Category Archives: Musical Comedy

O Lucky Man!-1973

O Lucky Man! -1973

Director-Lindsay Anderson

Starring-Malcolm McDowell, Ralph Richardson, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,174

Reviewed September 1, 2021

Grade: A-

O Lucky Man! (1973) is a satirical black comedy that mixes musical songs with a message of capitalism by the driven protagonist. Like a great fine wine, the film has aged well and is still relevant decades later. The film is a slow build but by the end of the lengthy running time of nearly three hours, I was enamored and hummed the title song repeatedly.

In fact, I’m still humming it as I write this review.

Suggested is to watch O Lucky Man! in two or three segments for full appreciation. One sitting would be incredibly tough since some of the events require some level of reflection and thought.

An ambitious young British man, Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is determined to be successful at all costs. Debuting as a coffee salesman, Mick is quickly promoted within his company. Events take a series of bizarre turns when Mick is abducted by a military agency.

Later, he becomes smitten with the gorgeous Patricia (Helen Mirren) and winds up working for her father, sinister executive Sir James Burgess (Ralph Richardson). As Mick’s tale continues, his experiences get progressively stranger.

The clever aspect is that just when you think Mick’s life is dour and drab he rebounds more successful than ever. Hence the title of the film. So, there is an element of adventure and romance amid the capitalist plot.

Lindsay Anderson, who directed O Lucky Man! re-casts McDowell again in the same role he first played as a disaffected public schoolboy in his first film performance in Anderson’s film If… (1968). I did not realize this at the time I watched O Lucky Man! and I think this knowledge would have made me catch on to the events and the sub texture even more.

Now, I need to rewatch If…

I did however ruminate constantly on McDowell’s other iconic role in A Clockwork Orange (1971) as Alex. The characters are quite similar save for Alex being a juvenile delinquent instead of a rising corporate guy like Mick is. This is in large part due to McDowell’s looks and acting style. His trademark sneer and bright blue eyes make him mesmerizing in both roles.

I even spotted an actor who played one of the infamous droogs!

A plus to the film is that several actors appear in multiple roles, some difficult to distinguish. Part of the fun is trying to figure out who’s who.

There isn’t a whole lot of chemistry between McDowell and Mirren but it’s interesting the shifting characteristics of the characters. And Patricia is fascinating. When she inquires why people work so hard for things instead of just taking them we realize that she places no value in things because she’s never had to work for them. She’s a rich, daddy’s girl.

There are reasons not to like her but I still did. When she winds up in a homeless lot it’s shocking. And I also loved the character of Mick and his epic journey. He is imprisoned and then reformed in a humanistic way just like Alex was in A Clockwork Orange.

But the best part of O Lucky Man! is absolutely the music. Anderson takes periodic breaks from the drama to simply treat his audience to a musical number all performed by Alan Price. It’s comforting to sit back and enjoy the unforgettable tunes that pepper the film. One could argue that the songs almost usurp the main action but I found them, great companions, to the other.

As if there was any doubt, the soundtrack was widely lauded and was a huge financial success.

A surreal effort, sometimes happy or tragic but always insightful and oftentimes delightful, McDowell, Price, and Anderson are at the top of their respective games. O Lucky Man! (1973) is a terrific watch brimming with good juices if one just has the patience to let events marinate.

Hot Summer-1968

Hot Summer-1968

Director-Joachim Hasler

Starring-Chris Doerk, Frank Schobel

Scott’s Review #1,173

Reviewed August 27, 2021

Grade: B

One of the strangest films I’ve ever watched Hot Summer (1968) deserves enormous accolades for even being filmed, produced, and in existence. You see, it’s the only film (that I know of) to come out of East Germany before the wall came down in 1989 and unity garnered. This is astounding in itself despite some warts the film contains.

The starkness and seriousness that envelope the German stereotype is shattered by the bubblegum musical nature of the film. This is an oddity in itself.

It’s clearly patterned after the trite, summery United States beach movies of the 1950s and 1960s when teenage characters flocked to the sandy beaches looking for romance with their contemporaries. In this film, they do so within song and dance numbers led by two East German pop idols of the time, Chris Doerk and Frank Schobel.

The genre of the film pretty much sucks and is not at all my favorite style of film but Hot Summer contains a liberal helping of sun, perfect smiles, and beach bodies to keep viewers at least interested.

The acting is not great nor is it expected to be.

As goofy as possible the musical comedy follows a group of teenage girls heading to the Baltic coast together for their summer vacation. Naturally, they wind up meeting a similar group of amorous teenage guys, giving way to quarrels and flirtatious competitions that are played out in lively song-and-dance numbers as the individuals hook up with each other.

