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From top: Summer Stock, Charles Walters, 1950; The Pirate, with Judy Garland, Vincente Minnelli, 1948; Words and Music, with Vera-Ellen, 1948, Norman Taurog and Robert Alton; It's Always Fair Weather, Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1955.
Posted at 12:51 PM | Permalink
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For those who want to honor Kelly's legacy with a rental, might I recommend his overlooked dramatic turn as the cynical newspaperman in Stanley Kramer's INHERIT THE WIND? It's worth a look for a number of reasons: the justly celebrated performances of Spencer Tracy and Frederic March; an impressively strong supporting cast featuring a veritable Who's Who of actors better remembered for their later television roles (Dick York, Harry Morgan, Claude Akins, even Noah Beery Jr. and Norman Fell); and, of course, themes that are perennially relevant to our ongoing political crisis.
But for me, Kelly is revelatory in this movie as the third lead — the Mephistophelian foil to the high-falutin' proceedings.
BTW Glenn, sorry for degrading the discourse in that other thread last night. I did feel provoked.
Not David Bordwell |
August 23, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Thanks NDB, and no sweat; we all get a little hot under the collar sometimes and I'm hardly an exception.
August 23, 2012 at 03:05 PM
His films are on TCM all day today.
Per the prior post, "Inherit the Wind" airs at the convenient 2am time slot.
August 23, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I'm glad you included a highlight from "The Pirate". Performance-wise, I think it's a career best for Kelly and Garland both, and it's damn near my favorite Minnelli as well.
August 23, 2012 at 04:13 PM
It looks lovely but it was hell to make. Judy was in and out of the bin several times during production, and she and Minnelli were NOT getting along (by this point in her career she referred wrking with Chuck Walters.) Judy liked Gene Kelly enormously but as Fayard Nicholas told me "We had a lot of time to rehearse the 'Be A Clown' number with Gene kelly ebcause Miss Garland was. . . .indiposed."
David Ehrenstein |
August 23, 2012 at 05:50 PM
David: In a way, though, I think Garland's emotional problems may contribute to her work in the film. In the early, character-setting scenes, there's a palpable, almost scary intensity to her longing for another life, and it gives the whole movie a stranger tone than even Minnelli's fever-dream Caribbean settings. As for Kelly, it's a tribute to his professionalism that he was able to give such a terrific comic performance in such dire circumstances.
August 23, 2012 at 07:39 PM
I'm presuming you labeled the screen grab from Words and Music as you did in private joke at the dramatic image, but just about every photo of Kelly deserves the legend GK!
Bruce Reid |
August 23, 2012 at 10:42 PM
The strangest - in a great way - performance by Kelly is in, I submit, Siodmak's CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY. What's strange about it is, unlike INHERIT THE WIND, Kelly doesn't distance himself from the all-smiles song-and-dance man to get in the right place for this Oedipal noir. The sweet, beloved Gene Kelly is right there the whole time, a sick mask for a sick crook.
Jaime N. Christley |
August 23, 2012 at 10:51 PM
I'll throw in my support for The Pirate. Just screened it for a handful of friends and they all loved it. Not Minnelli's best work but Kelly and Garland are in top comedic form. That opening "Nina" number is brilliantly choreographed and performed.
Visually, the fantasy pirate scene is jaw-dropping.
Dramatically, I think Kelly's work in For Me And My Gal (and his first big role, if I'm not mistaken) is often overlooked. I'd argue more was demanded of him character-wise on that film than anything he did since.
August 23, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Given Kelly's cartoon co-star in 'Anchors Aweigh', we also have an opportunity to segue into a celebration of Chuck Jones' imminent centenary.
August 24, 2012 at 05:03 AM
There was a certain heel-ishness to almost all of Kelly's roles, starting with his debut in For Me and My Gal, where he deliberately invalids himself out of the army, through even a career peak like An American in Paris, where he uses Nina Foch in a manner that the movie bluntly suggests is pretty shameless. Christmas Holiday puts all that in your lap, but it really wasn't that big a stretch. Singin' in the Rain may be his "nicest" part, and that's a flamingly egotistical actor. Kelly's dancing is so incredible that as soon as he takes a step you're on the road to forgiving him. The Young Girls of Rochefort knows it, too--when he shows up it's like the whole history of the Hollywood musical came out to play.
Still, I think it's part of the mystery of his greatness that he can play these flawed, occasionally very unpleasant men and have major chunks of the audience walk away (including me) convinced of his charm. Carrie Rickey told me that she referenced the shiftiness of Kelly's characters in his obit and got the angriest letters of her entire career.
I have to give a shout-out to Les Girls, the Cukor spin on Rashomon that riffs a bit on Kelly's slave-driving rehearsing reputation and includes his dead-on funny Brando imitation.
