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The 1950s - The Golden Age of Musical Films

Updated on September 29, 2014

1950s Musical Films - Hollywood's Golden Age of Musical Films

Musicals were an important and popular part of the American theater scene of the 1950s even though the Library of Congress dubbed that time as the least musical innovative. Many movies of the 50s were adaptations of the stage musicals; some transposed beautifully while others were not so successful.

Rogers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe were two popular partnerships that created Broadway and consequently musical film productions. Despite the fact that many critics say the 1950s were the end for musical films, a good many great ones were produced during this time.

Climbing out of World War II tragedy and scarcities, the 1950s were both socially conservative and highly materialistic. There was both compliance and conformity with a touch of rebellion. Sex was restrictive, characterized by strong taboos and attitudes of prudish conformity. Manufacturing and home construction rose as the American economy climbed upward. And the public loved their musical films!


More Great Musicals

Listed here, other than my Best Ten Picks, are some popular stage musicals modified and adapted into films - some in the 60s and even in years beyond:

  • Paint Your Wagon;
  • My Fair Lady;
  • South Pacific;
  • The Flower Drum Song;
  • The Sound of Music;
  • Guys and Dolls;
  • Wonderful Town;
  • Kismet;
  • The Pajama Game;
  • Fanny;
  • Peter Pan; (animated)
  • Silk Stockings;
  • Damn Yankees;
  • Bells Are Ringing;
  • Candide;
  • The Most Happy Fella;
  • The Music Man;
  • and
  • West Side Story.

Save Mony! Buy Great Films!

It's possible to purchase great remastered films for your collection, even in this day of streaming movies from online providers. Frequently check in person or with ads, special sales at chain superstores that promote books and DVDs. We recently added to our collection of musicals because a national bookstore held a short sale on remastered 1950s and 60s musical DVDs at 50% off their regular price. This weekend they doubled their member discount. I picked up two more more recent features.

DVDs on Library Shelf
DVDs on Library Shelf | Source

Ten Favorite Musicals from the 1950s

Below are ten of my favorite musicals from the 1950s. Most of them are available on newly remastered DVDs. This improves color, usually sound depending upon how the original was recorded and overall quality. Watch out for illegally copied DVDs which are usually cheaper than legally remastered ones, but the quality is not as good.

#1 - Annie Get Your Gun - 1950 - 107 minutes - Biography / Comedy / Musical / Family - Betty Hutton, Howard Keel and Louis Calhern

Loosely based on the life of sharpshooter Annie Oakley, the movie follows the 1946 stage musical of the same name. Frank Morgan filmed the movie's opening production number, "Colonel Buffalo Bill", but unexpectedly died. He was replaced by Louis Calhern. Judy Garland recorded the entire score before illness forced her out of the picture.

Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin

  • Doin' What Comes Natur'lly - Annie, Siblings
  • The Girl That I Marry - Frank
  • You Can't Get a Man With a Gun - Annie
  • There's No Business Like Show Business - Frank, Buffalo Bill, Charlie Davenport, and Annie with ensemble
  • They Say It's Wonderful - Annie and Frank
  • Moonshine Lullaby - Annie, Porters, Siblings
  • Show Business Reprise - Annie
  • My Defenses Are Down - Frank and Ensemble
  • I'm An Indian, Too - Annie
  • I Got Lost In His Arms - Annie
  • I Got the Sun in the Morning - Annie
  • An Old Fashioned Wedding - Annie, Frank
  • Anything You Can Do - Annie and Frank

Here are Ten of My Favorite Songs to Emerge from 1950s Musicals. - Which of these is your favorite?

Which of these is your favorite movie?

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#2 - An American in Paris - 1951 - 113 minutes - Musical / Romance - Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant

This film was inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition by George Gershwin. Set in Paris, the film was directed by Vincente Minnelli from a script by Alan Jay Lerner with music by George Gershwin, and lyrics by his brother Ira; additional music was by Saul Chaplin, the music director. The film is interspersed with dance numbers choreographed by Gene Kelly and set to Gershwin's music. The film's expensive climax is "The American in Paris" ballet, a 16 minute dance featuring Kelly and Caron set to Gershwin's An American in Paris.