Despite that the film was made during the Cold War period there are no political or like messages to be found which surprised me. If there were any subliminal intentions related to this, like the groups sticking together, they didn’t register with me. I think this is a positive. Hot Summer is pure summer fun- nothing more and nothing less.

The songs are a major win and rather hummable especially the title track. It stuck in my head for some time after the film had ended. One character performs a lovely ballad amid a campfire that is quite beautiful and incredibly atmospheric.

The numbers are professional largely because real-life pop stars Doerk and Schobel do the bulk of them.

Still, Hot Summer has a couple of negatives to mention. Why the decision was made to pattern a film, especially one as groundbreaking as being the sole East German film during the Cold War, by using a subject matter as hokey as the summer beach theme is beyond me? Certainly, better genres exist to borrow from.

My hunch is that Joachim Hasler, who directed the film, desired a release from the bleakness of his own culture and saw America as the land of freedom and fun.

The choreography is a bit stiff, if not downright amateurish which adds to the bizarre nature of the overall product. Certainly nothing like the exceptional choreography of say Oklahoma (1955) or West Side Story (1961) instead we get rigid dance numbers.

Kudos to the film for being made at all Hot Summer (1968) is hardly a great film but it does hold the viewer’s interest. It contains enough fun and frolics and good-looking young people to avoid being a snore.

The Prom-2020

The Prom-2020

Director-Ryan Murphy 

Starring-Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman

Scott’s Review #1,101

Reviewed January 17, 2021

Grade: A

Hollywood legends Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman take on singing and dancing roles in the lovely and timely film, The Prom (2020). James Corden joins them in a prominent role in a musical based on the popular and recent Broadway production of the same name. The LGBTQ+ storyline is important and powerful but doesn’t overshadow the colors and the fun. The message is perfectly incorporated in the delicious comedy romp.

The Prom reminds me of John Waters Hairspray from 1988 or even the fun remake from 2007. Instead of racism, the topic is now homophobia, with a few characters rebuffing the lifestyle. Most of the performances are over-the-top, but the film works on all levels. The one-liners are crackling and polished, especially by Streep and Corden.

As should be the case, the homophobic characters are written as fools and finally come to realize the error of their ways.

Director, Ryan Murphy, has become a favorite of mine for creating both extremely dark and light-hearted projects that usually slant towards LGBTQ+ recognition and inclusion. His treasured FX series American Horror Story (2011-present) and miniseries The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story are excellent examples of this. I drool with anticipation over what his next offering might be.

High school student, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), wants to bring a female date to the upcoming prom. Chaos has erupted after the head of the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association), Mrs. Green (Kerry Washington) has canceled the prom. The setting is Indiana and the same gender coupling conflicts with the town’s traditional beliefs and values. Little does she know that her daughter, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) is Emma’s secret girlfriend. The school principal, Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key) supports Emma and has leaked the story to social media outlets.

Meanwhile, in sophisticated New York City, snooty broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Streep) and Barry Glickman (Corden) are devastated when their new musical flops. They join forces with struggling performers Angie Dickinson (Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) and take a bus trip with the cast of Godspell to remote Indiana to champion Emma’s cause, and drum up sympathy from their fans and critics.

The rest of the film is as one might expect with bursts of song and dance combined with teaching the stuffy residents of small-town Indiana to accept and embrace Emma and her LGBTQ+ brethren. Amid a flurry of misunderstandings, mainly between newly dating Tom and Dee Dee, Emma and Alyssa, and Alyssa and her mother, a lavish prom is funded for the town, high school students straight and gay, to flock to and co-mingle in unity.

While The Prom is sheer fantasy and real-life doesn’t usually work out so perfectly, the sentiment is meaningful and the film takes a progressive stance.

I adore the song and dance numbers with my favorites being rapturous “It’s Time to Dance” and “Tonight Belongs to You”. They match well with the meaningful “The Acceptance Song”.

My curiosity wonders how residents of Indiana or other small towns might react to The Prom. While the film depicts a stuffy, close-minded viewpoint by many of the residents- besides the ones already mentioned, two male students, and two cheerleaders bully and ridicule Emma, other characters like Emma’s grandmother (Mary Kay Place) are kind and accepting. The bullying is a soft touch and Murphy keeps the plot light.

The contrasts of Dee Dee and Barry’s derision of Edgewater is comical and delightful, the main fun of the film. Dee Dee has never heard of the restaurant, Applebees, or knows not what it is. Barry and Dee Dee are horrified to have to stay in the local hotel because it is beneath their standards. The hotel is pretty nice.

