Monday, December 14, 2009
~Movie Review Monday~Salutes Gene Kelly (1912-1996)
I've decided that it is high time I devote some quality blog-dom to the man of my
(cinematic) dreams, Mr Gene Kelly. Not only was Gene Kelly the most phenomenal dancer of his day, (no offense Astaire-fans) but he was one of Hollywood's only quadruple threats of the time. The man could sing, act, dance, AND direct. Though this blog is a 'beauty/style' blog, I feel that my passion for Gene Kelly movies is one of the things that draws me so unequivically towards the 1940's and 1950's, therefore making it deserving of at least one entry.
Gene's feet were legendary and unfailing-so unfailing that when his body finally began to break down and the dancing feet to slow, Mr Kelly became a virtual recluse. He directed some great movies (such as the beautifully over-the-top 'Hello Dolly') and appeared in tributes such as 'That's Entertainment, but the man began to fall apart when he could no longer express himself through dance. It is one of the saddest declines on record, in the movie industry. And it still makes me ache, especially when I see photos such as the one above. He was the closest thing there is to a superhero.
Below are a list of Kelly's movies and a mini-reivew of each one. I have not seen every one of his films-he made quite a few-but the reviews below will encompass all of the ones I have seen and I will be editing this post as I see the rest. The movies listed below are in order of release as well.
FOR ME AND MY GAL (1942)
This was one of the biggest surprises for me. Other than it being Kelly's first major motion picture, I really didnt know much about it. But it was delightful! I'm not the biggest Judy Garland fan, admittedly, so that is probably why it took me a while to get around to this one. But she is at her best here; vocally she is a wiz. The title number where she and Kelly sing together is charming, to say the least. It is pure and delicate , showcasing Garland's ability to suit her voice to her partner perfectly. The dancing by Kelly, is just wonderful. Interestingly, his character tells Gardland's early in the film that she 'dances like a deer' and I could help but laugh at the simile. She does indeed dance like a deer-a baby deer. Gangly, clumsy, scrawny legged-it's funny stuff. But the film isnt really a lighthearted musical. It has a very dramatic turn half way thru that was moving. I thought the story was intriguing and surprising for a film of this genre. Kelly and Garland both do great w/ their dramatic scenes and I was left very happy at its sweet conclusion.
Kelly-highlight: I loved the brief vaudeville number at the beginning in which Kelly dons some quirky hobo attire and performs a sheerly comical piece.
My rating: 8/10
DUBARRY WAS A LADY (1943)
During the war, people went to the movies for an escape of sorts, something that helped them forget the problems of the world. I'm awfully glad Gene Kelly was there to help them through it. This movie is really just a 'variety show' w/ a stupid story thrown in for grins. It's fun to watch Lucille Ball in a somewhat serious role only breaking into her signature comedic style during the last number. Red Skelton is the energetic lead player ( in an admittedly silly part) and Gene Kelly is there to donate one great dance sequence and a pretty smile. However his acting did not seem as effortless in this fluff piece and the smile was not as easy. The songs by Cole Porter are catchy but not especially memorable and the 'dream sequence' is absolutely rediculous. This is a movie that would work on a 'clip' show where the highlights could be seen w/out having to sit through the pitifully shallow story.
Kelly Highlight-also happens to be the best song in the movie. 'Do I Love You' is a beautiful song by Porter, and Kelly sings it nicely. The last section of the song is coupled w/ a great dance number that only disappointed slightly since it was in the dark and therefore difficult to see Gene's flying feet.
My rating: 6/10
THOUSANDS CHEER (1943)
This movie was really just hollywood's answer to entertaining our soldiers and giving them a tribute. The story follows Katherine Grayson (soprano extaordiannaire) as a sweet little gal who joins the army to be with her estranged father. Kelly plays Eddie marsh, a brooding aerialist-turned-private who craves the airforce. Of course they fall in love and meet typical (and tepid) obstacles along the way. The real meat of this movie is the star-studded 'revue' that appears three quarters into the film. Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Lena Horne, and others make charitable appearances that were obviously filmed in a completely different locale than the rest of the flick.
Kelly-highlight: Sadly, Gene only delivers one dance in the movie but it is a doozy. His charistmatic cavorting with a mop and other cleaning supplies rival Astaire's famous 'dance on the ceiling'.
