I sometimes think that the ideal form for some poems may be the table of contents. Inveterate list-maker that I am, I am quite certain that the list or catalogue qualifies as a distinctively American form though hardly an indigenous one. Whitman’s lists in “Song of Myself” rank at the top of anyone’s list of great nineteenth-century list poems, and I’d argue that Cole Porter’s You’re the Top should occupy a similar position in the modern period.
Today, with Hollywood on my mind, I thought I’d offer up a pair of top-five lists, one devoted to the best performance of a song, the other to the best dance sequence, in classic American movies.
1) Over the Rainbow / Judy Garland / Wizard of Oz / Harold Arlen (music), Yip Harburg (words)
2) As Times Goes By / Dooley Wilson / Casablanca / Herman Hupfield
3) The Man That Got Away / Judy Garland / A Star is Born / Arlen & Ira Gershwin
4) Well, Did You Evah? / Sinatra and Crosby / High Society / Cole Porter
5) I'm Through with Love / Marilyn Monroe / Some Like It Hot / & Gus Kahn with Matt Malneck and Fud Livingston
6) Bye, Bye, Baby / Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell and male chorus / Gentlemen Prefer Blondes / Jule Styne & Leo Robin
7) NY NY / Kelly, Sinatra, Jules Munshin / On the Town / Bernstein with Comden and Green
I see I got carried away and listed seven. Just think of it as a five-way tie for third place.
1) “Singin' in the Rain.” Gene Kelly. Singin' in the Rain. Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.
2) “Never Gonna Dance.” Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Swing Time. Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields,
3) “Cheek to Cheek”: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Top Hat. Irving Berlin.
4) “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. James Cagney. Yankee Doodle Dandy. George M. Cohan.
5) A toss-up between Astaire and Cy Charisse at the “Dem Bones Café” in The Band Wagon (Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz) and “America” (choreography Jerome Robbins; Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim), in West Side Story.
One virtue of such lists is that they reward the impulse toward inclusiveness.
Another is that they invite readers to counter with a rival list after voicing their outrage: How could he have left out “Comedy Tonight” from Richard Lester’s 1966 film version of Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? Or "Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome," the great opening number featuring Joel Grey and chorus in Cabaret (1972)? How about Gene Kelly and Vera Ellen doing Rodgers’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” in On Your Toes, or Kelly on roller skates in It’s Always Fair Weather, or Dan Daley's drunk scene in the same movie, or the ballet that Kelly and Leslie Caron perform in Gershwin’s An American in Paris? About my own list, I note only and without comment that among composers only Harold Arlen and Leonard Bernstein appear more than once; among the performers, this is true of Sinatra, Astaire, Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland.
And, David, can you really overlook the Bernard Herrmann song that loudly serenades Charles Foster Kane at the top of his career as a newspaper magnate?
And Dean Martin and company singing "That's Amore" in The Caddie ain't chopped liver.
Perhaps, in another post, I will talk about background music (like the stirring strain Elmer Bernstein created for The Magnficent Seven or the march he wrote for The Great Escape) with a special sidebar on Herrmann's contributions to Hitchcock's movies.
Please nominate your favorites. -- DL