A beautiful moment occurs towards the end of the film when Barry reunites with his mother, played by Tracey Ullman. Distant for years because of his parent’s inability to accept him as gay, the old woman comes to terms, and the two reunite with tears. A sad reality is that the dad still cannot come to terms with his son’s sexuality. This is surprising and hurtful that some parents still have a tough time with lifestyle choices in the year 2020.

The Prom has heart and the side story of the blossoming romance between Dee Dee and Tom, opposites, is charming and sweet.  Learning to curb her narcissism and doing for others as tough as that might be for her, Streep is a hoot and has tremendous chemistry with Key. The interracial match is a bonus for a film keen on promoting diversity and inclusion.

Related to this, one preposterous notice is the small Indiana town having oodles of Hispanic, black, and Asian townspeople. A real small town in Indiana would almost certainly be 99% white. But, the message is diversity so Murphy does what he sets out to do. I just don’t feel it’s accurate.

Those desiring a pulsating, riotous comedy musical with snippets of cutting humor are in for a treat with The Prom (2020). The musical numbers may fade and are not as memorable as instantly recognizable songs from classics like West Side Story (1961) or The Music Man (1962), but enough is on the table for pure enjoyment for the entire family. And the strong message is enough reason to tune in.

Hairspray-2007

Hairspray-2007

Director-Adam Shankman

Starring-Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Christopher Walken

Scott’s Review #1,095

Reviewed December 28, 2020

Grade: B+

Hairspray (2007) is a fun film, without being superfluous. The third incarnation of the musical treat doesn’t disappoint, offering a brighter production. A safer affair than the 1988 escapade directed by naughty filmmaker John Waters, it’s nonetheless not a “watered” down version either. It loses none of the charm that the original had and includes plenty of big-name stars. In short, it’s a solid summer popcorn flick with sing-along tunes and a cool vibe. The important message of racial relations is not lost nor dismissed.

The setting is early 1960’s Baltimore, Maryland, a city rife with racial problems representing the entire United States during that decade. Our star, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is a chubby, bubbly, sixteen-year-old, who wants nothing more than to trudge through the school day and come home and indulge in her favorite television show, The Corny Collins Show, a popular local dance competition.

Tracy auditions for a spot on the show, and wins. She becomes an overnight celebrity, a trendsetter in dance, fun, and fashion. She and her fans hope that her new status as a teen sensation is enough to topple Corny’s reigning dance queen, Amber von Tussle (Brittany Snow), and bring racial integration to the show. Amber’s racist mother, Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer) manages the television station and thwarts Tracy’s efforts, leading to tension and a dance competition between Tracy and Amber.

The casting is a big part of the success. Blonsky, making her film debut, carries the film flawlessly. Both energetic and empathetic, she is the perfect girl next door and relatable for any young girl who is not a stick figure. More broadly, she represents anybody who feels like a misfit or put upon for not being classified as perfect. Her joy and sincerity as she sings and dances to “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “I Can Hear the Bells” is infectious and makes her a perfect protagonist.

The supporting cast is delightful and laden with A-list Hollywood stars clearly having a ball with their over-the-top roles. My favorite is John Travolta as Tracy’s mother and compadre, Edna. Fans of Hairspray know that Edna is always cast with a male actor in drag and Travolta is fantastic. His mannish body and movements only make the character more fun and fabulous. And with his beehive hairdo and pink ribbon he is so darn cute!

Tracy’s father, Wilbur, is played by Christopher Walken. His love for his wife and daughter is sweet. Pfeiffer fuels her one-note character with venom as the racist woman gets her just due.

Director, Adam Shankman, puts the focus on the musical numbers, and that’s just fine. For added pleasure, he includes both John Waters and Rikki Lake (the original Tracy) in cameo roles, which is a treat for anyone who has seen the original. The best numbers occur when the entire company joins in, especially the wonderful finale, “You Can’t Stop the Beat”. Besides being musically contagious, the song sends an important message of progression and embracing change.

Despite the fluffy trimmings, the important message of racial inequality is not overlooked, nor does it feel dated in the year 2007. Clearly, racism is still an issue. Justifiably so, the racist characters like Velma and Prudence Pingleton (Allison Janney) look ridiculous with outrageous fear for anyone different than themselves. Tracy and her friends champion causes like racism, integration, and being true to oneself, which are themes at the heart of the film, along with the merry songs.

While I still prefer the 1988 version of Hairspray for more seediness and a colder vibe, Hairspray (2007) is a colorful rendition exposing a new generation to the chirpy and danceable tunes while maintaining the important themes. It’s a family-friendly affair and a very funny experience without sacrificing any credibility.