Tag Archive for musicals

Stop the Music! (Part 3 of 3)

Mae West goes for the gold in "Sextette"

10 Bizarre Movie Musicals
You Have to See to Believe
Part 3 of 3

This is it, the home stretch. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, click the links to catch up.

As demonstrated last time, it’s not always so easy to transform a Hollywood star into a singing and dancing sensation. Well, what about in reverse? Surely musicians are used to being on stage in front of others and can be directed to a passable film performance, right? In other instances, big shot musicians just want to play dress-up and make believe, so they put together a humble little project for just $18 million or so to bring their dream to the screen.

3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

I wouldn’t go across the street for The Beatles, never mind “across the universe.” Sue me, I’m more of a Stones man, honestly, but even I’m not so pig-headed as to undercut their influence or achievements.

“What, then,” you ask, “is a Beatles movie doing on this list?!” Hold your horses, Eleanor Rigby. There isn’t a single goddamn Beatle in this thing. Not even Stuart Sutcliffe or Pete Best. No, Sgt. Pepper’s the film is based on Sgt. Pepper’s the off-Broadway stage production, which is inspired by the beloved album.

No, Yellow Submariners, this film is a vehicle for the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. “That changes everything,” you say? I thought so. If Spice World had too much testosterone for you, then this is your new jam.

Steve Martin turns in a bizarre performance of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” some eight years before his role as sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello in Little Shop of Horrors. Aerosmith shows up as FVB: Future Villain Band, shades of the Riverbottom Nightmare Band in Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, but it’s hard to root against them, really, especially when they turn in a perfectly acceptable cover of “Come Together”. Here, they’re accused of being sell-outs. Curiously, after appearing in this film, they wouldn’t have another Top 40 hit until “Walk This Way” with Run D.M.C. in 1986. Ouch.

Rest in peace, Robin Gibb. This was the same year he recorded “Trash” for Oscar the Grouch, so he’s totally off the hook. No hard feelings, mate.

2. Son of Dracula (1974)

In 1972, good friends Harry Nilsson (“Best Friend”, “Coconut”) and Ringo Starr (The Beatles) hit on the same strange idea seemingly simultaneously, a rock n’roll version of Dracula Nilsson paid homage to the idea on the cover to his album Son of Schmilsson, so when Ringo asked him to join in his vanity film project, Count Downe and Son of Dracula were born.

Well, at least this film had an actual Beatle in it, as well as Keith Moon of The Who, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, the everpresent Peter Frampton, and George Harrison… no bovo… on the cowbell. Forget about putting the lime in the coconut, the only prescription is more cowbell.

Alas, it is not enough to keep this film from succumbing to ennui. Nilsson plays the heir to the throne of the netherworld and detached rock star over a decade before Anne Rice made readers’ loins moisten with thoughts of her beloved Lestat. “Detached” is perhaps a bit generous. All of the acting appears as stiff and wooden as a coffin filled with native earth, even Ringo as Merlin. Yeah, Merlin.

1. Sextette (1978)

Back in her day, Mae West was quite the seductress. Unfortunately, this isn’t her day. If you had any inclination to “come up and see her some time,” hopefully that time was before 1978, when an 84-year-old Ms. West clawed her way on board this train wreck. Described as a sexy musical comedy, the filmmakers and audience aren’t laughing with Ms. West, but AT her. It would be like taking grandma out for some old fashioned line dancing and then laughing when she strokes out during “Copperhead Road.” Thankfully, we have come a long way in our standards of elder care.

Timothy Dalton was producer “Cubby” Broccoli’s hand-picked successor to the role of James Bond after the departure of Sean Connery. Dalton turned the role down, believing he was too young to fill Sean’s shoes. Tim-Tim spent most of the 1970s in the theatre, but decided to make his American debut in this little gem as Mae’s latest conquest, Sir Michael Barrington.

Much like Son of Dracula and Sgt. Pepper’s, Sextette provides ample opportunity for musicians to camp it up. Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, and Keith Moon surely couldn’t resist. Moon in particular hams it up as the dress designer to Marlo Manners (Mae West). His enthusiasm is almost contagious as he breathlessly proclaims “That dress is so fantastic, that even I would wear it! In fact… I have!” RuPaul would be proud.

WARNING: Slightly NSFW because of some realllly forced innuendo. Of course, even in her youth, that was what Mae was known for. Unfortunately, what was once sexy and sly is now sleazy and creepy. I guess that’s the natural progression, eh?

So, how many of these have YOU seen? I can confess to seeing Can’t Stop the Music, Grease 2, Streets of Fire, and Rhinestone in their entirety. I’ve never been able to get all the way through Xanadu. At this point in my life, I imagine it’d only happen if Marvel Comics tasked me to write their resident disco diva, Dazzler.

I blame mid-80s HBO (back when there was only one) for my fascination with musical movie disasters. I would hold a grudge, but it’s not like they used the Ludovico technique to pry my eyelids open. Nah, it must be part of my deeply ingrained masochism. C’est la vie.

