Wednesday, June 29, 2011

10 FAVORITES (38) - Movie Musical Miscasts!

After taking a much needed break last week (for the beginning of Summer!) and before taking another much needed break next week (for the 4th of July holiday!), 10 FAVORITES returns with a subject I've wanted to cover for a while.  If you read my 100 Favorite Films list, you know that I am a huge fan of Movie Musicals. I just can't get enough of them, good or bad.  And believe me, there have been some doozies!  Now there have been ones that have been bad from conception to production (most of the Esther Williams movies!) and ones that have been bad because of one major mistake: Casting!  This week's 10 FAVORITES goes through the biggest crimes in Movie Musical history as far as Casting goes.  This week:


Ava Gardner, Show Boat (1951)
There were several factors going into this Casting choice and there are two big reasons why it was the wrong choice.  For MGM's splashy colorized film version of the landmark Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical, the studio wanted a glamorous star in the role of the tragic leading lady Julie LaVerne.  Several insiders thought that jazz sensation Lena Horne was the perfect choice (she had done the role, sort of, in the 1948 Jerome Kern biopic Til the Clouds Roll By).  But the studio was uncomfortable putting a black woman in such a prominent role in a film with a large budget behind it.  They wanted a sex symbol! And they got one in Ava Gardner.  One problem, she couldn't sing!  And the dubber they used (professional singer Annette Warren) didn't quite match Gardner's natural sexual energy.  Watching this film, I cringe at the dubbing that doesn't quite match Gardner's flirtatious movements and I can't help but wonder what the fantastic Miss Horne would have been like in the role (I guess I have to keep watching Til the Clouds Roll By!).

Omar Sharif, Funny Girl (1968)
I'm gonna say it: I'm NOT a fan of Omar Sharif (except in Lawrence of Arabia!).  I didn't care for him in Doctor Zhivago and I didn't care for him in this movie (which is otherwise quite delightful!).  My biggest problem with him as gambler Nicky Arnstein, who married then divorced Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice (brilliantly played by Barbra Streisand): He just doesn't pull off the sleaze quality you need!  Yes, he's a smooth-talker and a player and a complete and utter tool, but from what I've read about the real Nicky Arnstein, he was NOT Yuri Zhivago, which is how Sharif plays him.  Seriously, watch Doctor Zhivago then watch Funny Girl (and I apologize in advance for the suggestion!) and you will see NO difference between Sharif's two characters!

Vanessa Redgrave, Camelot (1967)
This Miscast has bothered me for years.  Don't get me wrong, I love Vanessa Redgrave as an actress and in a straight dramatic version of the King Arthur story, she would have been at the top of my list to play Queen Guinevere back in the day.  But, even though Dame Redgrave has a charming singing voice, it in NO WAY matches the lilting glory that was Julie Andrews' voice.  Andrews played the part in Lerner and Loewe's seminal musical on Broadway in 1960 and was a critical dynamo opposite Richard Burton's King Arthur.  In Joshua Logan's film version of the musical, the late Richard Harris was well-cast as Arthur (long before he was the original Professor Dumbledore!) and, once again for star power, Vanessa Redgrave got the part of Guinevere (a role she would have been perfect for if the score was not so musically ambitious!).  Sadly, her high notes (or the notes where Andrews would have hit say a High C) just are not lyrical enough for what this musical should be.

Barbra Streisand, Hello, Dolly! (1969)
I may be thrown out of the "Musical Lovers Club" for this one, but Miss Barbra was NOT right for playing Dolly Levi, at least not at that time in her career (something she herself has said several times since, by the way!).  Hello, Dolly! was her second film and she was not yet 30! Dolly Gallagher Levi (played on stage by legends like Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Martha Raye, Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman) was supposed to be a middle-aged widow.  So Streisand, who was in full glorious voice and had her usual star power, just wasn't right for this Grande Diva role.

