Nowadays, the appearance of a new movie musical (most recently Les Misérables) is sufficiently rare to draw significant media attention. Yet the first talking picture was a musical, and the genre dominated the early years of sound. In The Songs of Hollywood, Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson survey the history of song on film and examine Hollywood’s key role in shaping what we now think of as the “Great American Songbook.”

Despite its youth, the film musical reached maturity earlier than its stage counterpart, thanks to the dizzying pace of artistic and technological innovation which followed the introduction of sound in 1927. At first, writing songs for film was regarded as a lesser endeavor than writing songs for the stage, although the lure of Hollywood salaries during the Great Depression soon led songwriters to overcome their scruples. Studios, concerned that...


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