There are some notable intentional omissions from my list. I avoided both The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors because they’ve developed quite the fan following and debatably accomplish exactly what they set out to do. Besides, both have catchy tunes, and that’s something.

Any others I overlooked? Any of these you think are being unfairly maligned? Let me know in the Comments. Toodles.

Stop the Music! (Part 2 of 3)

Diane Lane as Ellen Aim in "Streets of Fire"

10 Bizarre Movie Musicals
You Have to See to Believe
Part 2 of 3

In our previous installment, we looked at 3 films that tried, unsuccessfully, to cash in on the success of Grease. Well, if you can’t bring back the ’50s, then you can always pretend like they never ended. That’s what Walter Hill did with his “rock & roll fable,” Streets of Fire.

7. Streets of Fire (1984)

Another time… Another place… Streets is set in a nebulous dystopian pseudo-1984. Imagine if the entire world were the down-and-out industrial wasteland of a Bruce Springsteen song, perpetually night, neon-lit, wet with rain that never seems to actually fall, in the wake of a war that no one won against a foe no one can identify. It’s actually kind of poetic, but Streets isn’t really going to delve into any of that.

Instead, we’ve got a plot straight out of Donkey Kong, where big bad biker Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe in his first big break) rides up in his rubber overalls and abducts Pat Benatar avatar Ellen Aim (a smoking hot Diane Lane). Ex-soldier Tom Cody (Michael Paré) is called upon to rescue his ex-girlfriend and sets about climbing ladders and wielding sledgehammers and… seriously, this has NOTHING to do with Mario Brothers.

Michael Paré was fresh from Eddie and the Cruisers, a little slice of 1960s New Jersey cheese that managed to find an audience on HBO that it failed to find in theatres. Following the secret to that film’s marginal success, Walter Hill put together a pretty impressive little soundtrack with songs written by Stevie Nicks and Jim Steinman. You’ve also got early appearances by Amy Madigan, Rick Moranis, Bill Paxton, and Mykelti Williamson.

So where did it all go wrong? Maybe ol’ Walt was just ahead of his time. If he’d been patient, he could have found his market with this sort of material, just like such hits as Strange Days and Southland Tales. Or maybe that’s too much to ask, even from a fable.

Singers and dancers may be a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but true movie stars are precious commodities. If you want to make a successful movie musical, simply sign yourself a bonafide draw and teach him or her how to sing and dance. Piece of cake, right? If only it were that easy…

6. Paint Your Wagon (1969)

By 1969, Clint Eastwood’s cowboy credentials had been practically set in stone. He’s already made Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy of spaghetti westerns. He’d starred in Hang ‘Em High, which managed to be United Artists’ biggest opening at that time, eclipsing even the beloved Bond films. Surely someone bought Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites on vinyl, because that’s the only justification for Eastwood’s singing cowboy in Paint Your Wagon.

If Clint’s singing is awkward, Lee Marvin is downright sadistic, warbling his way through “Wand’rin’ Star.” How wretched, then, must Jean Seberg’s singing voice be if she’s the only one in the trinity of stars to be overdubbed? One shudders to imagine.

The plot’s a basic gold rush hootenanny. Marvin plays Ben Rumson, a pragmatic trapper and prospector who finds gold on the grave of a dead man. Said dead man is the brother of “Pardner,” played with uncharacteristic naiveté by Eastwood. Jean Seberg’s Elizabeth shows up as a Mormon wife auctioned off by her husband to the randy Rumson. It isn’t long before she manipulates bawdy Ben into accepting polygamy and adding Pardner as a second husband in a “shocking” gender switch. That love is TOO big.

Just like the film, their little boomtown instead collapses under its own weight. Too bad it takes 164 minutes(!), $20 million, and 14 songs to do so.

5. At Long Last Love (1975)

Cybill Shepherd began her show business career as the pet project of director/producer Peter Bogdanovich, the “Bride of Bogdanovich” if you will. He even produced her debut album, Cybill Does It…To Cole Porter. Poor Cole had already passed, so he had no say in the matter.

At Long Last Love is an ode of sorts to Cole Porter, with sixteen of his classic songs featured in the film. Burt Reynolds was cast as the male lead, no doubt owing to his fancy footwork in Deliverance and The Longest Yard. Unfortunately, here he would be asked to sing.

As if that wasn’t a big enough bag of hubris for a filmmaker, Bogdanovich insisted on recording the songs live on film rather than employing lip synch. One can only imagine the number of takes discarded to distill the footage down to the mess that made it to the screen. This repetition is easy to blame for the insufferably stiff choreography.

Bogdanovich would later issue an open letter of apology in newspapers across the country. There would also be claims that the movie is a parody of its source material. If so, then Cole Porter’s kinfolk should have tracked down Bogdanovich and made him eat his trademark eyeglasses.

4. Rhinestone (1984)

It’s perhaps a bit unfair to put Rhinestone on this list, since it’s more comedy than musical and part of the basic premise is the claim that anyone can be transformed into a country music star. Once you add Sylvester Stallone to the equation, however, all bets are off. Sly turned down Romancing the Stone and Beverly Hills Cop to play Dolly Parton’s personal Pygmalion. I do have to question whether the move from New York City cab driver to urban cowboy is really a step UP. You bet the judge.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for the third, final, and most unbelievable installment of our little extravaganza.

