Well, here we are once again, on the day before Thanksgiving. Aside from marking the start of the Christmas shopping
madness season and being a day of overeating to the point of semi-consciousness while trying to avoid sitting next to relatives one doesn’t like, the fourth Thursday in November is still a time to look back and…well, give thanks. And as a lifelong film buff, it turns out that I have quite a few things to be grateful for when comes to movies. So many, in fact, that I thought I’d compose the following list of my top 99 music-related cinematic moments. This means going beyond the traditional Hollywood musical, of course, to include scenes where song and/or dance play a key role in some way (although I will be skipping straight concert films). Going in more-or-less chronological order, I offer up my thanks to:
The Jazz Singer - Where Al Jolson tried to teach me words to the Kol Nidre and help get me in touch with my (non-existent) Jewish roots.
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 – For the “Lon Chaney’s Gonna Get You if You Don’t Watch Out” number, where chorus girls are menaced by monstrous figures…none of whom, sadly, are actually Lon Chaney.
Animal Crackers – For giving “African explorer” Groucho Marx what would later come to be his TV theme song, “Hooray for Captain Spaulding.”
Duck Soup – With all four Marx Brothers joining in to satirize warfare and stage musical excess with “The Country’s Going to War.”
Flying Down to Rio – The wonderfully over-the-top title song, where chorines dance on top of airplanes above Rio de Janiero.
Gold Diggers of 1933 – If only for the appearance of Billy Barty with a can opener in “Pettin’ in the Park.”
International House – Decades before Cheech and Chong, Cab Calloway and his band got away with performing the song “Reefer Man” in this pre-Hays Code comedy.
Punch Drunks – In the Three Stooges’ second Columbia short, mild-mannered waiter Curly goes berserk every time fiddler Larry plays “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
Wonder Bar - The horribly over-the-top “Goin’ to Heaven on a Mule” number, where a blackfaced Jolson lands in an afterlife of one stereotype after another.
Bride of Frankenstein – The Monster (Boris Karloff) gets a brief respite from his persecution–and a violin concert sadly cut short–in the home of a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie).
A Night at the Opera – For years I thought “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” came from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Thanks a lot, Marx Brothers.
Show Boat – Paul Robeson, who never got the respect he deserved from the Hollywood majors, brings all the emotional punch he can to “Ol’ Man River.”
Shall We Dance – Of all of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ dance routines, the most unqiue and fun was their roller-skating duet to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – The dwarfs head home from their mine to the sounds of “Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho.”
The Wizard of Oz – Dorothy (Judy Garland) sets out from Munchkinland for the Emerald City, as “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” seamlessly segues into “You’re Off to See the Wizard.”
Ball of Fire – “Drum Boogie,” performed by Gene Krupa and His Orchestra and featuring singing by Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck).
Fantasia – Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” provides background as the Slavic demon Chernabog rises to summon his hellish minions.
Yankee Doodle Dandy – James Cagney goes back to his vaudeville song-and-dance roots and literally hoofs it up the sides of the stage as George M. Cohan in the title tune.
Casablanca - Rick (Humphrey Bogart) nods his okay, and Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) leads the musicians and patrons of Rick’s Café Américain in a rendition of “La Marseillaise” that drowns out the Germans’ singing of “Die Wacht am Rhein.”
The Gang’s All Here – was there ever a dance number as wonderfully Freudian as Carmen Miranda’s “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat,” with scantily-clad chorus girls clutching ever-ripening bananas?
Going My Way – Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby) croons the old Irish lullaby “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral” as he puts Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald) to bed.
Little Red Riding Rabbit – At Grandma’s House, Bugs Bunny distracts the Wolf by repeating everything he says and quickly gets ahead of him, leading to a spirited performance of “Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet (With the Blue Ribbons on It).”
Gilda - Rita Hayworth, at her sultriest, suggests that we “Put the Blame on Mame.”
My Darling Clementine – Tombstone marshal Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) asks the town’s new schoolmarm, Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), to dance with him at a Sunday social at the under-construction church.
Solid Serenade – Neither Tom nor Jerry spoke all that much in their more than 120 theatrical animated shorts, but Tom proved he could certainly croon when he tried to romance his would-be girlfriend with the jazzy number “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” much to Jerry’s consternation.
The Cat Concerto – One year later, though, Jerry got his revenge on would-be concert pianist Tom by sabotaging his performance of that well-known (through cartoons, anyway) work, Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
Royal Wedding – Long before Lionel Richie in music videos or Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception, Fred Astaire defied gravity and danced on the walls and ceiling, all to a photo of Sarah Churchill and the song “You’re All the World to Me.”
Limelight – the slapstick piano stage routine that highlighted the one-and-only screen pairing of comedy legends Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
Singin’ in the Rain – It’s far too easy to pick Gene Kelly and the title tune, so I opt for Donald O’Connor’s wonderful knockabout rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh.”