My rating: 8/10 (the movie is cute and the one dance is exceptional. Plus the variety show of stars is memorable)
PILOT #5 (1943)
Okay, so this was Gene Kelly's dramatic debut and since it isnt a musical and the movie is very mediocre in itself, I'll make this brief. He didnt dance, he didnt sing, he didnt direct...he played an Italian named Vito Allesandro. He was involved in a tepid love triangle. It was all very contrived and ho-hum. But Kelly had pretty good acting chops, even then, and he was quite dishy. So I'll just say, it's worth a look for those reasons alone. Kelly has one decent dramatic moment later on the movie that is milked for all its worth.
Kelly Highlight- he's purty.
My rating: 5/10
COVER GIRL (1944)
This was the movie that made Gene Kelly an accepted leading man and ended up getting him loaned out to MGM for his oscar nominated and tailor-made role in 'Anchors Aweigh'. He truly deserved the acclaim he received for 'Cover Girl'. Though the movie was actually made as a vehicle for rising star Rita Hayworth (who is absolutely one of the most gorgeous, in this picture), Gene Kelly actually holds his own beautifully, and his screen time is every bit as memorable as his glamorous co-star. The story is a good one: Beautiful chorus girl is offered the cover of a leading magazine and becomes a rousing success-to the detriment of her steady romance with fellow dancer, Kelly. The tunes aren't that great but the technicolor is stunning and the costumes and dance numbers are wonderful. Phil Silvers adds some much needed comic relief to the whole shabang!
Kelly Highlight: I can't believe it took me so long to see the film since one of Gene Kelly's best dance numbers ever (and certainly his best up to this time) graces this movie. In the scene, Kelly's alter-ego and reflection jumps out of a store window and dances with him. Some of the shots are mind-boggling for the time and I still wonder how they filmed this so successfully.
My Rating: 8/10
ZIEGFIELD FOLLIES (1945)
In the style of the last 20 minutes of 'Thousands Cheer', this movie is a montage of brilliant performers doing less than brilliant things. The 'plot' involves William Powell as Ziegfield looking down from heaven on his 'dream revue' and that's pretty much where it ends. The settings are very grand and beautiful, in the signature style of Ziegfeld, but the numbers are a bit bleak in comparison w/ other great musicals. One in particular, 'China Doll', showcases Lucille Beymer and Fred Astaire in a gorgeous middle-eastern style stage setting but the dancing is a bit flat and the music is utterly mundane. Katherine Grayson and Fanny Brice play their respective parts well, but even these performances can't hold a candle to the piece de resistance of the film, 'The Babbitt and the Bromide' starring (for the one and only time) Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. The two hoofers meet, trade witty barbs, and dance a phenomenal piece that goes down in history as one of the movie musical's most memorable. It is a wonderful staged and choreographed number where Fred and Gene each showcase their own signature styles and completely match one another in execution. Kelly is the 'looser' of the two and excels in the tapping and athletic movements while Fred definitely has the upper hand when it comes to poise, grace, and perfect extension. It's 'apples and oranges' and it makes the whole movie worth it.
Kelly Highlight: Not really fair since it's his only scene but 'TheBabbit and the Bromide' is the highlight of the whole movie, not to mention one of the highlights of the two dancers' career.
My rating: 6/10 for the movie...10/10 for the Kelly/Astaire number.
ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945)
More great war-time eye candy for our boys abroad. This one involves two sailors on leave (Sinatra and Kelly) and their adventures. Katherine Grayson is again the female lead and again, she's paired with Kelly. The story is slim but most of the musical sequences are great fun, including the ones where Sinatra attempts to dance alongside Kelly-which is hilarious in itself. But Kelly isnt the sole star of this picture. Sinatra has some good and meaty screen time-crooning lullabies and love songs- and Grayson has a solo that is downright amazing. Plus, Jose Iturbi gets to show us his chops on the piano in several key moments. Actually, that's what this movie is all about-showing off.
Kelly highlights: Perhaps one of the most memorable musical numbers in history is in this movie. It involves Kelly dancing with 'jerry the mouse' in an entirely animated world. Not only was this worlds ahead of its time and astonishing even by today's standards, but it is unbelievably charming. In addition, there is an equally wonderful number where Gene dances with a little nymph of a girl in a Mexican-style plaza. Watch the little girl-she's fantastic.
