DVD Patrol: Musicals We Love

By: Todd Campbell

We’ve often said that movies all have some type of emotion that they always give you. From an action movie that takes you on a thrill ride, a suspense thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, or even a drama that makes feel something for the characters you’re watching . Films like this always have one component that can make it stand out even more. What is it? The music!! Your Music Man, the Toddster, has brought the band together and we decided to let you in on some of our favorite musicals or movies that use it to tell a great story. Let’s play!!


“Rent” 2005

My favorite musical. That’s a hard one because I’ve have so little experience in the area, though my favorite theatrical musical is hands down “Guy and Dolls.” The movies screen options, I’m not so sure about. Honestly the first thing that comes to mind is Disney. “Aladdin” or “The Lion King” to me the ultimate in animated musicals. As far as cinematic performances go the best I’ve seen so far is “Rent.”

Released in 2005 the story is a weaving controversy of modern day bohemians living in the East Village of New York City. With strong themes of drug use, homosexuality and AIDS, the musical shows how the humanities of people mature and grow apart. With such life developments, the characters in the show struggle with their approaching mortality while attempting to sculpt their relationships with lovers and friends, equally plagued with their own life challenges.

I must say I was a skeptic at first and had to be nearly blackmailed into watching the movie, but after the first 10 minutes I was hooked. 

The musical reaches out to tell a real story of people – by that I mean it encompasses all the grossly insane mistakes we sometimes make in life. The mistakes are accompanied by our slow, yet profound, learning curve which inevitably leads the characters to a state of appreciation for their lives and those in them. Yet these epiphanies in the musical are only reached after a degree of tragedy. As a guy who admits to not knowing much about the subject, I highly recommend this one. The music in the movie itself is like rock opera meets the skilled New York City street entertainer. 


“Calamity Jane” (1953)

I spent most of my formative years watching old movies with my mother. Musicals were always her favorite, and consequently, I’ve seen more than my fair share. Not that I’m complaining. I love them, too. And I’m not ashamed that I’ve got many lines memorized, not to mention all the musical numbers. So while some of my coworkers struggled with this assignment, my problem was trying to narrow my selection down to one. I’d already changed my mind a half a dozen times, when the stars literally showed me the way.

In this case, those stars were Doris Day and Howard Keel in “Calamity Jane.” This 1953 Warner Bros. film – which is part Western, part romance mixed with a lot of laughs and a string of memorable songs – may not be as glitzy as a lot of musicals. OK, maybe it’s a bit campy. But it has a lot of heart. What’s not to love about Doris Day, after all? And Keel, with that rich baritone, is another favorite of mine. I adored him in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Kismet and Kiss Me Kate. (Those of you who don’t like musicals might remember him better as Dallas’ Clayton Farlow.)

The movie is a totally fictionalized version of the life of the real Calamity Jane, frontierswoman Martha Jane Cannary Burke, and Wild Bill Hickcok.  I’ll refrain from giving you a blow by blow of the plot, but I’ve always found it pretty hilarious. Particularly the usually demure Day’s performance as the sasparilla-slurping “Calam,” who is as rough and tumble as the rest of the residents of Deadwood, the frontier town in the Black Hills of South Dakota where the film is set. Keel portrays her friendly enemy (and eventually not-so-secret love), the lawman-turned-professional-gambler Hickok.

The song “Secret Love” – which Calamity sings after discovering her true feelings for Hickok – is my favorite musical number in the movie, not because it won an Oscar for best song, but because it reminds me of two of my favorite people: my Aunt Maureen and Uncle Rich. The two grew up next door to one another and never let anyone know about their respective crushes. When their love was finally revealed, and they got married, they chose “Secret Love” as their wedding song.


“Cadillac Records” 2008

While not a musical per se, “Cadillac Records” portrays one of the most important music movements in the history of our country, one that saw the acoustic blues of Mississippi migrate transform into the electric blues of Chicago, told through the eyes of blues legends Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Etta James and music producer Leonard Chess, the founder of the famous Chess Records.

