silver screen over the next several decades, they don’t feature all that prominently on the Sight & Sound list, with perhaps just five making the cut. In our exploration of the list so far, the only musicals we have encountered are a parody of the form (Duck Soup) and a children’s film (The Wizard of Oz). But that changes now with Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), the first honest-to-goodness adult musical on the Sight & Sound list. Directed by her future husband Vincente Minnelli, Judy Garland stars as Esther Smith, a young woman pining for the boy next door ahead of the 1904 World’s Fair. The film pretty much evenly divides itself between Esther’s grasp for romance and the tomboy antics of her youngest sister Tootie, striking a tone of nostalgia for a bygone age that is celebrated through the use of period songs and a number of original compositions that have themselves become popular standards. Meet Me in St. Louis also features some of the most eye-poppingly vivid Technicolor cinematography ever captured on film, highlighting the movie’s already fever pitch energy and melodrama. (113 min.) Continue reading


#144 (tie) – The Wizard of Oz (1939), dir. Victor Fleming


And your little blog too! Dorothy’s adventure with the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion represents one of the most enduring children’s classics to ever come out of Hollywood. But how does The Wizard of Oz hold up to adult eyes?

It’s very difficult to open a yammer on The Wizard of Oz (1939) without resorting to lame jokes about not being in Kansas or otherwise heading somewhere over the rainbow — so we’ll just skip that and get to it. Now a beloved musical and children’s film, The Wizard of Oz was actually a tumultuous production that burned through a number of directors and stars before largely failing at the box office upon its initial release. But the movie slowly gained traction through airings on television, moving from cult status to bona fide classic in subsequent decades. As you likely know, the movie tells the adventures of farmgirl Dorothy Gale, who travels through the magical land of Oz with a scarecrow, a tin man, and a lion as they seek the assistance of the titular wizard. Of course, there’s a wicked witch and some flying monkeys to contend with along the way. The movie is an unusual one for the Sight & Sound list, which is often so vigorously serious and adult with regard to its selections. The Wizard of Oz is very much a children’s film, abounding with broad performances, outrageously vibrant costumes and sets, goofy (but unshakable) songs, and a decided lack of nuance or subtlety. But there is a definite charm and energy to the film that makes it worthy of the declaration in its opening credits: “to the Young in Heart …we dedicate this picture.” (101 min.) Continue reading

#202 (tie) – Duck Soup (1933), dir. Leo McCarey


Hail, hail, Freedonia! The Marx Brothers — (from the left) Zeppo, Chico, Harpo, and Groucho — declare war with a bang and a song in the anarchic musical comedy Duck Soup.

The Marx Brothers come racing into the Sight & Sound mix with Duck Soup (1933), their funniest and most unhinged film. Veterans of vaudeville and the Broadway stage, the four Marxes — insulting motormouth Groucho, Italian stereotype Chico, silent lunatic Harpo, and Zeppo — first came to the big screen in 1929, bringing with them an anarchic sense of humor that didn’t run against propriety so much as throw a grenade at it. But even though the Brothers (who were actual siblings) tore through their movies like a tornado, their earliest films were typically dragged back to earth by needless romantic subplots and anodyne musical numbers. Not so in Duck Soup, which sees Groucho as the gloriously named Rufus T. Firefly, petty dictator of Freedonia, and Chico and Harpo as a pair of colossally incompetent spies from rival nation Sylvania — oh, and Zeppo is there too. Now in charge of an entire country, the Marxes are allowed to run completely wild, creating a frantic satire of politics and war — and movie musicals. Audiences in 1933 didn’t warm to Duck Soup like they did the Brothers’ earlier pictures, but it has since come to be recognized as their finest film and, with its blatant disregard for even basic matters like continuity and plot, it may be the zaniest Hollywood comedy ever made. (68 min.) Continue reading