My rating: 9/10- it's one heck of a great musical
THE PIRATE (1948) Remember that hilarious 'movie' in 'Singin in the Rain' called 'The Royal Rascal'? This may be the lving equivelent. However there are great moments and the technicolor is beautiful. Unfortunately, the Cole Porter songs are few and not especially memorable and the dancing seems lackluster comparied to Kelly's other films. One number, a 'pirate' ballet in which Kelly sports a teeny tiny black leotard, is probably one of the gayest moments to grace a movie until that point...check out those gorgeous legs! haha. The final dance routine, entitled 'Be a Clown', is coupled with the best song of the movie and entirely out of keeping w/ the supposed era in which the story is set. But it's rioutous and fun and really gives us Kelly at his best. There are also some funny sparring moments between Judy and Gene that provide some much needed tongue-in-cheek levity to the movie. If I were more of a Judy Garland fan, I'd probably like the whole thing alot more.
Kelly Highlight: 'Be a Clown' and some great acrobatics
My rating: 6/10
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948)
1948 was Gene Kelly's year for shameless fluff and this movie is a delightful piece of it. Kelly plays D'artagnan in this loose adaptation of Dumas' tale in which the other three Musketeers (the title ones) are blatantly outshone by their young apprentice. We all know that Athos, Porthos, and Aramis were amazing swordsman but this colorful lark conveniently forgets this point and focuses almost solely on the acrobatic cavortings of Kelly as D'artagnan. They are some stupendous sword fights complete w/ daring gymnastic efforts by Gene and there are some beautiful cinematic landscapes. The supporting characters are all a bit flat and include June Allyson, Gig Young, Angela Landsbury, Vincent Price , and the ravishingly beautiful Lana Turner as Lady DeWinter. As a movie-going experience, it's great fun as long as one doesnt forget that it is by no means to be taken seriously and that the glorious swordplay and technicolor are really what it's all about. When viewing Gene's performance itself, one can't help but be reminded again of the over-the-top silent film cavortings of his most famous role, Don Lockwood.
Kelly Highlight: The swordplay/acrobatics are really incredible.
My rating: 7/10
ON THE TOWN (1949)
Sailors on leave for 24 hours (hmmm, is there a pattern forming here?) are determined to see all there is to see in New York New York ( 'a wonderful town/the people ride in a hole in the ground/the market's up and the battery's down/New York New York-it's a wonderful town'). In the meantime, they all happen to fall in love with women who are apparently stalking them-so conveniently placed are they. Sinatra, Munshin, and Kelly are the sailors and the dancing ladies of interest are Ann Miller, Betty Garret, and Vera Allen. The movie is one of the corniest of Donen's career and at times, quite hard to watch. But it's definitely got it's moments and it's got Kelly.
Kelly Highlight: the saving grace of the movie is a gorgeously choreographed ballet by Kelly that is inserted rather sloppily into the picture. Vera Allen is a great partner for him and the entire segment is wonderful.
My rating: 7/10
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949)
Another raucous and lively (as well as colorful) musical starring the three 'On the Town' boys- Kelly, Sinatra, and Munshin. In many ways, this movie outshines 'On the Town' since the acting is far more solid and story more engaging. Esther Williams is a lovely dancer/entertainer and pairs nicely w/ Kelly. The songs are mostly forgettable aside from the very well known title number that also has some of the film's more memorable 'hoofing'. The dialogue is quirky and downright funny at times and Munshin gets alot more opportunities to 'clown around' than he did in 'On the Town'. A Clambake at Giddy's Landing allows for some great production and a great number for Kelly. All in all, an enjoyable movie.
Kelly Highlight: The Clambake allows Gene to show off a little more than the rest of the film. Much like 'On the Town', this one plays more as a 'three man show' than a Kelly vehicle.
My rating: 8/10
THE BLACK HAND (1950)
Another dramatic picture along the lines of Pilot No. 5 but which plays out a little better due to some good direction by Richard Thorpe, and some very crisp and clean cinematography. The story follows Kelley as Johnny Columbo, an italian 'lawyer in training' who is intent on avenging the death of his father by the notorious Black Hand- a group of men involved in a well-known extortion racket. His acting is okay but the movie suffers from a convoluted story, under-developed characters, and some glaring stereotypes for the Italian people. Obviously a Kelley vehicle, the casting director did not seem to spend much time on foraging for quality actors in regards the supporting players and this shows, as most of the characters blend into each other tediously.
