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Perfect Movie Songs


"As always, the quality is superb and the booklet notes and presentation well up to your usual high standard. Great Listening!" BBC GMR

Fred Astaire & Judy Garland: A Couple Of Swells << long sound clip
Betty Grable: I Can't Begin To Tell You
Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra: Jeepers Creepers << long sound clip
Dorothy Lamour: Too Romantic
Bing Crosby: Swingin' On A Star << long sound clip
Anton Karas (Zither Solo): The Harry Lime Theme
Judy Garland: Over The Rainbow
Jimmy Durante: I'm The Guy Who Found The Lost Chord
Alice Faye: Goodnight My Love
Cliff Edwards: When You Wish Upon A Star
Marlene Dietrich: The Boys In The Back Room
Dick Powell: I Only Have Eyes For You
Ginger Rogers: The Piccolino
Fred Astaire: Night And Day
Carmen Miranda: I Yi Yi Yi Yi (I Like You Very Much)
Frank Sinatra: Time After Time
Mary Martin: My Heart Belongs To Daddy
Eddie Cantor: Okay Toots
Dinah Shore: Like Someone In Love
Ethel Merman: I Get A Kick Out Of You
Glenn Miller & His Orchestra: I Know Why
Al Jolson: California, Here I Come
Doris Day: Put 'Em In A Box, Tie 'Em With A Ribbon, And Throw 'Em In The Deep Blue Sea
Sophie Tucker: Some Of These Days
Hoagy Carmichael: Ole Buttermilk Sky
Frances Langford: I'm In The Mood For Love

Experiments with synchronised sound had been carried out from almost the beginning of motion picture history, but it took nearly thirty years for sound officially to arrive in the cinema, when the audience at the Warner Theatre in New York on 6 October 1927 at the premiere of ‘The Jazz Singer’ heard Al Jolson sing and speak from the screen. It was a milestone in cinema history; movie stars could now not only talk, they could sing and dance as well – and the cinema-going public loved it.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s a succession of musical films created a veritable galaxy of singing and dancing movie stars. Some were already seasoned performers from the theatre and elsewhere, but others learned their craft in the film studios of Hollywood. The first track on this album features one of each: Fred Astaire had starred in top-flight musicals by the likes of George Gershwin and Cole Porter on Broadway and in London for more than fifteen years before he made his first film in 1933, whereas Judy Garland, although she started as a child performer in vaudeville, was only fourteen when she began her movie career as a fresh-faced youngster. These two unique artists make a wonderful team singing A Couple Of Swells from ‘Easter Parade’, one of the top films of 1948. Astaire appears again later in the album with Night And Day, the hit song from ‘The Gay Divorcée’ (1934), which was the first film in which he and Ginger Rogers were cast as the leads following their show-stealing performance of ‘The Carioca’ in ‘Flying Down To Rio’ the previous year. Ginger Rogers is heard later singing The Piccolino from the 1935 Astaire-Rogers hit ‘Top Hat’. Garland also appears again in what was to become her theme song, the poignant Over The Rainbow, which the studio bosses at MGM originally wanted to cut from the 1939 blockbuster ‘The Wizard Of Oz’. Another star whose career was made entirely in Hollywood was Betty Grable, a petite but curvaceous blonde who began in 1930 as a member of the chorus in several movie musicals, including the screen version of Eddie Cantor’s ‘Whoopee’, and spent the rest of the decade playing bit parts in mainly forgettable films. She got her big break when she replaced Alice Faye in the 1940 Technicolor extravaganza ‘Down Argentine Way’, and it made her a star. With her friendly ‘girl-next-door’ personality and shapely legs, she became the favourite pin-up of the American forces during the Second World War. She later married the trumpeter and bandleader Harry James, who accompanies her in I Can’t Begin To Tell You from ‘The Dolly Sisters’.

Pure jazz was not often heard in mainstream movies, and its most famous exponents usually appeared in cameo roles as themselves. Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra featured in the 1938 farce ‘Going Places’, and Louis got to sing the film’s hit song, Jeepers Creepers – to a horse! Glenn Miller and his Orchestra and the skating star Sonja Henie shared star billing in ‘Sun Valley Serenade’ (1941), which boasted a whole plethora of top-class musical numbers such as ‘In The Mood’, ‘Chatanooga Choo Choo’ and the romantic I Know Why included here. The laconic, jazz-orientated singer-songwriter Hoagy Carmichael played a number of supporting roles in films, and usually got to sing one of his songs at some point, as with Ole Buttermilk Sky in ‘Canyon Passage’ (1946), a story of American pioneering life in the 1850s.