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Madonna, I know of Marilyn Monroe’s movies. I’ve seen Marilyn Monroe perform “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Marilyn Monroe was a fantasy of mine. You, Madonna, are no Marilyn Monroe.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Kirk Douglas singing the rousing sea shanty, “A Whale of a Tale.”
Lady and the Tramp – The title canine couple shares a spaghetti and meatball dinner to the tune of “Bella Notte.”
High Society – “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” for personal reasons.
The King and I – “Shall We Dance,” where governess/teacher Anna Leonowens (Deborah Kerr) turns dance instructor to show the King of Siam (Yul Brynner) the basics of waltzing.
The Bridge on the River Kwai – I first heard it in Getty gas station TV commercials, but now when I hear “The Colonel Bogey March” I instantly think of Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness) and his men.
What’s Opera, Doc? – Three words: “Kill the wabbit!”
High School Confidential! – Jerry Lee Lewis arrives on a flatbed truck, in front of the title institution, to perform his latest hit song, which just happens to be called “High School Confidential”!
Some Like It Hot - Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators practice “Running Wild” on a Florida-bound train, with Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) on lead vocals and Daphne (Jack Lemmon) and Geraldine (Tony Curtis) on bass and sax, respectively.
Babes in Toyland – A miniaturized Tom the Piper’s Son (Tommy Kirk) leads his toy army against the wicked Barnaby (Ray Bolger), to Victor Herbert’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers.”
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) sits in her apartment window and, strumming on her guitar, sings “Moon River” (a tune which composer Henry Mancini crafted with Hepburn’s narrow vocal range in mind).
Flower Drum Song – ’70s TV fans will enjoy the encounter between Barney Miller’s Sgt. Yemana and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father Mrs. Livingston, as Jack Soo warbles his way through the cautionary song “Don’t Marry Me” for Miyoshi Umeki.
Mary Poppins – It’s very tough to pick just one song, but I’m going with the most emotional number in the film, “Feed the Birds.”
My Fair Lady - Stanley Holloway, as Alfred P. Doolittle, singing “Get Me to the Church on Time (I’m Getting Married in the Morning).”
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! – Director Russ Meyer’s two-fisted T&A (but mostly T) opus offers a hot rod- and hot bod-filled opening sequence, with the unforgettable title tune performed by The Bostweeds.
Batman – The title sequence to the big-screen version of the campy ’60s TV show offered a jazzy, “na-na-na-na”-free version of the theme song and wonderful shots of villains Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler (each to their signature TV music).
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – A basso profondo Captain Miles Gloriosus (Leon Greene) arrives in Rome to the tune “Bring Me My Bride.”
The Producers – I’m thankful for “Springtime for Hitler”…and for however Mel Brooks managed to get away with it.
Yellow Submarine – The haunting “Eleanor Rigby” sequence.
A Clockwork Orange – Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his droogs break into a home and assault the couple living there, all while Alex offers his own sadistic take on “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Deliverance – Can anyone honestly tell me they don’t hear a note or two on a banjo and automatically think of Drew (Ronny Cox) and the hillbilly strummer (Billy Redden) dueting on “Dueling Banjos”?
Pink Flamingos – The one and only Divine goes Jayne Mansfield one better as she strolls the streets of downtown Baltimore, oblivious to the stares of everyone, to “The Girl Can’t Help It” and Little Richard.
Jesus Christ Superstar - Carl Anderson, reprising his Broadway role as Judas, warns Jesus of things to come in “Heaven on Their Minds.”
Live and Let Die – One could pick from several James Bond title sequences, but I have to go with Paul McCartney and Wings in Roger Moore’s 007 debut.
Blazing Saddles - On a Hollywood soundstage, director Buddy Bizarre (Dom DeLuise) attempts to lead his all-male chorines in “The French Mistake,” when a Wild West fight crashes over from the next set.
Phantom of the Paradise – Where glam rock sensation Beef (Gerrit Graham) debut of the song “Life at Last” from the rock opera “Faust” is fatally curtailed by the vengeance-seeking Phantom (William Finley).
Young Frankenstein – Mel Brooks. Gene Wilder. Peter Boyle. “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” ‘Nuff said.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Yes, if they’re always performing song-and-dance numbers like “We’re Knights of the Round Table,” Camelot is indeed “a silly place.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Sure, “Time Warp” is the number everyone thinks of, but my personal fave is the poolside floor show and “Wild and Untamed Thing.”
Tommy – You know what? I prefer Elton John’s version of “Pinball Wizard” to The Who’s. There, I said it.
Eraserhead – “In Heaven,” as performed–with only a few squashed worm-embryo-things–by the effervescent Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near).
Star Wars – Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, playing for your drinking and brawling pleasure daily at the Mos Eisley Cantina.
National Lampoon’s Animal House - What better party tune is there than “Shout,” particularly as rendered by Otis Day and The Knights?