Diana Ross, The Wiz (1978)
Yet again, this is another case of right star + right role + wrong time in star's career.  Diana Ross would have been perfect to play Dorothy in The Wiz...10 or 15 years earlier! (And I know that means the musical wouldn't have existed yet, but go with me for a sec!)  The Supreme Diva Miss Ross was in her thirties when she played the role on film (something screenwriter Joel Schumacher-YES, Joel Schumacher-addresses), but Dorothy is supposed to be a teenager.  That's what made Dorothy so innocent in ALL incarnations of the Oz tale.  Yes, Judy Garland was over 18, but at least she was under 25!  All this being said, though, I do love Diana Ross' rendition of Dorothy's final song, "Home."  Below, is a song written by Quincy Jones specifically for the film version and specifically for Miss Ross.

Peter O'Toole, Man of La Mancha (1972)
Just like Dame Redgrave above, Peter O'Toole would have been perfect as Don Quixote de la a straight dramatic version of the tale.  But add a little song and dance, and the actor loses some credibility.  In fact, O'Toole (who had done a dismal musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1969) was so terrified of the beautiful Mitch Leigh-Joe Darion La Mancha score that he demanded a dubber.  But the dubber makes a big-yet-understandable mistake: Instead of trying to tackle the score with a deep glorious tenor (like original star Richard Kiley or Broadway vet John Cullum had done), he tries to match O'Toole's breathless vocal quality and so the songs lose the power they had in the stage production.  It's really sad, especially when co-star Sophia Loren (no great singer herself!) is warbling her way through the leading lady songs (sans dubber!).

Janet Leigh, Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
This is another case (like Redgrave and O'Toole) where I compare the film version to the original Broadway version.  And here, the argument ends when I say who played the part on Broadway: Chita Rivera.  Now, I grant that she was not a movie star like Janet Leigh and therefore not a household name, but her talent far outweighs anything Janet Leigh brought to the role (if indeed she brought anything to the role!).  For Leigh, they diminished the score, cut songs and the choreography by the legendary Onna White (who would have been thrilled to work with the fabulous Chita Rivera) is extremely limited to mostly supporting players and original star Dick Van Dyke.  Below, hear Janet Leigh sing the reprise of "One Boy" (her part begins about 3 and half minutes into the video clip).

Elizabeth Taylor, A Little Night Music (1977)
On the surface, the late Dame Elizabeth Taylor was the right choice for the part of fading star Desiree Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim's ambitious musical.  But watching this film (which is really hard even for those who love the musical to begin with!), I get the feeling that Miss Taylor's heart just wasn't in this role.  Her insecurity comes leaping across the screen and she unsuccessfully tries to pass it off as part of the character's vulnerability.  My heart sinks when I watch this film because I know Taylor could have done better and I know that there were other actresses/stars who might have gone beyond better and into the superb.

Lee Marvin, Paint Your Wagon (1969)
There really isn't much I can say about this one.  I mean, Lee Marvin + musical western + lackluster score + Lee Marvin singing!  It's just...just...just watch the video below and judge for yourself!

Lucille Ball, Mame (1975)
This one is wrong on all levels of Miscasting!  Many people "loved" Lucy, but not here.  Lucille Ball spent millions of her own money to secure the rights to play Mame on film.  She would have been better to put her millions under a mattress.  Not only did she side-step the glorious original star Angela Lansbury, but Lucy was trained as a dancer/chorine and became a natural comedic talent, but nowhere in her career history was she a singer.  Let's face it, there was a reason Ricky never let her be in the show!  Suffice it to say, Mame was huge commercial and critical flop (and Broadway revivals of the show have not had much success since!).  It's rare where the film version can pretty much kill almost any credibility the stage version had (Paint Your Wagon is another example, but you've realized that by now!).

There they are: the biggest crimes in Movie Musical Casting.  As I said earlier, 10 FAVORITES will be taking another break next week.  When I return, there will be some significant changes made in this blog and in 10 FAVORITES.  See you all soon! And Happy 4th of July!

No comments:

Post a Comment