  • "Embraceable You" (Leslie Caron)
  • "Nice Work If You Can Get It" (Georges Guétary)
  • "By Strauss" (Gene Kelly, Guétary, Oscar Levant)
  • "I Got Rhythm" (Kelly)
  • "Tra-la-la (This Time It's Really Love)" (Kelly and Levant)
  • "Our Love Is Here to Stay" (Kelly and Caron)
  • "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" (Georges Guétary)
  • "Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra" (Levant and The MGM Symphony Orchestra)
  • "'S Wonderful" (Kelly and Guétary)
  • "An American in Paris Ballet" (Kelly, Caron, and ensemble)

Do you ever get a hankering to get out the popcorn and watch an old-fashioned musical?

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#3 - Singin' in the Rain - 1952 - 103 minutes - Comedy / Musical / Romance - Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds

"Singin' in the Rain" is a comic depiction of Hollywood, and its transition from silent films to "talkies." It was not a big hit when first released, but has been accorded legendary status by contemporary critics and is frequently described as one of the best musicals ever made. It tops the AFI's 100 Years of Musicals list, and ranked fifth in 2007 as one of the greatest American films.

  • "Fit as a Fiddle (And Ready for Love)," from College Coach (1933)[8] (music by Al Hoffman and Al Goodhart)
  • "Temptation" (instrumental only), from Going Hollywood (1933)
  • "All I Do Is Dream of You," from Sadie McKee (1934)[7]
  • "Singin' in the Rain," from Hollywood Revue Of 1929 (1929)[7]
  • "Make 'Em Laugh," considered an original song, but a near-plagiarism of Cole Porter's "Be a Clown", used in another Freed musical, The Pirate (1948). In the lead in to the song, O'Connor/Cosmo sarcastically references the tragic line "ridi pagliaccio" ("Laugh, clown") from the opera Pagliacci.
  • "Beautiful Girl Montage" comprising "I Got a Feelin' You're Foolin'" from Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935),[7] "The Wedding of the Painted Doll" from The Broadway Melody (1929)[7] and "Should I?" from Lord Byron of Broadway (1930)[7]
  • "Beautiful Girl," from Going Hollywood (1933)[8] or from Stage Mother (1933)[7]
  • "You Were Meant for Me," from The Broadway Melody (1929)[7]
  • "You Are My Lucky Star," from Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935)[7]
  • "Moses Supposes" (music by Roger Edens, lyrics by Comden and Green)
  • "Good Morning," from Babes In Arms (1939)[7]
  • "Would You?," from San Francisco (1936)[7]
  • "Broadway Melody Ballet" composed of "The Broadway Melody" from The Broadway Melody (1929)[7] and "Broadway Rhythm" from Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935)[7] (music by Nacio Herb Brown and Lennie Hayton)


Good Morning! - from Singin' in the Rain

#4 - The Band Wagon - 1953 - 112 minutes - Comedy / Musical / Romance - Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse and Oscar Levant

Some critics rank this film, along with "Singin' in the Rain," as the finest of the MGM musicals. However, it was only a modest box-office success. 1995, The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2006, this film ranked #17 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals.

"By Myself" - Tony (introduced in the stage musical Between the Devil)

"Shine on Your Shoes" - Tony and Arcade shoeshine man (Leroy Daniels) (introduced in the stage musical Flying Colors (musical))

"That's Entertainment!" - Jeffrey, with Tony, Lester and Lily.

"The Beggars Waltz" - danced by Cyd Charisse, James Mitchell, and corps de ballet

"Dancing in the Dark" - Tony and Gabrielle

"You and the Night and the Music" - Chorus, danced by Tony and Gabrielle

"Something to Remember You By" - Chorus

"High and Low" - Chorus

"I Love Louisa" - Tony, Lester, and Lily

"New Sun in the Sky" - Gabrielle

"I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" - Tony and Jeffrey

"Louisiana Hayride" - Lily and Chorus (introduced in the stage musical Flying Colors (musical))

"Triplets" - Tony, Jeffrey, and Lily (The three performers dance on their knees, costumed in baby attire) (introduced in the stage musical Between the Devil)

"Girl Hunt Ballet" - Tony and Gabrielle

Dancing in the Dark - from The Band Wagon

#5 - A Star Is Born - 1954 - 181 minutes - Drama / Musical / Romance - Judy Garland, James Mason and Jack Carson

"A Star Is Born," directed by George Cukor with screenplay by Moss Hart. is an adaptation of the original 1937 film, based on the original screenplay by Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, and Alan Campbell. This film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." It was ranked #43 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Passions list in 2002 and #7 on its list of best musicals in 2006. This film was promoted heavily as Garland's comeback after a hiatus from films because of contract dealings.