Racially provocative and extremely well written and directed, this film brings to life the emotions, atmosphere and most of all the music of a different era. Chess, portrayed wonderfully by Adrien Brody, decides to open his own juke joint (even though he’s white), mainly due to his love of the blues. Following his “discovery” of guitarist Muddy Waters and sidekick harmonica player Little Walter, his newly founded Chess records label takes off.

What follows is an honest, if predictable, tale of sex, drugs and well, rock-n-roll (the blues’ first son), and things begin quickly to spin out of control (Beyonce Knowles as a heroin addict and alcoholic Etta James should have won her an Oscar in my opinion).

Chuck Berry lands in jail, Little Walter finally pushes the envelope too far and Etta is a perfect mess when Chess decides to call it quits, although his exit from the recording studio is surprising and completely unexpected.

This is a great flick for anyone interested in the early days of the blues and fans of all types of music, even if it’s not completely historically accurate. Regardless, the casting is fantastic, the performances noteworthy and ultimately this movie is a must-see for blues lovers.


“Grease”  (1978)

Back in October, we were asked to write about our favorite or most memorable horror movie. The first one that came to mind was “Halloween.”  It shattered my fragile pre-teen machismo, and I required a night-light until I was at least 14 or 15 years old.

That same year, I had the privilege of watching one of the best made-for-the-big screen musicals, “Grease.” First, it had well-known heartthrob, John Travolta of “Welcome Back Kotter” fame in one of the two leading roles. Second, the co-starring role was occupied by pop music sensation, Olivia Newton-John.

As a kid of 11 years of old, I was able to suspend belief that these two characters were really high school students. For one, Travolta was 24 at the time, and Newton-John was nearly 30. That aside, I was captured by the movie’s swagger, the catchy tunes, and unlike many musicals, I really understood the story line.

Let’s be real, I am on the obtuse side when it comes to understanding foreign films; cinematic darlings of critics that are considered “artistic,” and especially musicals. After “Grease,” it took another 25 years or so until “Chicago” was released before I really followed the story of a musical.

It was typical high school life set to music:  Friends, romance, guys trying to impress the ladies with acts of daring that clearly lacked common sense. In the end, for me, it was the music that I will never forget.

I will always favor hard rock music, but if I hear a song from the Grease soundtrack, I will immediately mouth the words, whistle or hum the chorus. The tunes are timeless, and among the few songs in my lifetime where I remember most of the lyrics.


“The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

When you’re a kid, movies are magical. Especially when you see colorful characters going on an adventure. “The Wizard of Oz” was that one movie that would come on TV every year that you would have to watch particularly around Thanksgiving. I would always watch it with my family. It was fun to watch Dorothy (Judy Garland), The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), The Tin Man (Jack Haley), and the Lion (Bert Lahr) singing down the yellow brick road as they journey to see the Great Oz so they can fulfill their hearts’ desires. Trying to stop them is the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) because Dorothy’s house accidentally fell on her sister (it’s always something). Such songs as “Over the Rainbow” or the Scarecrow singing “If I Only Had a Brain” made it fun and let you know there was a reason for them to do what they were doing.

In the past, I’ve let everyone know what some of my favorite action or comedy movies are but if you ask me what my favorite musical one is, this is it. “Oz” is just one of those classics that stands the test of time and has for the last 70 years. Just like Pattrick said, there are songs that you can either sing along to or even hum because you know them so well. 

It was one of my Mom’s favorites too. I think my Dad liked it, but he was never an emotional guy. Unfortunately, I’ve heard rumors through the grapevine that they want to remake this movie. Hollywood seems to have fallen into somewhat of a rut trying to remake classics. “The Wizard of Oz” is not one of them. I hope they don’t because this one is just fine on its’ own.

Before we go, this one is for the big guy that makes everything happen. Our musical head honcho, Jeff Genung, has been busy with editorial matters, but he’s always seeing a musical here and there. This one was done with him in mind. All of these movies can be found on DVD in stores now. Our new releases are back next week including one with some furry blue guys that might have an avatar or two around (hint, hint). The DVD Patrol will be back.


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