Yes, I know it’s a symptom of my having been born in the wrong era, but there’s something about the red orange cigarette glow of a bohemian café in the 1950s that drives me wild. Not that I by any means intend to romanticize a lifestyle that could lead to a chronic pulmonary disease, but … give me a crowded café, black turtlenecks, a sexy saxophone and a single malt whisky and I’m a happy camper. The deeply brooding reds and oranges and blues and blacks (with a splatter of pink and green thrown in here and there) seem to melt into each other in the heat of the cigarettes and stage lights. And the later the hour, the easier it is to believe that anything is possible within its walls.
Maybe that’s why Hollywood movies in the ’50s favored this setting. And given the emotions that such a mood creates, maybe that’s why out of such settings came some of the best musical moments of the decade.
And so, for no particular reason at all, I felt compelled to showcase some of my own personal favorite, scotch-soaked smoky moments on screen:
#1: FUNNY FACE (1957)
Adorable Audrey Hepburn gets her beatnik on in Funny Face. The scene is iconic for Hepburn’s black ensemble, but I get lost in those dusty red stage lights.
#2: DAMN YANKEES (1958)
Tab Hunter and Gwen Verdon toast to their lost souls in Damn Yankees. Unfortunately, “Two Lost Souls” is not available anywhere online, but you can listen to the number here and hopefully this screenshot helps paint the picture:
#3: THE BAND WAGON (1953)
Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse give Michael Kidd’s athletic choreography all they’ve got in the sexy “Dem Bones Cafe” scene in The Band Wagon. (My god, Cyd. You are … wow.)
#4: THE FIVE PENNIES (1959)
Danny Kaye’s duet with Louis Armstrong in the jazz biopic The Five Pennies. The film takes place in the 1920s, but the mood lighting is ’50s nocturne at its finest. (Can’t you just smell the cigarette smoke?)
#5: PAL JOEY (1957)
Let’s not forget Frankie calling Rita Hayworth “a tramp” in Pal Joey. Frankie delivers a tour de force performance here, completely at home in the early AM shadows. (A setting he knew intimately.)
#6: A STAR IS BORN (1954)
And finally, Judy Garland slam dunks the Arlen & Gershwin number “The Man who Got Away” in George Cukor’s A Star is Born. If you’ve never seen it, prepare to have your socks blown off by Miss Garland. (The dark shadows of the empty nightclub only serve to intensify her performance.)
What have I missed? Leave your favorites in the comments below!