Musicals from the 1940s


Music in the 1940s was mainly built around the jazz and big band styles that were popular during the day. Artists like Rosemary Clooney, Count Basie, and Artie Shaw helped to define the musical era with their unique brand of entertaining crowds through their music. This was also the era of World War II, and many musical acts strived to reflect the pain that the country was going through while still remaining upbeat and positive about the impending future. The 1940s was a time for many breakthrough artists who made their mark in the history of music and several of them are still recognized as innovators in their day.

Cab Calloway (Movie #16)  was a popular scat jazz singer that came to prominence in the 1940s. In fact, he was so prominent in this field of music that he was often referred to as the “Hi De Ho” guy. One legend of how scat began tells of how Calloway forgot the words to a song during a performance and started improvising nonsense syllables to fit with the beat of the music. It was well-received by his audience and a new musical styles was born. His baritone voice was an excellent match for his style of jazz music, but he was also a very successful big band leader. His orchestra included some of the most prominent musicians of the era.   Calloway is also known for his popular song “Minnie the Moocher”.
The Dorsey Brothers (Movie #13) are also synonymous with the big band style of the 1940s Jimmy Dorsey was an accomplished musician who was talented in playing the clarinet and saxophone. His orchestra was one of the first musical acts to sell millions of albums containing their performances. Tommy Dorsey was a prominent jazz trombonist who also lead his own orchestra. His act accounted for over 130 hits on the Billboard Charts and, like Calloway, his orchestra included some of the most popular musicians of the era. He is also known to be the guy that gave Frank Sinatra his start in the entertainment industry. After World War II, there was a shift in musical tastes in the country and his orchestra disbanded, only to be put back together with his estranged brother to form the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. Both men died shortly thereafter, but their legacy continues to be an excellent demonstration of the 1940s musical era.
Though every decade has its unique characteristics in the way of musical styles, the 1940s was enduring one of the biggest wars in the history of the country. World War II was taking its toll on the people in the United States and abroad, but the performers continued to keep their upbeat styles to help America take their mind off of the news. They not only continued to make fun music, but many of them also took their talents to the troops to keep them entertained and improve their morale. The 1940s positive musical styles helped to give way to the rock ‘n’ roll styles of the decade that was to come.

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1.  Second Chorus (1940) – Fred Astaire:

Danny (Fred Astaire) and Hank (Burgess Meredith) are surprised when Artie Shaw hires competent manager Ellen (Paulette Goddard) away from their college band. The two trumpet players scheme to get into Shaw's outfit themselves, each trying to trump the other's plays.

2.  Pot o Gold (1941)  James Stewart:

Jimmy, the owner of a failed music shop, goes to work with his uncle, the owner of a food factory. Before he gets there, he befriends an Irish family who happens to be his uncle's worst enemy because of their love for music and in-house band who constantly practices. Soon, Jimmy finds himself trying to help the band by getting them gigs and trying to reconcile the family with his uncle, an avid music-hater, all while winning the heart of the beautiful Molly!

3.  Road To Happiness (1941) – John Boles:

Jeff Carter (John Boles), a singer down on his luck, turns to radio acting as a means of supporting his young son Danny (Billy Lee.) With the support of his son and his press agent Charley Grady (Roscoe Karns), Jeff ultimately finds radio the means of realizing his professional ambition.

4.  Zis Boom Bah (1941) – Grace Hayes & Peter Lind Hayes

Musical-comedy star buys a cafe for her college son. He and his friends transform the place into a restaurant-theatre with predictable results.


5.  Private Buckaroo (1942)  Dick Foran:

WWII era Musical starring Dick Foran, the Andrew Sisters, Harry James, and Joe E Lewis. Dick Foran plays a western style crooner who's anxious to join the Army. After he's enlisted he thinks he's to good for basic training which raises the ire of his fellow soldiers.

6.  Yanks Are Coming (1942) – Henry King:

Those Yanks are on the way to England (during World War II) in a patriotic musical.

7.  This is the Army (1943 – Color) – George Murphy:

Dancer Jerry Jones (George Murphy) is wounded in World War I and finding his showbiz options limited becomes a producer. 25 years later, he puts on an all-soldier revue jam-packed with Irving Berlin songs. Includes Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" and a brief appearance by boxing legend Joe Louis.

8.  I'm From Arkansas (1944) – Slim Summereville:

People flock to a small Arkansas town after a prize pig delivers another huge litter of young. Movie contains country music and some hillbilly humor.

9.  Dixie Jamboree (1944)  Frances Langford:

A medicine man on the last show boat on the Mississippi is mistaken by two gangsters as a bootlegger, and has to evade them.