Whenever tropical islands cropped up in Hollywood films in the late 1930s, the actress most often found on them was the sultry brunette Dorothy Lamour, invariably wearing a sarong. She was attired thus when she first encountered Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the 1940 comedy ‘Road To Singapore’, in which she sang Too Romantic; this somewhat unlikely trio hit it off as a team and went on to make several more even zanier ‘Road’ films, ending with ‘Road To Hong Kong’ in 1961. Bing Crosby, affectionately known as the ‘old groaner’, had begun as a singer with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra in the 1920s. He found his way into films almost by accident, but his easy-going personality and attractive singing voice soon established him as one of the major draws of the 1930s in a succession of slight but entertaining films. To everyone’s surprise, in 1944 Crosby turned in a perfectly judged acting performance as a young Catholic priest in ‘Going My Way’, which swept the board at that year’s Academy Awards; it won a whole clutch of Oscars, including one for Crosby as Best Actor and one for the song Swingin’ On A Star. ‘Going My Way’ was not strictly a musical, although it contained several hit songs; occasionally, wholly dramatic films also produced major hits. An example of this is the haunting Harry Lime Theme, played on the zither by its composer Anton Karas in Orson Welles’ 1949 British film drama ‘The Third Man’, the story of a black-market racketeer in Vienna in the harsh days immediately following the Second World War.

American vaudeville produced a number of performers who also made their mark in the movies: these included larger-than-life comics like W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers and the inimitable Jimmy Durante, nicknamed ‘Schnozzle’ because of his large nose. Durante’s extrovert personality livened up a number of films in the 30s and 40s, including ‘This Time For Keeps’ in which he revealed in song that it was he who found the famous ‘lost chord’ by sitting on the piano keyboard! Another veteran of vaudeville was the diminutive entertainer Cliff Edwards, known as ‘Ukulele Ike’, who provided the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s 1940 cartoon feature ‘Pinocchio’; When You Wish Upon A Star was just one of the film’s big hits. Sophie Tucker, who styled herself ‘The Last Of The Red-Hot Mammas’ had also appeared in vaudeville. She made guest appearances in a number of films, in several of which (including ‘Broadway Melody Of 1938’) she performed Some Of These Days, a song she first sang in Chicago in 1911. Vaudeville was also the starting point for two of the greatest and most successful singing stars of the American stage, Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson. These two great rivals both enjoyed successful Hollywood careers and often repeated in their films the songs they had already made famous on the stage. Here we have Jolson singing California, Here I Come, one of his all-time smash hits from the 1921 Broadway show ‘Bombo’, which he first sang on film in ‘Rose Of Washington Square’ (1939) and later performed on the soundtrack of ‘The Jolson Story’, mimed by the actor Larry Parks as Jolson. Eddie Cantor’s song here, Okay Toots, was specially written for his 1934 film ‘Kid Millions’.