Gotta Have Me Go with You (Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin)

The Man That Got Away (Arlen and Gershwin)

Born In A Trunk (Roger Edens (music) and Leonard Gershe (lyrics))[10]

Swanee (George Gershwin)

I'll Get By (Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert)

You Took Advantage of Me (Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers)

The Black Bottom (Perry Bradford)

The Peanut Vendor (Moises Simons)

My Melancholy Baby (Ernie Burnett and George A. Norton)

Here's What I'm Here For (Arlen and Gershwin)

It's a New World (Arlen and Gershwin)

Someone at Last (Arlen and Gershwin)

Lose That Long Face (Arlen and Gershwin)

'BORN IN A TRUNK' PART 2 A CLOSEUP - from "A Star is Born'

And the Winner Is... - Oscar Winners and Nominations for BEST PICTURE

Oscar Award Statuettes
Oscar Award Statuettes

Winners

1951 - An American in Paris Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Arthur Freed

1958 - Gigi Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Arthur Freed

Nominations

1956 - The King and I 20th Century Fox Charles Brackett

Photo: Courtesy of prayitno via Flickr

Use Movie Posters for Home Decoration

Framed posters of favorite movies make attention-grabbers in family, TV rooms or wherever you watch movies. As idea-starters, look to Amazon.com for each of my listed films. It is possible to find and buy posters at other storefront and internet locations.

#6 - The King and I - 1956 -133 minutes - Drama / Family / Musical - Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr and Rita Moreno

This film was a huge success upon release, both critically and financially. Today, it is one of few films to receive a 100% approval rating on the film critic website Rotten Tomatoes. The soundtrack was an instant success and continues to be a best seller.

Overture - Orchestra

I Whistle a Happy Tune - Anna and Louis

The March of the Siamese Children - Orchestra

Hello, Young Lovers - Anna

A Puzzlement - King

Getting to Know You - Anna, Wives, and Children

We Kiss in a Shadow - Tuptim and Lun Tha

Something Wonderful - Lady Thiang

Finale, Act I - King, entire palace

Act II

Entr'acte - Orchestra

The Small House of Uncle Thomas (Ballet) - Tuptim and Wives

Song of the King - King

Shall We Dance? - Anna and King

Finale (Something Wonderful) - Offscreen chorus

#7 - Funny Face - 1957 - 103 minutes - Romance / Comedy / Musical - Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson

Hepburn sings the songs herself for "Funny Face," her first musical. She performs one solo, "How Long Has This Been Going On?"; a duet with Astaire, "'S Wonderful"; a duet with Kay Thompson called "On How to Be Lovely"; and takes part in an ensemble performance of "Bonjour, Paris!". S he also performs in two dance numbers with Astaire and in a Bohemian-style solo nightclub dance.

"'S Wonderful" - from Funny Face (1927 musical)

"Think Pink!"

"How Long Has This Been Going On?" - originally composed for the musical Funny Face, but not used

"Funny Face" - from Funny Face

"Bonjour, Paris!"

"Clap Yo' Hands" - from Oh, Kay!

"He Loves and She Loves" - from Funny Face

"On How to Be Lovely"

"Basal Metabolism"

"Let's Kiss and Make Up" - from Funny Face

"Tristan und Isolde" - Richard Wagner

He Loves and She Loves - from Funny Face

#8 - Gigi - 1958 - 115 minutes - Comedy / Musical / Romance - Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier ,Louis Jourdan and Hermione Gingold

Gigi won a record-breaking 9 Academy Awards (at the 1959 Awards ceremony). Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.", it is also ranked by The American Film Institute as #35 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions. This film is considered the last great MGM musical.

