The 1950’s were defined by family values and post war happiness. This was a time in American history where we were not only productive industrially but we had just defeated Hitler and liberated oppressed people in Europe.
Still, we failed to see, as a society, the own oppression we were imposing on minorities right here in America as well as the gender inequalities that were most definitely prominent to many women.
This era in American history pre-dates the unruly 1960’s where the establishment’s ideologies were thrown on their head. This was a time of good boys and girls, everything happy, and housewives who were able to keep their homes clean while still dressing for a cocktail party every night.
It was this goody-two shoes era that inspired us to investigate what musicals were popular at the time and the morals and messages they conveyed to the public.
With that said, here we go with some of our favorite musicals to come out of the 1950’s.
1. Singing in the Rain
While this was released on film in 1952 the movie centers around four characters in Hollywood in the late 1920’s when movies moved from silent films to “talkies.” We have Hollywood pair Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, who everyone perceives to be the perfect couple.
Yet, behind the scenes, when the press isn’t watching, the two barely can stand each other. More importantly, they never let Lina speak because of her high pitched and annoying voice. OF course, this is a problem as the studio ponders on how to solve that problem when they move to talking pictures.
In the meantime, one night after running away from the paparazzi, Don finds himself in the car of a young singer by the name of Kathy Selden. She pretends to not know who he is and he is instantly dazzled by her spunkiness. Selden, Lockwood, and Lockwood’s best buddy Cosmo Brown come up with a plan to dub Selden’s voice in for Lina’s when they make the transition to musicals.
As schemes usually end up in movie musicals this one blows up in the trios faces. Lina’s ego becomes bigger than ever and it seems, since she is under contract with the studio, Selden is going to be subjected to a long career playing Lamont’s voice. This, of course, would seriously inhibit her own plans of stardom.
In the end, Lockwood and Brown save the day for their darling Selden and every one lives happily ever after. That is, all except Lina Lamont, who will never be able to shake that irritating voice.
Keep an eye out on the new edition of “Singin’ In The Rain” coming to Broadway in 2017!
2. Guys and Dolls
This iconic musical starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando was also set in a different era than the 1950’s although it was released in 1955. We follow two couples, Nathan Detroit loves Miss Adelaide but avoids marrying her while Sky Masterson and Sister Sarah Brown of the local mission have yet to learn just how much they mean to each other.
It all begins when Nathan is feeling pressure to host another of his famous traveling craps games. The problem is that he can’t find a place to hold the illegal event without getting busted by the police, he is short the money to start such a venture. Enter Sky Masterson.
Nathan knows that Sky is a sucker for a bet so he challenges him to take any woman that Nathan picks to Cuba for the night. If he can’t get that girl to travel to Cuba with him then Sky owes Nathan the exact amount he needs to start his craps game. Sky agrees and then quickly learns Nathan’s choice is Sister Sarah Brown who is as goody goody as they come.
Not one to be outdone, Sky sets out on his challenge go get this noble woman to have dinner with him in Cuba. Of course she scoffs at the idea and is not in the mood for his shenanigans. She needs to get people into the mission otherwise the head office plans to shut her chapter down.
Sky learns of her dilemma and makes a deal with her. If she has dinner with him in Cuba, then he will fill her seats with sinners. Desperate to save her mission Sarah agrees and flies to Cuba with Sky. It is there, over many coconut and rum cocktails that the pair fall in love.
Meanwhile, back in New York, not only is Detroit devastated that he now owes Sky the sum of the bet and in need of money to start his traveling craps game, he has his woman, Miss Adelaide, is pressuring him to get married.
All’s well that ends well though. Even though Detroit uses the mission for his craps game and Adelaide is ready to walk, both the woman ends up winning their man in the end, which, after all, is what they need to survive in the 1950’s.
Released in 1958 this film starring French stars Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier is like the other two where it is set even further back than the decade it was distributed. We have a young girl who is becoming a woman and her friendship turned romance with local wealthy womanizer Gaston.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Gaston has made his way merrily from woman to woman yet he beginning to feel unsatisfied with the conquests. He considers it all a bore and only finds happiness when he visits the poor Alvarez family, which consists of Grandmama, her daughter whom we never meet, and her granddaughter Gigi.
Madame Alvarez is consistent in Gigi’s lady lessons and insists she sticks with them. Gigi, wise beyond her years and too outspoken for her age, finds the whole thing ridiculous. She ponders the point while laughing and joking with her dear old friend Gaston.
Yet, Gaston is unaware that soon Gigi is to be a woman, and when he realizes this he also realizes that he is madly in love with her. Yet, he has a position to uphold so he makes a deal with Madame Alvarez as to how he will be involved in Gigi’s future. Gaston agrees to take care of Gigi for the exchange of her company.
Gigi though, when realizing the nature of this relationship, decides she doesn’t want to just be another conquest and refuses him. Soon though, she changes her mind when learning that she much rather be miserable with Gaston then miserable without him. She agrees to his proposal.
When they go out one night and he showers her with affection in front of all the nosy people in Paris Gaston realizes the life in which he is subjecting Gigi. Gaston refuses to leave her with that reputation and drags Gigi home.
Of course, she and her grandmother are devastated and worried the tabloids will print her name and ruin her reputation. Gaston ponders on all of it for the night and when the morning comes he is rushing to Gigi to propose marriage.
Once again, everyone lives happily ever after. All except for the woman who tries to commit suicide over Gaston after he grows bored with her, Liane. She is a ruined woman who shall never recover from such shame as to be dumped by a rich handsome man.
4. White Christmas
This final musical on our list of musicals released in the 1950’s is a holiday favorite for many who celebrate Christmas and probably for some that do not. Its message is quintessential to the theme that reverberated through the 1950’s. Family values, honesty, and loyalty to one’s commander and country.
We have two showmen who met in the army while fighting in France during WWII. Captain Bob Wallace was in harm way during the war and Phil Davis, a private under him, saves his life and injures his arm doing so. It is this event with which Davis is able to blackmail Wallace into doing what he wants for many years afterward.
This is how their friendship and musical partnership was formed. Since that day they have become one of the most successful show producers in New York. Enter the Haynes sisters. Judy dishonestly sends a letter to Wallace and Davis pretending to be their brother who was once in the army with them. The letter pleads that they come to see the Haynes sisters’ act and give them advice.
Of course, the two men are attracted to either sister and another blooming friendship abounds. The men save the women from the police who are sent to the show to collect money owed to their landlord. Wallace reluctantly pays their debt as Davis gets them off on the train.
When the men make it to the train headed for Vermont, Wallace is angered when he finds out Davis gave his compartment tickets to the Haynes sisters and he will have to sit up all night in the club car. The sister come to the club car to thank them and the four of them sing the night away dreaming of snow in Vermont.
Unfortunately, one they get to Vermont it isn’t cold and there is no snow. Worse off, they find out the owner of the resort where the Haynes sisters are set to perform is Wallace and Davis’ former commander in chief General Waverly. His business is suffering and they devise a plan to help him.
Of course, confusion abounds and new love is lost when Betty gets angry and Wallace for taking advantage of the General, which he isn’t. She has incorrect information and assumes the worst of him. Betty leaves Wallace behind, after he thought they loved each other, and returns to New York.
Still, in fashion with the ideologies of the 1950’s the truth is revealed and the white night, Wallace, remains high on his hero horse. The two rekindle their love while the other sister and Davis realize that scheming to connect the other two isn’t all they like about each other.
When putting aside the holiday aspect of this 1950’s musical, we can see by the themes invoked that it promotes the principles of this era.
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