NPR logo The Greatest Musicals? 'Singin' in the Rain' Tops List

The Greatest Musicals? 'Singin' in the Rain' Tops List

Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's 1952 classic Singin' in the Rain topped the AFI's 25 greatest musicals of all time. MGM hide caption

toggle caption MGM

The cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, unfortunately, did not make the list. 20th Century Fox hide caption

toggle caption 20th Century Fox

The American Film Institute has revealed its latest list: The top 25 movie musicals of all time. NPR's Bob Mondello sent along this musing about the ranking. Personal confession — The Sound of Music can still make me cry.

"There's a place for us... somewhere a place for us," unless that is, we have an ounce of camp.

When the American Film Institute released its list of cinema's greatest musicals this week, who'd have guessed they'd skip the sort of musical that really gets musicals — the satires, the goofs, the shows that indicate a real love of form. I mean, these lists are made to be argued over, and there were bound to be a few kvetches and cavils, but seriously, why so serious?

I mean, no one's going to argue with choices like Singin' in the Rain (#1), Wizard of Oz (#3) and Mary Poppins (#6), and it makes sense that if Broadway transfers make the list, they should be led by West Side Story (#2), which won a bigger slew of Oscars than almost anything, even if all those all-American, squeaky-clean, finger-snapping gang members look a little silly today.

But at the other end of the AFI's top 25, a few selections seem to have been given too much credit for having been hits on stage (Guys & Dolls (#23), for instance, where a singing, hoofing Brando was just plain not a good idea). And there are enough of that sort of also-ran to make you wonder why they couldn't find room for a couple of the musical-mad musicals that make the form attractive to folks who don't go in for the super-sweet storylines of Rodgers & Hammerstein and the intricate rhyming of Cole Porter.

Personally, for instance, I'd trade all those dancing cowhands in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (#21), for Tim Curry strutting around in fishnet stockings in Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Pontipee brothers, after all, are trapped in a dull, generic plot when they're not leaping over sawhorses, whereas there's a knowing awareness of form to Dr. Frank-N-Furter's gyrations that goes way beyond mere choreography. Grease (#20) was plenty popular with hopelessly devoted Travolta and Newton-John fans, but there's not a moment in it that's half as much fun as the sight of Carmen Miranda covered in fabric strawberries, fending off the hundreds of Busby Berkeley chorines who are rushing around holding six-foot bananas in The Gang's All Here.

I also miss Umbrellas of Cherbourg (not even on the AFI's original ballot (PDF format)) with its candy-colored costuming, but admittedly, that's more specialized (and well, not American). Whatever... if the list gets people to sample a couple of movie musicals they'd missed somehow, I guess it's worthwhile. As for me, I'll just shuffle off to my cabin in the sky and whistle a happy tune as I make up my own list.

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