Stealth Musicals.Posted: June 5, 2007
I find it interesting to consider that many (though not all) of the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis films–including all five of the ones in a new Paramount DVD set available today, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection Vol. 2–could be considered musicals, even though no one ever writes about them that way. But (in the case of these five) they had scores by top-flight songwriting teams with names straight from the Who’s Who of the Great American Songbook–Arthur Schwartz and Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne and Bob Hilliard, Harry Warren and Jack Brooks, Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, and Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. Moreover, for all but one of these films, the scores were original–which is more than can be said for many Warners and MGM musicals of the period, which raided songwriters’ catalogs. It could be that in some writers’ minds the M&L movies are sui generis, or perhaps too low-brow properly to be listed in the movie-musical genre, but by objective criteria–the sheer number of songs, and the fact that most of these purpose-written songs were integrated into the plot in the Rodgers and Hammerstein manner, arising out of character and situation, rather than being sung only on nightclub or theatrical stages in the films–they are as deserving of the term “musical” as many films that are commonly put in the genre. Considering the enormous popularity of these films in their time, it can be argued they kept the movie musical alive and well in the fifties even though it’s more usual to think of the form as having embarked on a long period of life support in that decade.