Kelly Highlight: unlike Pilot No. 5, which was much earlier, this movie showcases Kelley as a 'leading dramatic actor' and his experience shows. He does a good job.
My rating: 6/10
SUMMER STOCK (1950)
Summer stock again reunites Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. The bright color and happy melodies are nicely accompanied by several great dance numbers and some surprising comic overtones. Judy plays Jane, a farm girl who is afraid of losing said farm, due to lack of workers. All seems ideal, however, when her sister Abigail arrives w/ a theater troupe in need of a rehearsal space. In exchange for the use of Garland's barn, the troupe (led by Gene Kelly as Joe Ross) agrees to do her chores and she in turn, offers to assist in any way that she can w/ their production. The story is quite predictable, resulting in an inevitable love triangle between the two sisters and Joe, and a few farm mishaps along the way. The final 'show within a show' is quite good, featuring a goofy routine from Phil Silvers and Kelly, and the stunning 'Get Happy' number from Garland that has gone down in MGM musical history.
Kelly Highlight: Garland's 'Get Happy' performance has overshadowed most of the songs and dance routines in this movie but as a Kelly fan, his dance with 'the newspaper' on the empty stage is the best thing in the film. He utilizes a creaky stage, a few pieces of newspaper and his own marvelous feet to create a perfectly brilliant number. Pay close attention to how his feet 'split' the paper...it was unrehearsed and completely wonderful.
My rating-9/10-though most of the songs are forgettable and the story is simple, the scenes that shine are too magnificent to give this a rating any lower than 9.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951)
There is a reason this movie won best picture. Not only was it Kelly's best work to date, but in itself-the whole movie is a piece of art worthy of Lautrec himself. The score by Gershwin and the choreography by Kelly all combine to make a phenomenal and retrospective look into the superficial life of starving artist Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly ) and his friends. Leslie Caron, precious gift to cinema, makes her first appearance and dances her way through a montage of sequences that never fail to move me. Though some have argued that the story is unengaging, I actually quite like it. I also like the supporting characters, especially Georges Guetary and his lovely pipes. But it's no secret that the American in Paris dream sequence at the end is what the movie is all about. And it's never been equalled.
Kelly Highlight: the dream ballet at the end is the thing that makes Kelly a tour de force of American Entertainment. He deserved the acclaim that he got for achieving this.
My rating: 10/10
SINGING IN THE RAIN (1952)
What can I say? There is a reason this has been named one of the AFI's top ten films. It is everything a great movie should be. It has a great story, charming dance numbers, great personalities, and one of the best supporting performances in history by the great Jean Hagen. There isnt one segment of the movie that lags, one performer that dips into the background, or one dance step that hasnt been relentlessly perfected by Kelly himself. I hear he was very hard on Debbie Reynolds in this movie but the final product is what made her a star, so even she can't complain.
Kelly highlights: The title number is one of the best ever, so we'll set it aside for a moment and give it a nod. In addition to that, Kelly's Broadway Melody ballet sequence is phenomenal. The great gams of Cyd Charisse coupled with the sexy choreography in the night club are what really stand out. I usually refer to this number when I want people to see Kelly's range as a dancer. From the hokey geek shouting 'gotta dance' into audition doors, to the incredible symphony of movement with Cyd Charisse that is a 'dream' within a dream-he is perfection.
My rating 10/10 (and undoubtedly Kelly's best picture)
THE DEVIL MAKES THREE (1952)
A surprisingly solid piece of entertainment. Gene stars as Captain Jeff Elliott revisiting Germany after the war to thank the family who saved his life. He finds that both the mother and father of the family are dead but sets out determined to find the daughter, Wilhelmina, that he is certain still lives. The story follows his search, his discovery of the young lady in a sordid night club, and in his attempt to help her, the revelation that she is involved in a smuggling ring healmed by former Nazi agents. Of course, Jeff falls in love with 'Willie' and has to decide between his feelings for her and his desire to help the police find the criminals she is helping. The story is actually very good and the love angle well played-though a little uncomfortable since Kelly is obviously decades older than his co-star. The black and white direction is also very stark and impressive with some great action towards the end. It's also of note that the movie was filmed entirely on location in Germany and a final scene was actually shot in Hitler's former home.
Kelly Highlight: With this and Black Hand, Kelley proves that he can easily carry a movie even when dancing is not involved. His physical love scenes are a bit stilted but the dialogue is delivered very believeably, even when dipped in schmaltz.
