Posted September 17, 2013 by Phil Hall in Retro Cinema

Retro Cinema – The 10 Greatest Musical Numbers in Non-Musical Films

mame black strapless rita hayworth gilda
mame black strapless rita hayworth gilda

Sometimes, the urge to belt out a song is too overpowering to resist. Or perhaps that only happens in the movies. Still, there is no shortage of musical interludes in films that were not conceived as song-and-dance happenings.

In celebration of cinema’s love affair with music, here is my selection of the 10 best musical numbers that popped up in non-musical films. (Just click the links to enjoy the numbers via YouTube.)

1. “Le Marseillaise” from Casablanca. Where else but at Warner Bros. could the fate of the free world be decided in a glamorous night club? This visceral rendition of the French national anthem – which is used to silence a Nazi sing-along – is both brilliantly absurd in concept and wonderfully invigorating in reaffirming the fighting spirit of the Allied nations against the Third Reich.

2. “Put the Blame on Mame” from Gilda. When this film was released in 1946, theater owners reported that many grown men would spend the entire day watching this flick over and over – because they couldn’t get enough of the extraordinary Rita Hayworth. Nan Wynn dubbed Rita’s singing voice, but Rita’s charisma and vibrancy was purely her own.

3. “Falling in Love Again” from The Blue Angel. Marlene Dietrich sits down on a chair and offers a song that changes the cinema world forever.

4. “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers. Bad taste? You bet! But it is also, arguably, the funniest song and dance number in movie history, via first-time filmmaker Mel Brooks.

5. “Trouble of the World” from Imitation of Life. The most profound expression of musical sorrow imaginable, via the great Mahalia Jackson in the midst of Douglas Sirk’s soapy classic.

6. “Mothra Song” from Mothra. Probably the most beautiful musical tribute to a Japanese movie monster ever recorded.

7. “Swinging the Alphabet” from Violent is the Word for Curly. Moe, Larry and Curly offer a crash course in English via this rousing interlude in their 1937 two-reeler.

8. “I’m Easy” from Nashville. Keith Carradine’s deceptively simple ballad and Robert Altman’s devastatingly subtle direction turned this scene into a masterpiece of quietly percolating emotion.

9. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Life of Brian. Optimism amid the crucified, via the Monty Python madmen.

10. “Twist and Shout” from Back to School. Although the “Twist and Shout” number from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was far more elaborate, Rodney Dangerfield’s pop-eyed enthusiasm took this tune to a wonderful new level.

Phil Hall

Phil has written about cinema for the New York Times, New York Daily News, Hartford Courant, Wired Magazine, American Movie Classics Magazine, Tower Records Pulse! Magazine and the Organica Quarterly. He is the author of several books, including “Independent Film Distribution” and “The History of Independent Cinema.” Beyond film journalism, he is a former United Nations correspondent for Fairchild Broadcast News and a writer and editor for technology and financial publications.