by Alix Cohen

A Chronological Assortment



Bye Bye Birdie 1963 Adapted from the stage musical by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams. Inspired by Elvis Presley’s induction into the army. Directed by George Sidney. Presley was asked to play the role but his manager objected to the parody. Ex-biochemist and unsuccessful songwriter, Albert Peterson (Dick Van Dyke), schemes to have megastar Conrad Birdie (he of pompadour and hip thrust) publicly sing his song “One Last Kiss” before going into the army. Albert and secretary/long suffering girlfriend  Rosie (Janet Leigh) – he’s a mama’s boy- convince Ed Sullivan to televise the event. (Sullivan plays himself)

The couple travels to Sweet Apple, Ohio to tell high school fan (sex kitten) Kim MacAfee  (Ann- Margaret) she’s been chosen to be kissed by Birdie on national television. Kim’s father (Paul Lynde) objects, her boyfriend is jealous, Rosie’s fed up with waiting for commitment from Albert, Sullivan has to cut the segment. Everything works out, of course. There’s a great number with teenagers and telephones. Lynde is marvelous as is Van Dyke. Rent on Amazon Prime


The Unsinkable Molly Brown 1964 A fictionalized account of the life of Margaret Brown, who survived the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. Based on the stage musical. Score by Meredith Wilson. Directed by Charles Walters. Raised by mountain man, Seamus Tobin, tomboy Molly (Debbie Reynolds) dreams of marrying a rich man to secure a red dress, brass bed, and indoor plumbing. After brief resistance, she weds besotted miner, Johnny Brown (Harve Presnell.) When he strikes gold, the friendly, rough-cut Browns move to Denver but are ostracized for being nouveau riche and ostentatious.

Molly decides she and Johnny should travel to acquire some culture. While she’s a hit all over Europe for her enthusiasm and lack of boundaries, Johnny is homesick and bored. They return home and give a huge party attended by titled, fashionable guests as well as those of Denver society who had previously ignored her. All goes well until Johnny’s boisterous friends take over. Molly goes back to Europe, until… Tammy Grimes played Molly on Broadway. MGM wanted Shirley MacLaine. It’s said Debbie Reynolds agreed to lower her fee to secure the role. Rent on Amazon Prime


In Saving Mr. Banks, 2013 Directed by John Lee Hancock, Emma Thompson enacts author  P.J. Travers and her extreme resistance to Disney’s making this film. Tom Hanks plays Disney. Not a musical. Well done. Rent on Amazon Prime


Mary Poppins 1964 Based on P.L. Travers’ book series Mary Poppins. Directed by Robert Stevenson. Score by The Sherman Brothers. Edwardian London. Prim, proper bank manager, George Banks (David Tomlinson) and his suffragette wife, Winifred (Glynis Johns), advertise for a new nanny. Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) literally flies in and commandeers the job. She disciplines children Jane and Michael with the help of no nonsense demeanor and a great deal of magic taking. Fantastic adventures with old friend, chimney sweep, Burt (Dick Van Dyke) fill their days.

Mary ‘s clandestine project is to help Mr. Banks become aware of the way he’s treating his family, encourage him to actively become part of their lives, and put joy back in his life….which she does-in spades. Superb cast, even the kids. Charming musical numbers. The film combines live action with animation. Rent on Amazon Prime


Mary Poppins Returns 2018 Directed by Rob Marshall. Music by Marc Shaiman. Twenty-five years later, Michael (Ben Whishaw) is a widower with three children and mortgage overdue. His sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) seems to have moved in to help. The siblings take apart their house looking for a promised legacy of bank shares which could financially rescue them. A corrupt bank president (Colin Firth) denies these exist.

Mary (Emily Blunt) arrives to pave the way for a happy future. You’ll know where the share certificate is before it’s revealed. I, for one, hated the animation and production excess. Blunt is fine as is Lin-Manuel Miranda as a lamplighter- in the best friend role. Cameos are sweet. Rent on Amazon Prime or just stick with the first one


Oliver  1968 Based on the stage musical, score by Lionel Bart. Which, in turn is based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. On his own in London, the orphan Oliver (Mark Lester) meets street urchin, Artful Dodger (Jack Wild.) Dodger takes him back to a liar of pickpockets helmed by Fagin (Ron Moody- perfect) who’s in cahoots with burglar, Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed) and his girlfriend Nancy (Shani Wallis.) Thefts big and small, arrests and escapes, friendships and betrayals, two murders, intentions to reform that don’t stick. Peter O’Toole and Dick Van Dyke turned down the role of Fagin. Six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director. Rent on Amazon Prime


Funny Girl  1968 Based on the life of stage star Fanny Brace and her relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein. Adapted from the stage musical, music & lyrics by Jule Styne and  Bob Merrill. Directed by William Wyler. Awaiting her gambler husband Nicky Arnstein   (Omar Sharif),  who’s been released from prison, Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice          (Barbra Streisand) looks back over her life and their marriage. As if written for her.           Some great numbers, though 8 from the Broadway show were dropped angering Styne. Fun. Expensive and looks it. Best Actress Academy Award tied with Katharine Hepburn for A Lion in Winter ?! Rent on Amazon Prime, Free with Netflix


Funny Lady 1975 Sequel to Funny Girl. Score by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Directed by Herbert Ross. Contrived, but if you like the first one, continue. Barbra Streisand at balked at a sequel until they made the character “tougher and more mature.” James Cahn plays  Fanny Brice’s second husband, Billy Rose. The Aquacade is something to see! Rent on Amazon Prime& Netflix


The Matchmaker 1958 (The source of Hello Dolly) Directed by Joseph Anthony. With Shirley Booth, Shirley MacLaine, Anthony Perkins. Rent on Amazon Prime


Hello, Dolly 1969 Based on the Broadway production, music/lyrics by Jerry Herman. Directed by Gene Kelly. If you haven’t seen Dolly in some shape or form, by all means or catch the show next time around or the next or the next or… 1890. Brassy, widowed, Jill–of-all-trades, Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand), arrives in Yonkers as matchmaker to the town’s leading citizen, blustery, cheap Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), then secretly decides to wed him herself.

First, Dolly has to subvert a match with milliner, Irene Molloy (Maryanne McAndrew.) In this, she’s inadvertently aided by Horace’s clerk Cornelius Hackl (Michael Crawford) who, set on kissing a girl, goes to New York on a fling with fellow clerk Barnaby Tucker (Sanny Lockin) and meets Irene. Also in need of help are the Yonkers merchant’s whiney niece Ermengarde (Joyce Ames) and her intended, Ambrose Kemper (Tommy Tune, always a pleasure) forbidden by Horace to marry. You won’t be able to get the music out of your head for hours. Streisand, Matthau and Kelly clashed throughout production. Lavishly executed.  Heavy handed. Rent on Amazon Prime & Netflix