The Hollywood film musical was in its heyday in 1939, a year that boasted a remarkable number of excellent films in all genres. Judy Garland starred in two of that year's biggest film musical successes: The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Arms, both produced by MGM. The former featured-in addition to Garland-Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton; and the latter, directed by Busby Berkeley, served as a vehicle for the dynamic duo of Garland and Mickey Rooney.
The Wizard of Oz was, for its time, an expensive film to produce, and its initial cost of $2.8 million was just covered in box office receipts after its initial release. Garland's signature song, "Over the Rainbow," is considered one of the most popular songs of all time by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts, and has been voted the greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute.
Babes in Arms was a film adaptation of the popular 1936 musical with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart, which, on the stage, contained a wealth of great songs, many of which are considered classics today: "Where or When," "Babes in Arms," "I Wish I Were In Love Again," "My Funny Valentine," "Johnny One Note," and "The Lady is a Tramp." Only three of these made it into the film version, but an additional song, "Good Morning," by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, was added; it was later inserted into the 1952 musical comedy Singin' in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds.
Rose of Washington Square starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Al Jolson, and William Frawley. Set in New York City in the 1920s, it tells the story of Rose Sargent, a star in the Ziegfeld Follies, who falls for and marries a con man. Standing by him has a deleterious impact on her career. The story was a thinly disguised exposé of the life of Fanny Brice and Nicky Arnstein, who subsequently sued 20th Century Fox; the case was settled out of court. The film provided Jolson a perfect vehicle to offer up some of his most popular songs.
Other film musicals of 1939 included a slate from MGM: Balalaika, Bridal Suite, Broadway Serenade, The Ice Follies of 1939, and Let Freedom Ring. RKO countered with the last of a long run of Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers dance films, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.