My rating: 7/10
Sadly, this was not the movie it could have been. Kelly had such high hopes for this one. He wanted to shoot it on location and if this had been granted, the movie could have been one of the most lavish musicals filmed up to that time. Unfortunately, his vision was relegated to a claustrophobic soundstage on a Hollywood backlot and therefore, we suffer. However, it still has many great elements -principally Kelly himself. The other dancers in the film are also excellent and this is no doubt due to the fact that since the movie wasnt going to be 'big budget' undertaking to begin with, it was possible to cast dancers who could act instead of big names. Cyd Charisse and Van Johnson are the only other 'names' in this one. Both do a credible job but Cyd's lame scottish accent will grate on the nerves in spite of her lovely yellow dress.
Kelly Highlight: Though the dancing is brilliant throughout, oddly enough it's Kelly's vocal performance of 'It's Almost Like Being Inlove' that really made the impression on me. His spare voice is just right for the mood and melody of the tune. The ballet accompanying 'Heather on the Hill' is beautiful but again, it pales in comparison with he and Charisse in 'Singin' in the Rain'. Oh for an actual hill to dance upon!
My rating: 8/10
IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (1955)
This movie is one of the ones that slips by the radar of great Gene Kelly movies and it shouldnt. It was originally conceived as a sequel to 'On The Town' but when Munshin and Sinatra were both busy w/ other projects, the story was changed to accomodate three army buddies who agree to meet at a bar ten years after their return from war, to prove to the skeptical bartender that they will indeed be 'friends for life'. The army buddies are ably played by Dan Daily, Michael Kidd (who later went on to do the choreography in "Hello Dolly"), and Kelly. Cyd Charisse plays Kelly's love interest and her character is a refreshing mix of sex appeal and intelligence that was rare for this type of 'fluff-piece'. The musical numbers are inserted into the picture almost as an afterthought and do little to move the story along, but the few that there are really do make an impression. When the 'army buddies' find that their ten year reunion proves to be a disappointment, they are given unsolicited help by a series of quirky characters and plot twists, that make the movie a delightful little diversion...and the dancing is the icing on the cake.
Kelly Highlight: Though the dance numbers w/ Daily and Kidd are very good (especially the opening sequence with the garbage cans), Gene definitely steals the show at the midway point when he dons a pair of roller skates and, preoccupied with being in love, inadvertantly leaves the roller rink while still wearing them. He then goes on to 'make the most' of this little mishap and taps and spins his way through a wonderfully choreographed dance on skates. I dare you not to grin!
My rating: 8/10
INVITATION TO THE DANCE (1956)
Really more of an event than a movie, 'Invitation to the Dance' was Gene Kelly's answer to Ballet on Film. It is a three part story w/ absolutely no dialogue, beautiful cinematography, and phenomenal dancing. The first story tells of a circus performer struck by unrequited love, the second is a whimsical journey of one bracelet as it is given from lover to lover over the passage of time, and the third tells of the adventures of Sinbad in a mostly cartoon world. It is not the best dancing of Kelly's career nor the most memorable of his films. There are wonderful moments but one can't help but think of what 'might have been' with a little fine tuning.
Kelly Highlight-his pantomine as a heartbroken circus mime during the first story is beautiful and during the Sinbad story he shares some great moments w/ a exceptional child dancer and some cartoon characters.
My Rating: 6/10
Les Girls (1957)
Though this movie was not filmed during Gene Kelly's 'hey-day' and is not considered one of is best, it is still a solid movie. Mitzi Gaynor and Kay Kendall are the strongest supporting performers in this 'point of view' courtroom tale in three parts. The story is stronger than many of Kelly's earlier efforts and the acting is infectious by all players, so that the dancing is not the most important thing in the movie. There are some great choreographed pieces but the comedy and dialogue of this film are its strongest points. Gene was an effortless actor at this stage in his career and his role is gallantly played. Cole Porter's songs are not particulary memorable in this one but they are still catchy,and the costumes are especially gorgeous, in keeping w/ the Parisian setting. Its a lovely little movie that suffers only slightly from the minimal ammount of 'hoofing'.
Kelly Highlight- A great ballet sequence late in the film is an example of Cukor's great direction and use of color to complement Kelly and his partners' movements.
These are not all of Kelly's movies, by a long shot. But I'll see the rest eventually. After all, just in case you didnt notice...I'm a fan.