10.  Stork Club, The (1945) – Betty Hutton:

A hat-check girl at the Stork Club (Hutton) saves the life of a drowning man (Fitzgerald). A rich man, he decides to repay her by anonymously giving her a bank account, a luxury apartment and a charge account at a department store. When her boyfriend (DeFore) returns from overseas, he thinks she is a kept woman.

11.  Song for Miss Julie, A (1945) – Shirley Ross:

A play is being written about an older actor. His Southerner granddaughter holds the rights to his estate, and is rather reluctant to give info about her grandfather to some visiting New York playwrights. This soon disintegrates into a full family relative comes forward with some new information.

12.  Till The Clouds Roll By (1946 - Color) – Robert Walker and June Allyson:

Musical biopic on the career of pioneering Hollywood composer Jerome Kern.

13.  Breakfast in Hollywood (1946) – Tom Breneman:

The star of the picture is Tom Breneman. From 1941 through 1948, he was the host of the hit morning radio program, ‘Breakfast in Hollywood’, which was broadcast over NBC’s Blue Network from his own restaurant (Tom Breneman’s) on Vine St. near Sunset in Hollywood.

Entertainment includes Spike Jones & His City Slickers; two swinging’ numbers by the Nat King Cole Trio (billed as the King Cole Trio); Bonita Granville (of Nancy Drew fame); and  boy crooner, Andy Russell who had a number of chart-toppers between 1944 & 1952.

 14.  The Fabulous Dorseys (1947) – Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey:

The rise and rise of the Fabulous Dorsey brothers is charted in this delightful whimsical step down memory lane. Lots of fun watching Hollywood's more than creative version of their careers.


15.  Calendar Girl (1947) – Jane Frazee:

A songwriter finds out that his beautiful girlfriend is going to be an artist's model.

The story involves the trials of young hopefuls in the music/dance world and a wealthy young artist from Boston. Much better than the average small musical.

16.  Boy! What a Girl! (1947)  Tim Moore:

Two musical producers are trying to scrape enough money together to finance their show. When one of their backers doesn't show. They convince Tim Moore to impersonate the second female backer.  Contains 1940s swing.  Tim Moore played Kingfish on the “Amos n’ Andy” TV program.

 17.  Hi De Ho (1947) – Cab Calloway:       

Cab Calloway plays himself in a plot about jealousy, night clubs, and gangsters.

18.  The Perils of Pauline (1947- COLOR) – Betty Hutton

Betty Hutton plays silent serial queen Pearl White in "The Perils of Pauline," a musical salute to Hollywood's early days.  Pearl White was one of the most successful silent film actresses of her day.

Pearl becomes world-famous as the star of such cliffhanging, tied-to-the-railroad-tracks serials as The Perils of Pauline (hence the title of this film). At the height of her fame, she arranges for her theatrical mentor Mike to get a job as her leading man, forcing him to swallow his pride and admit that he's been in love with her from the moment he met her. A series of clichéd complications contrive to separate Pearl White and Mike, but he returns to her arms when she's seriously injured during a Parisian stage performance. A few fairly credible recreations of silent moviemaking techniques aside, The Perils of Pauline is wildly anachronistic and inaccurate (for one thing, Pearl White made most of her serials in New Jersey rather than Hollywood).


19.  Killer Diller (1948)  Dusty Fletcher:

African American musical variety show featuring The Nat King Cole Trio, the Clark Brothers and other musical and comedy acts.

20.  The Inspector General (1949 – Color) – Danny Kaye:

Georgi (Danny Kaye) an illiterate member of a gypsy medicine show, is mistaken for the feared and cruel Inspector General.

 21.  No, No, Nanette (1940) – Anna Neagle, Victure Mature, Richard Carlson:                               "No, No, Nanette" was originally a Broadway show produced and directed by Harry Frazee in 1925, running for 321 shows. To finance the show, Frazee - then owner of the Boston Red Sox - sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in December of 1919.  Perky young Nanette (Anna Neagle) attempts to save the marriage of her uncle and aunt by untangling Uncle Jimmy from several innocent but ensnaring flirtations. Attempting one such un-entanglement, Nanette enlists the help of theatrical producer Bill Trainor (Victure Mature), who promptly falls in love with her. The same thing happens when artist Tom Gillespie (Richard Carlson) is called on for help. But soon Uncle Jimmy's flirtations become too numerous, and Nanette's romances with Tom and Bill run into trouble. Will Uncle Jimmy's marriage survive, and will Nanette find happiness with Tom, Bill, or somebody else?