The Siren |
August 24, 2012 at 08:44 AM
For me there's no question that THE PIRATE is Kelly's, Garland's, Minnelli's, and Harry Stradling's best work ever; and I have it on good authority that Jack Smith (you know, the guy who directed that other great film about Romantic stereotypes and illusions in vivid color, NORMAL LOVE) loved this film also. Reportedly, Cole Porter was not pleased with the outcome, but it seems he was the sort of guy who tended to look a bit too hard at the bottom line. I happen to think that MACK THE BLACK is his best song, or at least that Garland's rendition of it is the finest musical number ever put on film.(Much as I like Charles Walters's work, I wish Judy had let her husband direct EASTER PARADE as he had planned. He always wanted to make an Irving Berlin musical and kept trying to put another one together for the next twenty years or so.) As for Minnelli's and Kelly's later collaborations, as good as AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is, it's nowhere near so vibrant and complex as THE PIRATE, and it's a great shame thay were forced to make BRIGADOON rather than the HUCKLEBERRY FINN adaptation they had planned. (Kelly was to play the Duke to Danny Kaye's Dauphin, with words and music by Lerner and Lane.) As for Kely's own directorial career, I prefer IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER to the more popular SINGIN' IN THE RAIN among his collaborations with Stanley Donen and HELLO, DOLLY! to all his other efforts on his own and all of the other musicals of that later era except for Minnelli's ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER.
Dale Wittig |
August 24, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Celebrate Chuck Jones every day, I say, but know that Gene's dance partner in ANCHORS was animated by Messers. Hanna and Barbera. CJ came on the T&J scene only during the not-so-fresh revival of the characters in the 60's.
James Keepnews |
August 24, 2012 at 10:59 AM
Additionally -- XANADU. Someone had to type it. And it's almost...OK. Mr. Kelly's dance sequence with (per K. Friedman) Ms. Neutron-Bomb is lovely.
James Keepnews |
August 24, 2012 at 11:03 AM
I'm kind of a fan of his underrated non-musical direction of A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN. It often lives up to its strange mix of influences, which seem to range from cartoons to silent comedy, Tashlin and Wilder. Kelly has a feel for staging elaborate comedic set pieces that's definitely related to his gift for choreography.
warren oates |
August 24, 2012 at 02:24 PM
You're right, Pinback. That's why she's a great actress (among so many other things.)
And you're right too, Sireen. That's why jacques wanted him in the movie -- he's the literal embodiment of the musical.
David Ehrenstein |
August 24, 2012 at 03:07 PM
For me Garland and Kelly are the great musical team that never quite happened. Kelly defers to her talent (and possibly her status as the bigger star) in a way that increases his attractiveness and they sing and perform together most charmingly. The Pirate is a favorite of mine but the two stars are far from their best - I think Kelly overdoes things and reverts to his occasional bad habit of spotlight-hogging and Garland looks wan and thin.
I will put in a word for Cover Girl and the sensational “Alter Ego” number – interesting that Kelly’s initial artistic breakthrough took place away from his home studio -- and echo lazarus’ admiration for “For Me and My Gal.” I would love to be able to say something positive about “Invitation to the Dance” but I can’t.
August 24, 2012 at 06:11 PM
What a legend. I'm so excited to watch his films.
Jamie Daily |
August 24, 2012 at 09:59 PM
I'm the only person I know who always stumps for Gregory La Cava's film maudit and swan song, LIVING IN A BIG WAY (1947). It's a mish-mash that messes with the conventions of at least three different genres (romantic comedy/returning WWII vet drama/musical), in ways that feel idiosyncratic and personal.
August 25, 2012 at 05:32 AM
Kelly began his career as the Ultimate Heel -- on Broadway in "Pal Joey."
David Ehrenstein |
August 26, 2012 at 02:20 PM
I thought he was even fun in The Three Musketeers. but I'm easy. The Siren is right on about the less than perfectly niceness of some of the characters though. The screenplay for American in Paris seems like it tries to signal that somehow Milo is the one in the wrong and she's getting what she deserves (look at piano guy's interaction with her- he's like the Greek chorus), but Foch and Kelly's performances don't say that. The real transgression I think is that the character of Milo is a female in the traditional male role of Svengali or what have you, and society cannot allow that- the man cannot be kept or neutered so. That's what I like about the performances- they seem to play against the flow.
Pinko Punko |
August 27, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Actually it's the traditionla male role of the "John" with Kelly as her "trick." He resists here being the character he played on stage in "Pal Joey" -- which jump-started his career.
David Ehrenstein |
August 27, 2012 at 08:39 AM
Oddly enough, on the man's birthday I came across an article about some of his off-screen activities in an old issue of Variety -- a three-week trip he took to Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast and (what was then) Uper Volta in 1964, under the auspices of the US Information Agency. He travelled with cans of highlights from his films. USIA were apparently nervous about his reception in Ghana due to political differences at the time -- no need, since 3,000 eager autograph seekers turned up instead of the expected protests.
August 27, 2012 at 10:58 AM
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