Overture - Orchestra

"Honoré's Soliloquy" - Honoré

"Thank Heaven for Little Girls" - Honoré

"It's a Bore" - Gaston, Honoré

"The Parisians" - Gigi

"The Gossips" - Honoré, Chorus

"She Is Not Thinking of Me" - Gaston

"The Night They Invented Champagne" - Gigi, Gaston, Madame Alvarez

"I Remember It Well" - Madame Alvarez, Honoré

"About Gigi" - Aunt Alicia, Madame Alvarez, Gigi

"Gaston's Soliloquy" - Gaston

"Gigi" - Gaston

"I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" - Honoré

"Say a Prayer for Me Tonight" - Gigi

"Thank Heaven for Little Girls (Reprise)" - Honoré, Chorus

#9 - Porgy and Bess - 1959 - 138 min - Drama / Musical / Romance - Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge and Sammy Davis Jr.

Although this film won one Oscar and one Golden Globe, and its soundtrack album won a Grammy, it was critically and commercially unsuccessful probably because of its themes of fornication, drug addiction, prostitution, violence, and murder. There is no easily obtainable copy of the original movie. However, there is a video and DVD recording of the 1993 Trevor Nunn adaptation commissioned by the BBC. It casts Gregg Baker, Damon Evans, Cynthia Haymon (Bess) and Willard White (Porgy). The London Philharmonic (under the direction of Simon Rattle) provide the musical accompaniment.

And the Winner Is... - Oscar Winners and Nominations for MUSIC (Scoring of a Musical Picture) - BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Oscar Award Statuettes
Oscar Award Statuettes

Winners

1950 - Annie Get Your Gun - Adolph Deutsch, Roger Edens

1951 - An American in Paris - Johnny Green, Saul Chaplin

1955 - Oklahoma! - Robert Russell Bennett, Jay Blackton, Adolph Deutsch

1956 - The King and I- Alfred Newman, Ken Darby

1958 - Gigi- Andre Previn

1959 - Porgy and Bess - Andre Previn, Ken Darby

Nominations

1952 - Singin' in the Rain - Lennie Hayton

1953 - The Band Wagon - Adolph Deutsch

1954 - A Star Is Born - Ray Heindorf

No Wins or Nominations

1957

Photo: Courtesy of prayitno via Flickr

#10 - Oklahoma - 1955 film adaptation of Broadway musical

The film is set in Oklahoma Territory and is the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams. There is a subplot (romance) about cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie. Stars Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones (in her film debut), Rod Steiger, Charlotte Greenwood, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, James Whitmore and Eddie Albert.

Music includes:

"Overture" - Orchestra (played before the film actually begins)

"Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" - Curly

"Laurey's Entrance" - Laurey ("Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'")

"The Surrey With the Fringe On Top" - Curly

"Kansas City" - Will, Aunt Eller, Male Ensemble

"I Cain't Say No" - Ado Annie

"Many a New Day" - Laurey and Female Ensemble

"People Will Say We're In Love" - Curly and Laurey

"Pore Jud is Daid" Curly and Jud

"Out of My Dreams" - Laurey and Female Ensemble

"Dream Ballet" - Ensemble

"The Farmer and the Cowman" - Carnes, Aunt Eller, Ike Skidmore, Ensemble

"All Er Nuthin'" - Will and Ado Annie

"Oklahoma!" - Curly and Ensemble

Oklahoma

Vote for your Favorite1950s Musical Film.

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Start Your Own Film Collection - 1950s Musical Films

Do these films take you back to a good place in time? Do you think that these films are overly acted and schmaltzy? Could you watch them over and over again? Would you rather watch an NFL game than a 1950s musical film? Do you agree with my top ten choices? What musical films from the 50s might you choose?

What Do You Think About 1950s Musical Films?

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    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      Thanks for your reply...I am still trying to come up with the names of the two films that I watched. The two you mentioned sound interesting. Thanks for the distinctions you make about Peter Jackson, New Zealand and the Hobbit films.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      @ Georgeneramlage: In answer to your question.

      We do make films in NZ, but we are very small, we rely on film companies from other nations.

      Peter Jackson he doesn't make them for NZ he makes them for "Warner Brothers" and they are not about New Zealand only filmed in the country.

      He is a great film director, take"Lord of the Rings" that was filmed in NZ.

