Thursday, July 24, 2014

the film musical: overlooked gems

Once upon a time, a hit Broadway musical would automatically be made into a big movie musical. Perhaps the richest time for stage-to-film transferals was the early 1960s when "Bells Are Ringing," "West Side Story," "Flower Drum Song," "The Music Man," "Gypsy," "Bye Bye Birdie" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" all made it to the screen.

In fact, the "film version" of a stage hit was seen as some kind of validation, much to the chagrin of Broadway types who would invariably complain about the bastardization of one of their own.

Exacerbating this was the fact that certain bona fide hit musicals somehow fell through the cracks, also inciting the Broadway community.

You're damned it you do and damned if you don't.

Some shows finally made it to the screen after a long delay - "Chicago," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Dreamgirls," "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" and "Les Misérables."

But there are other titles that have been neglected for several decades.

Say, five decades.

Instead of doing remakes (new versions of "Gypsy," "Carousel" and "My Fair Lady have been threatened), why not be adverturous and committ some longgone, once-legendary stage musical to celluloid?
I'm thinking specifically of two superior shows by composers Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Fiorello" and the endlessly enchanting "She Loves Me"; John Kander and Fred Ebb's "Zorba" and "70 - Girls - 70"; Frank Loesser's masterwork, "The Most Happy Fella," adapted from Sidney Howard's "They Knew What They Wanted," and his underrated "Greenwillow," and Robert Merrill's hugely popular hit "Take Me Along," based on Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness!," which caused quite the stir in its day, thanks to Jackie Gleason's star power.

Prior to his death, Bobby Darin had talked about buying "Fiorello" as a starring film vehicle for himself, and Tony Perkins, who starred in the Loesser show on Broadway, wanted to film "Greenwillow" with Jane Fonda (his "Tall Story" co-star) as his leading lady.

And, saddest of all, "She Loves Me" was once the dream project of Blake Edwards who hoped to film it at MGM with Julie Andrews in the Barbara Cook role, but MGM's long-time instability was starting up at the time.

Missed opportunities.

Meanwhile. producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were once so committed to filming the stage musical of "Zorba," with the original film star, Anthony Quinn, encoring in the title role, that they even took out one of those "production about to begin" ads in Variety. John Travolta was listed in the ad as Quinn's co-star, presumably in the Alan Bates role.

It never happened, natch. And neither did the others.

Film them already!


Toby said...

My pick for best unfilmed musical is the wonderful David Shire/Richard Maltby show "Baby". It has everything you could want in a show and would reach all age demographics. It's got comedy, heart, drama and sentiment in equal measures. A wonderful score too. It wouldn't be that expensive to film either, requiring neither extensive sets or costumes. Cast it right and watch the money come rolling in like a tidal wave.

Jason Reese said...

I've always longed to see movies of "She Loves Me" and "Fiorello." But I never knew that they almost happened. I hope they still do.

Andrea said...

I would go see "The Most Happy Fella" based on its title alone. It's only too bad that studios believe people will only go see that which they have seen before (and it's only too bad that, too often, they're right).

Becky said...

How about a film of "Promises, Promises"? Perhaps starring Steve Carrel and Zooey Deschanel? That would be great.

Jason Reese said...

I can hear the studio head now when "Promises, Promises" is pitched: "Do you think this story could work without the songs?

Mitchell Melford said...

Yes, there are many wonderful musicals that have been forgotten. FIORELLO is an example, so is THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. LUTE SONG hasn't been done, and then there are those musicals which were destroyed in the movie versions because songs were removed (which you had to do when the movie stars someone like Ava Gardner, who couldn't sing): I'm thinking of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS. Another is LADY IN THE DARK. You might want to revamp the books - the dated Freudianism of LADY IN THE DARK is rather painful - but, damn, those Kurt Weill songs are good!

Kevin Deany said...

Toby beat me to it. I second everything he says.