Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) dominated the box office in the 1930’s. They were one of the largest, most glamorous and revered film studios in Hollywood and credited for inventing the Hollywood stable of stars’ system; developing budding stars and making them appealing to audiences. Their motto was Ars Gratia Artis – meaning art for art’s sake and their goal was to produce a film a week. They never quite managed this, although they still managed to produce a film every 9 days! This production level was cut in 1940, to a more reasonable 25 a year.
However, it was the musical films produced at MGM that became the mainstay of their production.
The musical era started with ‘The Broadway Melody’ in 1929 and ended with ‘Gigi’ in 1958. Each film was known for being cheery and featuring a background romance between the main stars – including the likes of Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. They also produced some great songs – thanks to songwriters such as George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The first musical production
‘Broadway Melody’ (1929) was the first musical and first sound picture to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. It was also one of the first musicals to feature a Technicolor sequence – sparking a trend for colour being used in musicals during the 1929-30. It was also Hollywood’s first all-talking musical and the first musical released by MGM. The Broadway Melody was directed by Harry Beaumont and featured music written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed (who went on to become a producer for MGM).
The musical film greats
Produced by Arthur Freed and under the directorship of various directors, including Charles Walters, George Sidney, Stanley Donen and Vincente Minnelli, many musical films were produced by MGM musical pictures; what amounted to an independent unit within the studio.
Many of which are now considered classics – ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ (1944), ‘Easter Parade’ (1948), ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ (1950), ‘Show Boat’ (1’ (1), ‘An American in Paris’ (1951), ‘Singing in the Rain’ (1952) and ‘Deep in the Heart’ (1954). It was these films that kept MGM running during the early 1950s.
An era ends
The last great MGM musical produced by MGM and directed by Vincente Minnelli was ’Gigi’ in 1958, Staring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan, it won 9 Academy Awards including Best Picture and had several hit songs.
Musicals at the Grim’s Dyke
Make sure you keep an eye on our Events Calendar for our regular Opera, Musical Theatre, and Historical Talks.