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Sour notes: Worst moments in musicals

Clint Eastwood sings to trees, the Village People’s cowboy serenades hot chicks and Rex Harrison kisses a seal.
/ Source: contributor

“Can’t Stop The Music” (1980)

Image: \"Can't Stop the Music\"

Almost everything in this disco-centric freakout is wrong and weird. That anyone thought putting The Village People, Steve Guttenberg, Valerie Perrine and Bruce Jenner in a musical directed by the Bounty paper towel queen Nancy Walker is all the proof you need that nearly everyone in late 1970s Hollywood was using lots of cocaine. But one number stands out as the most bizarre in a film already boiling over barely concealed gay insanity: David Hodo — the Construction Worker — singing a blatantly false paean to heterosexuality called “I Love You to Death” to a series of random female dancers. This sort of thing is suspect in just about any movie musical, but when it’s a guy from The Village People barking and hissing and growling his adoration of hot chicks in a manner that recalibrates the universal scale of histrionic drag-queen-like behavior, it’s something to witness.

“Doctor Dolittle” (1967)

Image: \"Doctor Doolittle\"

There was a time in this world when Doctor Dolittle meant something more than a bland, semi-comedic Eddie Murphy franchise. That time was the late 1960s, when even musicals aimed at kids were somewhat psychedelic. In that environment, riding giant snails and tending to two-headed llamas that wanted to gallop in different directions was just something magical veterinarians like Rex Harrison’s good doctor did every day. (Full disclosure: At age four, I was given one of those stuffed mutants and thought nothing of it, as though all creatures great and small had the capacity to grow a second functioning head. It shaped me.) But viewing this box-office ne’er-do-well recently caused me to recoil in horror at the number where Harrison sings a love ballad called “When I Look Into Your Eyes.” To a female seal. And then he kisses her on her seal lips. And it’s not just a polite peck. And it was still rated G. Seriously.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1979)

Image: \"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band\"

It’s kind of worth watching for the robot that sings “She’s Leaving Home.” Because, you know, why not have a robot sing that song? And Aerosmith’s “Come Together” oozes an appealingly evil slime. But it’s the Peter Frampton/Bee Gees re-working of “Golden Slumbers” that serves as a textbook definition of laying it on thick. During the song’s “you’re gonna carry that weight” chorus, the frizzy-haired quartet are seen carrying a glass coffin containing the body of a female character actually named Strawberry Fields. Get it? See? They’re going to CARRY THAT WEIGHT! It’s touching, of course, because she’s dead. But that’s also why it’s funny. This theme was re-worked by visionary director Julie Taymor in 2007’s remake of “Sgt. Pepper” called “Across The Universe,” only in that one some soldiers carry the extra weighty and meaning-laden Statue of Liberty. Heavy, man.

“Paint Your Wagon” (1969)

Image: \"Paint Your Wagon\"

There was this wacky trend back in the day where people who made musicals decided that it didn’t matter anymore if anyone in the cast could sing (a legacy that eventually brought audiences Albert Finney in “Scrooge,” Lucille Ball in “Mame,” Peter Finch in “Lost Horizon” and Jack Nicholson in “Tommy”). Not just needs-a-little-sweetening-in-the-mix bad singing. Monumentally bad singing. And this head-scratcher featured, as its leads, three awesome non-singers in Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood and Jean Seberg (whose voice was dubbed). Bad musical fans like to talk about Lee Marvin’s mumbled numbers (check out “I Was Born Under a Wand’rin’ Star” on YouTube if you think you’re strong enough) but for more refined silliness, investigate Clint Eastwood’s show stopping — as in grinding the movie to a halt — ballad “I Talk To The Trees.” He sings it near some trees to prove his point. The trees in question could not be reached for comment.

“The Apple” (1980)

Image: \"The Apple\"

No name stars, no budget, no hit songs, no box-office. So why has it endured as a cult film? Because sometimes ugliness becomes its own kind of beauty, that’s why. Set in a dystopian, music-industry-controlled world of 1994, this new-wave-disco-theologically-unsound-biblical-allegory-meets-satanic-glitter-rock mess is comparable to a chef making an omelet out of ingredients from a dumpster in the alley. Just when you think each production number — and it packs a lot of them into 90 minutes; they fly past at a dizzying rate — has got to be the worst one of the film, the next one ups the already mind-blowing ante. But the two weirdest have to be a monster-filled, fig-leaf-bikini-clad, vampires-dancing-with-skeletons-and-people-wearing-bear-masks “bite the apple” number that takes place after an earthquake in Hell and, later, an oh-so-’70s swinger sex ballet done on multiple beds to a rip-off of a vintage Donna Summer song (it’s lawsuit-ready, in fact). Think you’ve seen it all? You haven’t. And when you do your senses will never be the same.