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Steve Martin, making his feature film debut, goofs his way through “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in one of the all-star rock musical’s few high points.
Apocalypse Now – The U.S. Army helicopters swoop in over the Vietnamese coastline to the strains of Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries.”
Manhattan – Woody Allen’s magnificent (especially in black-and-white) opening ode to his beloved New York, set to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Monty Python’s Life of Brian – And if you want to be thankful, certainly you should “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
The Muppet Movie – Piano player Rowlf the dog tries to help Kermit forget his woman (pig?) problems with “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along.”
The Blues Brothers - Nearly half a century after singing it in a Betty Boop cartoon, Cab Calloway gets to reprise his signature song, “Minnie the Moocher.”
Fame – the rousing closing performance of “I Sing the Body Electric.”
Shock Treatment - Richard O’Brien’s little-seen follow-up to Rocky Horror did offer several memorable songs, with “Little Black Dress”–sung by Janet Weiss (Jessica Harper)–my favorite.
Rocky III – Is there a more manly musical moment in Hollywood history than Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) training on the beach with Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”?
Star Struck – “Monkey in Me,” as performed by Jackie Mullins (Jo Kennedy) and The Wombats in an Australian New Year’s Eve talent contest.
The Big Chill – How many Baby Boomer funerals over the next 40 years, I wonder, will feature organ versions of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” thanks to this movie?
Purple Rain – There are some great Prince songs, but none of them can hold a funky candle to “Jungle Love” by Morris Day and The Time.
This Is Spinal Tap – When we learn the difference between a six-foot and a six-inch “Stonehenge.”
The Breakfast Club – “We Are Not Alone,” with the detention-serving quintet getting their oh-so-’80s dance groove on in the school library.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure – A well-stocked jukebox and a pair of platform shoes is all Pee-wee Herman needs for a performance of “Tequila” that helps him get in a biker gang’s good graces.
Blue Velvet – Dean Stockwell in kabuki-like makeup + Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” + director David Lynch = a wonderfully strange and twisted musical memory.
Little Shop of Horrors - Ellen Greene, re-creating her off-Broadway role of Audrey. movingly blends laughs and pathos in “Somewhere That’s Green.”
True Stories – “Country Bachelor” Louis Fyne (John Goodman) wows the audience at the Virgil, Texas Sesquicentennial talent show with his performance of “People Like Us.”
Who Framed Roger Rabbit – the slapstick piano duet (to Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody, of course) that marked the one-and-only screen pairing of cartoon comedy legends Daffy Duck and Donald Duck.
Do the Right Thing – The title sequence, Where Rosie Perez gets a few punches in to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”
The Fabulous Baker Boys – Michelle Pfeiffer, in a slinky red dress, croons “Makin’ Whoopee” atop a piano.
The Little Mermaid – The Oscar-winning “Under the Sea.”
Gremlins 2: The New Batch - The title creatures perform a spirited version of “New York, New York” that morphs–much like the gremlins themselves can do–into a wild Busby Berkeley tribute.
The Silence of the Lambs – It was a minor dance club hit in the late ’80s, but does anyone now hear “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus without thinking of Jame Gumb ( Ted Levine) and his disturbing little dance?
Reservoir Dogs – Likewise, to a generation of moviegoers the ’70s Stealers Wheel fave “Stuck in the Middle with You” will now always be associated with Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature and Michael Madsen’s dancing.
The Nightmare Before Christmas – “This Is Halloween” and the introduction of Pumpkin King Jack Skellington.
Pulp Fiction – What else but the dance contest that Mia (Uma Thurman) and Vincent (John Travolta) take part in at Jack Rabbit Slim’s?
Reality Bites – I tried dancing to “My Sharona” at a convenience store shortly after seeing this film. Let’s just say it didn’t end well.
Happiness – The closing credits, where Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix perform the achingly bittersweet title tune.
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut - “Up There,” film/series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s spot-on send-up of all those inspiring Disney cartoon songs.
Toy Story 2 – How does anyone not shed a tear when Jessie sings “When She Loved Me,” and how did this not win the Best Song Academy Award?
O Brother, Where Art Thou? – “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” by The Soggy Bottom Boys.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - “Afternoon Delight” never sounded better than it did as performed by Ron (will Ferrell) and his KVWN Channel 4 News Team compadres.
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle – for title stars John Cho and Karl Penn’s road trip sing-along to Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On.”
Shaun of the Dead - I will never listen to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” the same way again.
(500) Days of Summer - Does that dating website whose TV spots feature Hall and Oates’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” probably due to its use in a marvelous music video/dance sequence here, know how the romance the song celebrated in this film turned out?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – The opening credits, with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” as performed by Trent Reznor and Karen O.
Well, that brings us to number 100. I still have a few tunes on my list, but instead I’ll leave the 100th entry up to you, dear readers. Please add your voice to the chorus and chime in by writing about your favorite musical movie memories in the comments.