Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Best Of The Best: Gene Kelly

For Me and My Gal (1942) - In true passive-aggressive style, Hollywood couldn't just up and call for America's entry into World War II; instead, in the months leading up to the December 1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor it released movies like this one - set during World War I when America, faced with a German menace, sang and danced for freedom. Subtle. Looking luminous in black and white (as photographed by William H. Daniels) and under the still-steady hand of director Busby Berkeley, Kelly and costar Judy Garland suit each other to a T.

PhotobucketCover Girl (1944) - As good as he looked in black and white, Gene Kelly fairly glowed in colour; not that you'd know it from watching this filmic outing, seeing as whenever he's on camera he's standing too close to the supernova that is Rita Hayworth to be seen. Given almost complete creative control over the film, Kelly gave himself an opportunity to dance with his own reflection. With Phil Silvers and Eve Arden - on hand as much for comic relief as to cleanse the palate - Cover Girl is moodier and more atmospheric than the average musical, which makes it ideal for people who crave eye-candy but are uncomfortable with movie characters suddenly breaking into song. Directed by Charles Vidor, the film features songs by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin, including the classic Long Ago (and Far Away).

Anchors Aweigh (1945) - Generally speaking, Hollywood makes its great war movies beginning about seven years after the pertinent war has ended; usually this is because that's the normal turnaround for the entire process - from the time an idea percolates out of a writer's head, has been hung, drawn, and quartered by a clusterfuck of producers, sent into pre-production, production, post-production and then finally released. Yet World War II saw every sector of the US economy at maximum production, and Hollywood was no different. Co-starring Frank Sinatra, this massive, star-studded spectacle is today best remembered for Kelly's imaginative duet with Jerry Mouse.

On the Town (1949) - One of my favourite movies of all time, On the Town reteams Kelly with his Anchors Aweigh costar Sinatra, in addition to Ann Miller, Betty Garrett, Jules Munshin, and Vera-Ellen, which doesn't merely add to the talent but multiplies it, or possibly does some of that algebra stuff to it. The point is, the whole adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts. The real star of the film, of course, is New York City; many principal scenes were shot on location there - a major innovation for the time - including at the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Rockefeller Center.

Summer Stock (1950) - Judy Garland's last movie for MGM also proved to be one of her most troubled and, fortunately, one of her best. While her health woes held up production and inflamed tempers, though, Kelly kept his cool while he chose to worry about his friend's health. While the film is not gifted with an especially original plot - hey kids, here's a barn, let's put on a show! - the end result doesn't merely rise above the cliché but soars.

An American in Paris (1951) - With a glittering score by George Gershwin, the full MGM design team on overdrive, and dances choreographed by Gene Kelly, how could this movie be anything but sublime? Fortunately, we'll never have to answer that because a) it's a rhetorical question, and b) it really is sublime. Kelly's love for French culture is evident in every frame, and surely Paris - even at its loveliest - could never have been this lovely.

Singin' in the Rain (1952) - MGM's cheeky look at Hollywood's transition from silents to sound features many of the most popular songs from the late 1920s; while co-starring Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, though, it's Jean Hagen who walks away with the film, giving a Judy Holliday-esque performance which, seen once, will inspire laughs from memory for years to come.

Brigadoon (1954) - As musicals go, Vincente Minnelli's Brigadoon doesn't; where musicals are supposed to be bright and frothy and tow the establishment line, Brigadoon is dark and downbeat and subversive. Mean-spirited even. Which must be why the lovers of musicals with a cynical bent have always treasured the story of the Scottish town that only comes to life once every century.

Les Girls (1957) - There's something about this film that makes it special, beyond the direction of George Cukor and the presence of Gene Kelly (both guaranteed to up the special-ness factor on anything); I believe that something is the peculiar chemistry created by equal parts Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor and Taina Elg. As the titular girls (and, at least in Gaynor's case, I do mean tit-ular!) they provide enough variety for any actor to spark off. The film also provides the ideal bookend to both this post and Gene Kelly's career at MGM; 15 years earlier, in 1942, he made his debut at the studio with For Me and My Gal. Whereas what seems like fifteen years ago I wrote its blurb at the top of this post...

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1 comment:

Buzz Stephens said...

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