Stop the Music! (Part 1 of 3)

CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, from left: Valerine Perrine, Bruce Jenner, 1980, © Associated Film Distribution

10 Bizarre Movie Musicals
You Have to See to Believe
Part 1 of 3

Before you go out to watch that little elf from Legend prance around as a “rock god” in Rock of Ages, see how many of these weird movie musicals you’ve heard of, let alone endured in their entirety.

10. Can’t Stop the Music (1980)

By the time Bruce Jenner hooked up with the Kardashian clan, he already had experience dealing with superficial sluts, namely, the Village People. Jenner made his film debut in Can’t Stop the Music after being crowned the “World’s Greatest Athlete.” Despite having set three world records in the Decathlon and a Gold medal win at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, he very nearly added “World’s Worst Actor” to his impressive résumé. Thankfully, this would be his last starring role.

Ostensibly a bio pic, Can’t Stop the Music sets out to tell the story of the formation of the seminal disco ensemble Village People. Producer Allan Carr was coming off a huge box office hit with Grease, and clearly thought he could catch lightning in the bottle once again by capitalizing on the disco craze. Problem is, he and his bottle were a little late as disco had already overstayed its welcome by the time Can’t Stop sashayed into theatres.

This film supposedly has the dubious distinction of being the only PG-rated movie to include full frontal male nudity (during the “Y.M.C.A.” production number) in its theatrical release. I’m not even going to try to confirm that. If you have any doubts, be my guest and seek out the “evidence,” just don’t come back and complain to me if you get it.

Can’t Stop the Music is the reason there is a Razzie (Golden Raspberry) Award given out each year for Worst Picture. This film set the bar pretty damn low, but films like Howard the Duck and Gigli have somehow been able to limbo underneath it ever since. Still, as the first winner ever, it’s place in bad film history is firmly secured.

9. Grease 2 (1982)

If at first you don’t succeed, go back to the well one more time. Producer Allan Carr may have mistimed his previous effort with Can’t Stop the Music, but surely what movie audiences REALLY wanted was a sequel to his smash hit Grease, right? Wrong.

Well, maybe. Maybe if John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John returned. Maybe if Randal Kleiser returned to direct. Maybe if there was a Broadway musical to provide Tony Award-caliber songs. Sadly, none of those maybes came to pass.

Instead, Grease choreographer Patricia Birch was asked to pull double duty and direct as well as choreograph this slap job. A pre-Scarface Michelle Pfeiffer is probably this film’s only saving grace, and her star was rising so fast that even this 115-minute millstone couldn’t hold her down. As Stephanie Zinone, she is the new leader of the Pink Ladies, and is in the market for a little British strange in the form of Maxwell Caulfield’s Michael Carrington. This, predictably, causes tension with her ex, the new leader of the T-Birds, Johnny Nogerelli (Adrian Zmed of T.J. Hooker “fame”). Everyone involved is left with no recourse but to sing and dance about their woes (as well as reproduction, bowling, and atomic terror) for nearly two hours.

Supposedly, as of 2008, Paramount’s straight-to-DVD division, Paramount Famous Productions, was developing a number of undoubtedly shoddy sequels to popular Paramount properties. Grease 3 might be on its way to you on Blu-Ray after all these years. Pink Ladies and T-Birds rejoice while the rest of us weep.

8. Xanadu (1980)

Olivia Newton-John might as well have done Grease 2. It’s not like she was parlaying her Pink Lady cred into a legit career in film. Instead, she was signing up for the romantic musical fantasy Xanadu.

Xanadu is so far removed from its original source material, it might have been carried on the backs of sherpas from Broadway to the Himalayas. Let’s see if I can get this straight. Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) was an adaptation of Harry Segall’s stage play about a man mistakenly taken to Heaven before his time and given a second chance on Earth. It spawned a sequel, Down to Earth (1947). Here Comes Mr. Jordan was remade in 1978 as Heaven Can Wait, starring Warren Beatty and picking up 9 Oscar nominations (winning one). So, naturally, Xanadu is a remake of Down to Earth and, thus, an unofficial sequel to Heaven Can Wait. Surely it can capture a little bit of that Oscar magic from just two short years ago, no?

Well, sure, especially considering the filmmakers were able to identify the one key component missing from its predecessors: Roller disco. Oh, and hey, why not throw in dancing legend Gene Kelly reprising his role as Danny McGuire from Cover Girl (1944). That way they can capture that huge crossover demographic between roller disco aficianados and those with fond memories of 1940s musical romances. Assuming they were in their early teens in 1944, they would be age 50 by the time Xanadu hits theaters and hence in perfect roller disco form. Or maybe it was just a case of the producers throwing enough shit against the wall in the misguided hopes that something had to stick.

Be sure to return tomorrow for Part 2 of our little waltz through the world of weird movie musicals.