It is an interesting paradox that just as movie musicals were coming into their own in terms of technology (Technicolor, VistaVision, etc.), and achieving an art form status, such as “An American in Paris” (1951), the era folded like a house of cards.
When “White Christmas” (1954) was released, Rosemary Clooney was predicted to have a successful career in movie musicals ahead of her, but instead that movie was the pinnacle of her film career, and she found her success instead in television, recording, and live performances. Vera-Ellen, an astonishingly talented dancer, would make only a couple more films before her career ended, in part due to personal circumstances, and in part due to film coming of age with more realistic styles and themes.
“Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) is lauded as the best movie musical ever made, and though Gene Kelly did some of his best work in the 1950s, the sand was running out of the hourglass. Fred Astaire’s career may have become reborn after his retirement, with films like “The Band Wagon” (1953) and “Funny Face” (1957), but it was also the era of “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), “Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957), “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) and “On the Waterfront” (1954).
Rather like a Fourth of July sparkler bursting forth its last white-hot light before abruptly puffing out and leaving only smoke and darkness, the era of Hollywood musicals was ostensibly over after the 1950s. Blockbuster musicals of the 1960s tended to be Broadway shows transferred to film, with big names for the box office.
“White Christmas” is reported to be one of the most-watched films of the Christmas season. I’m not sure how many people gather annually to watch “On the Waterfront,” as good as it was. Even poor old Blanche DuBois of “Streetcar Named Desire” remarked, “I don’t want realism. I want magic.”