So comprehensive is the book by Huron Street Press (publisher of the terrific Queue Tips) that in the introduction, Gregg Opelka writes, “It’s hard to imagine what fell through the floorboards.” Well, The Apple, for one, but I’m just being nitpicky.
Noting that the musicals in cinema’s infancy were merely filmed variety shows of the stage, Kniffel ticks through 84 years’ worth of singin’ and dancin’ on the big screen, divided into decadelong chapters and then subdivided by individual year from there. Reviews are no-nonsense, in-and-out glimpses — just enough to pique your interest and/or whet your appetite.
Some merit half a page of criticism, while others are tackled in single-sentence summations, such as 1957’s Jailhouse Rock: “Even if you cannot bear to watch this movie all the way through, you must see Elvis ‘the Pelvis’ Presley gyrate his hips through the title song.”
Every so often — and beginning with 1936’s Show Boat — Kniffel highlights those superlative musicals as the “Best of the Best.” The honor is not doled out lightly, so if readers are looking simply for the crème de la crème, they should keep their eyes peeled for these sidebars; because the book is well-designed for eyeball friendliness, doing so isn’t difficult.
Kniffel seems to approach each film with blunt honesty, given his negativity toward largely critically acclaimed movies like Robert Altman’s Nashville and Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors (both recognized by Oscar, incidentally). When the author doesn’t champion everything, the book earns credibility, regardless of whether you agree. Musicals on the Silver Screen’s larger problem — and only one, in the grand scheme — is that he rarely names the directors at all. —Rod Lott
Hey! Read This:
• The Best Film You’ve Never Seen: 35 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies They Love book review
• Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut Blu-ray review
• Queue Tips: Discovering Your Next Great Movie book review