      In Taranaki were I live we have Film Venture Taranaki, they are only a tiny part of the region of NZ, but get some excellent results.

      Trying to think of New Zealand films in the 1980s.

      "Goodbye Pork Pie" in 1981 enjoyed that one.

      "Footrot Flats" the dog tale in 1986 that was a laugh.

      Have you remember some other NZ films in the 1980s now?

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      Hi Mel, Thanks for visiting The Golden Age of Musicals. Some of these old-timers like Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Frank Sinatra were really great weren't they? Again, thanks!

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      Elsie, thanks so much for visiting The Golden Age of Musical Films. This is one of my favorites :-) Question: Does NZ have a film industry of its own, other than the Hobbit movies that (and I think I have this correct) Michael Jackson and crew keep putting out? There were two films based in NZ back in the 80s that I like...but I can't remember their names. I'll have to think on that...again, thanks.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Singing in the Rain will always be my favorite musical. Some of the routines are brilliant. And, I didn't really appreciate Donald O'Connor's athleticism until this movie.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      I'm not a person that goes to film's, but one I remember back in the late 1950s was the King and I - Yul Brynner, I have never forgotten it.

      Haven't heard of it for sometime, until I read this article, thanks for bringing back those memories of my teen years.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @David Stone1: Dear Dave, Thanks for stopping the Golden Oldies movie lens and taking the time to leave your detailed and appreciated comments.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      I love your choices, am familiar with all of them and own a few. Every one on your Top Ten List is worth the price of a purchase, and many have been updated in brilliant color and improved sound.

      You did a great job of sorting out the best of the best.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      4 years ago from Fresno CA

      Loved it all. What a trip down memory lane. They don't make them like this anymore. Did you know that a couple of the videos won't play because it is blocked for copyright purposes. Too bad. A lot of YouTube stuff is being treated like that these days.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @SusanneB: Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad that you enjoyed this lens.

    • SusanneB profile image

      SusanneB 

      4 years ago

      I love old movies

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @somergreat48: Thank you for visiting my lens and for enjoying it so much. There are still many more "oldies but goodies" out there that need some writing done about them.

    • somergreat48 profile image

      somergreat48 

      4 years ago

      I love your lens! The oldies always reminds me of when I watched them with my family when I was younger.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      5 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @minpinmojo76: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with me. A-i-P is a perfectly wonderful film!

    • minpinmojo76 profile image

      minpinmojo76 

      5 years ago

      I love musicals. An American In Paris will always be one of my favorites.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      5 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Ben Reed: Thanks for visiting my 50s film lens. And for liking my selections. I also think they are great!

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 

      5 years ago from Redcar

      They are great.

    • profile image

      othellos 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for publishing this lens. It was an enjoyable experience. I watched all these movies since Musicals are part of my hobbies. I liked your detailed research with so much detail. Very well done:=)

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 

      5 years ago

      I love these movies, they bring back my childhood memories when I first came to this country...this is how I learned English. Mom took us to many movies and up to this day still watch them on TCM

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      I went to see singing in the rain in my town. They had profanity and we left. It's a shame people think they have to do that to make a musical great. Please Comment me on how you feel about this. Thanks

    • profile image

      Li-Li-ThePinkBookworm 

      6 years ago

      Terrific lens! You did well covering all these many amazing musicals.

      Li Li

    • profile image

      JoshK47 

      6 years ago

      Singin' in the Rain is one of my all time favorites! Great stuff! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 

      6 years ago

      My mother has all of these musical films on VHS and DVD and has watched them a million times. I like your choices very much!

    • James M Becher profile image

      James M Becher 

      6 years ago from South Florida

      Nice lens. I'm featuring it on my lens

    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind Guides 

      6 years ago from USA

      Nice idea for a lens! I'm partial to "Oklahoma" myself, even the weird dream sequence.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 

      6 years ago

      Oh, what do I think? Oh my, but those were the good old days of entertainment. I was always captivated by The King and I.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 

      6 years ago

      You've put a smile on my face with this great lens - thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      I love 50s musicals. Great lens!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      6 years ago from UK

      It was a golden era! What I love about these 1950s musicals is how gracefully they have aged. They are still a treat to watch.

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 

      6 years ago

      There are so many great movies in this list. I think my favorite is The King and I

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