We continue with our journey through the 23rd Academy Awards in order of their original presentation. That brings us to the Music Awards, presented by Gene Kelly:
Well, as you heard, that's fourteen films in three categories. We first begin with the category celebrating the arrangers of other men's work, the talented composers who make songs into suites, who can make various artists form one cohesive sound. I refer, of course, to the nominees for Scoring of a Musical Picture:
Annie Get Your Gun
Adolph Deutsch / Roger Edens
Who can argue with the music of Irving Berlin, for heaven's sake, especially when translated so suitably for cinema by Deutsch and Edens? What notes could I possibly have? Like everything else in the film - the sets, the costumes, the stunts, the ensemble - it's superb!
Oliver Wallace / Paul J. Smith
past winner, third of five nominations for Wallace; past winner, seventh of eight nominations for Smith
The house style of the score matching each individual action became known in the industry as "Mickey Mouse-ing," and it is effective when, say, contrasting the nervous activity of the mice gathering beads with the steady approach of the cat Lucifer inching his way across a room, or when, in this case, getting Cinderella back home from the ball as her enchantments wear off.
I'll Get By
Newman takes a collection of standards and makes them into one body of work in this tale of music publishers before, during, and after World War II. It's mostly fine, good songs presented professionally, though getting through the book scenes is a bore. Ah, but we here to judge the music itself, and as I say, it's...well, fine.
Three Little Words
Biopic of songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, a good place to start. Various arrangements of the marvelously catchy title tune, plus some dance arrangements, all playful and romantic and...well, watchable, which, you'll agree, is important for a film.
The West Point Story
Another James Cagney-led valentine to American institutions, this one the famous military academy; Cagney is a hotheaded Broadway director recurited to pep up an annual showcase put on by cadets. A fine mixture of rhythmic military pomp, radio-ready ballads, and even a polka!
The Oscar went to Annie Get Your Gun, a marvelous choice - but not quite mine. My vote would go to:
WALLACE / SMITH
Now we have the composers tasked with underscoring the "straight" productions - Scoring of a Comedy or Dramatic Picture:
All About Eve
In touch with the film's characters and their work in the theatre: the opening titles have a majestic touch of the Overture about them; when Eve tells of her sad past, Newman kind of gooses the sadness; and that final bow in the final shot is set to a chilling, almost triumphant final note. It's winking, it's appropriate, it's terrific.
The Flame and the Arrow
Ah-ha, yes, an adventure score! The Bavarians are occupying parts of Italy, and simple sportsman Burt Lancaster fights back with the help of his friends and followers. Excitement is propelled not just by the acrobatics of Lancaster and Nick Cravat, but by Steiner's energetic score, full of "Mediterranean" touches. The liveliness reassures us that this is no tragedy, but a good time, so enjoy yourself!
No Sad Songs for Me
I can't quite remember the score, honestly. I do remember the film, in which a woman learns she's dying, decides to hide it from her husband and child, and finds hope in her husband's affair with his hot new co-worker. An impossible film, supported by a score that, uh, doesn't distract.
Samson and Delilah
eighteenth of nineteen nominations for scoring
Seven years before The Ten Commandments (this film premiered in 1949), Cecil B. de Mille brought us the tale of God's chosen strongman and his tempestuous relationship with a pagan woman. Feels like a dry run for the Biblical Epic to come, not because anything is phoned in (there are still five costume designers) but because it is a more intimate, smaller-scale story, its visual wows saved for the climax. As for its score, golly what great music! The way it conjures sex and danger, tragedy and anger, violence and justice. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
Speaking of brilliant! Like All About Eve, it's completely in tune with the film's characters and their mental state: now mysterious, now romantic, now tender. There's always a sense of oddness in it, though, not atonal but every now and then the horn section seems to be improvising, making a little statement of its own about the proceedings. It's a cheeky score, and I like that.
And so the Academy and I agree - my vote and Oscar go to:
Finally, four musicals and one thriller make up the nominees for Original Song:
"Mona Lisa" from Captain Carey, USA
music and lyrics by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston
The only non-musical nominated here. Though eventually given English lyrics and covered by just about everyone, Nat "King" Cole most notably, the film contains only the Italian version. Sung at the beginning, played throughout, "Mona Lisa" is used first as a code to warn American spies of Nazi soldiers while they hide out in an Italian village during WWII; post-War, it becomes a warning to the rest of the village that the Americans - one, at least - has returned. "Mona Lisa" becomes as haunting and effective as the folk song in The Lady Vanishes, its frequency of use guaranteeing you remember it long after the film.
"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" from Cinderella
music and lyrics by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston
first of eight nominations for David; first and only nomination for Hoffman; first of three nominations for Livingston
While "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" was a novelty hit in its day, I am surprised that it, of all songs from Cinderella, became the nominee. Catchy musically, witty nonsense lyrically. Refreshing, I suppose, that the Academy went with a fun song rather than one of the love ones, but...they are the better songs. Hard to bedgrudge the nod, though.
"Mule Train" from Singing Guns
music and lyrics by Fred Glickman, Hy Heath and Johnny Lange
first and only nominations
An outlaw with a hidden stash of gold becomes, under an assumed name, a trusted citizen of the mining town he targets. The simplest way to put it, I guess? An overall riveting film with constantly swapping allegiances keeping us on our toes, plus three original songs, including this one. Probably the most dispensable of the three, though it does convey a growing sense of community between the outlaw and the township. And, like "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," it's very catchy.
"Be My Love" from The Toast of New Orleans
music by Nicholas Brodszky
lyrics by Sammy Cahn
Oh, I hated this movie, in which talented singer/awful actor Mario Lanza plays a bayou boy whose vocal gift gets him to the big city, where he upends society with his...obnoxiousness? Song's dull, too. Sorry, I don't want to dwell on it.
"Wilhelmina" from Wabash Avenue
music by Josef Myrow
lyrics by Mack Gordon
In 1890s Chicago, Victor Mature has just discovered his former partner runs a successful club and has cut him out of the profits; he plots his former pal's downfall and the seduction of the main attraction, Betty Grable. The musical numbers, most of them mainstays of the vaudeville songbook, are all part of Grable's act, but the original tune "Wilhelmina" is the climax. I guess novelty songs were the thing, and it does feature the amusing lyric, "All the girls say no, but Wilhelmina, she says nein."
Captain Carey, U.S.A. won the Oscar, and "Mona Lisa" went on to musical immortality. None of these songs would make my personal lineup, but I still like one song enough to disagree with Oscar's final decision, giving my vote to:
GLICKMAN / HEATH / LANGE
Tomorrow, the fifteen nominees in the writing categories, honored for Screenplay, Story & Screenplay, and Original Motion Picture Story: Adam's Rib, All About Eve, The Asphalt Jungle, Bitter Rice, Born Yesterday, Broken Arrow, Caged, Father of the Bride, The Gunfighter, The Men, Mystery Street, No Way Out, Panic in the Streets, Sunset Blvd., and When Willie Comes Marching Home.