During the 1940s and 1950s the two reigning queens of Broadway were Ethel Merman and Mary Martin. One of Merman’s best-known songs was I Get A Kick Out Of You, which she sang in both the stage and film versions of ‘Anything Goes’, a musical that Cole Porter wrote specially for her in 1934. Mary Martin repeated her first big song – My Heart Belongs To Daddy from Cole Porter’s ‘Leave It To Me’ (1938) – in two Hollywood films: ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ (1940) and ‘Night And Day’ (1945). Two other leading ladies from backgrounds far more exotic than Broadway were Marlene Dietrich and Carmen Miranda. Dietrich began as an actress in Berlin and Vienna in the 1920s and came to fame in the 1930 film ‘The Blue Angel’, directed by Joseph von Sternberg. Under Sternberg’s guidance, she blossomed into a glamorous and enigmatic star in Hollywood films like ‘Morocco’, ‘Dishonoured’, ‘Shanghai Express’ and ‘Blonde Venus’. But after a few years her appeal diminished, and it seemed that her Hollywood career had ended when she made a spectacular come-back in 1939 as a bar-room floozie opposite James Stewart in the spoof Western ‘Destry Rides Again’, in which she sang The Boys In The Back Room. Dietrich later gave up films and concentrated on concert and cabaret work. Carmen Miranda, ‘The Brazilian Bombshell’, was already an established star in South America when she came to Broadway in 1939 to sing ‘South American Way’ in a show called ‘Streets Of Paris’. Her colourful costume (including a towering headdress piled high with fruit) and energetic performance caused such a sensation that 20th Century Fox invited her to repeat the number in ‘Down Argentine Way’. She was immediately taken under contract and contributed spectacular Latin-American song routines to movies like ‘Weekend In Havana’ and ‘That Night In Rio’, in which she sang I Yi Yi Yi Yi (I Like You Very Much). Despite her vivacious personality and exotic costumes, her potential in films proved to be limited. She made her last movie, ‘Scared Stiff’, with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, in 1953 and died prematurely of peritonitis two years later.

In the first few decades of the talking picture, dance bands provided Hollywood with a fruitful source of singing talent. As mentioned above, Bing Crosby came to films in this way, as did Dick Powell, who starred in a multitude of musicals throughout the 1930s. His first major part was in ‘42nd Street’, a classic back-stage ‘putting-on-a-show’ story, whose enormous success in 1933 prompted Warner Brothers to repeat the formula in a whole succession of similar films such as ‘Gold Diggers Of 1933’, ‘Footlight Parade’, ‘Wonderbar’ and ‘Flirtation Walk’. In ‘Dames’, Powell sang I Only Have Eyes for You in an imaginative Busby Berkeley routine built around the face of his regular musical partner, Ruby Keeler. Powell later shook off his matinee idol image and successfully moved into gangster films. Doris Day began as a band singer and was already a rapidly rising solo artist when in 1948 she landed a film part intended for Betty Hutton, who had become pregnant. The film was called ‘Romance on the High Seas’, and produced several hits including Put ‘em In A Box, and ‘It’s Magic’, the title under which the picture was released in Britain. Doris Day went on to have a long and successful film career as both a musical performer and a light comedy actress. Two other singers from the world of dance bands and cabaret who both made appearances in movies were Frances Langford and Dinah Shore, but neither became established as film actresses: I’m In The Mood For Love was sung by Langford in the 1935 film musical ‘Every Night At Eight’, and again the following year in ‘Palm Springs’, while Like Someone In Love was one of Dinah Shore’s numbers in ‘Belle Of The Yukon’. Unlike the two aforementioned ladies, Alice Faye quickly progressed from being a singer with Rudy Vallee and his Orchestra to becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest musical stars in the 1930s and early 1940s. Her sympathetic personality and warm, romantic voice added charm to numerous films, including ‘Stowaway’ in which she sang Goodnight My Love. And it was from fronting a dance band in the 1930s that Frank Sinatra made the transition to film star. His work with Tommy Dorsey led to brief film appearances in 1941 and 1942, but it wasn’t until his predominantly female audiences of teenage ‘bobby-soxers’ began to exhibit symptoms of hysteria whenever he sang that RKO in 1943 gave him a leading role in the unsuccessful film adaptation of a Rodgers and Hart stage musical ‘Higher And Higher’. His big break came in 1945 when he was cast by MGM opposite Gene Kelly in ‘Anchors Aweigh’. He showed enough talent as a song-and-dance man to secure further work from that studio, including a romantic comedy with Kathryn Grayson called ‘It Happened In Brooklyn’, in which he sang Time After Time. This period in Sinatra’s career reached its peak in 1949 with the brilliant film musical ‘On The Town’, after which problems with his personal life brought a sudden end to his success, but he bounced back in 1953 with a powerful acting performance in ‘From Here To Eternity’. A deal with Capitol records re-launched his career as a singer and from that time he continued to thrive as one of the most powerful personalities on the American music scene.

Sadly, the day of the Hollywood musicals has long gone, but the essence of those delightful escapist entertainments lives on in the many recordings made by the screen’s singing stars, who brought so much pleasure to so many.

Tony Locantro

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