Tag Archives: gene kelly

Gene Kelly Corrupts the Young

27 Aug

summer stockNow that I have your attention…

A friend has a five-year-old child who has, for at least a year, been a Gene Kelly devotee. I think it started with Singin’ in the Rain (as it should) and moved through the rest of his musical oeuvre pretty swiftly – to the point that, when we were invited over to watch a movie last weekend (projected onto the side of a white house on a lovely summer evening), some effort had to made to find one she hadn’t seen. And no, Xanadu doesn’t count; we want to be invited back.

We watched Summer Stock in preparation for this evening, because aforementioned Kid had already seen it, we hadn’t watched it in a long time,  and I got the TCM Judy Garland box for my wife a while back. For a movie that was made on (and in fact in meta-reference to) a hackneyed hey-kids-musical-in-a-barn skeleton, it really holds together well. Summer Stock isn’t the focus of this entry, but I’m going to indulge in a digression.

The creative act is very rarely captured well dramatically. I have a pet peeve involving scenes in films like Ray and The Glenn Miller Story where that conversation that never happens happens: “If only I could find that sound [that happened serendipitously but that hindsight has shown us is my signature and therefore it’s assumed was meticulously planned].” Bugs the crap out of me. There are only two scenes that come to mind that capture the creative moment.

One is in Mike Leigh’s Topy-Turvy, in which William Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) has the click that gives him the idea for The Mikado and twinkles directly into the camera, hearing music that has not yet been written. It’s right.

TopsyThe other is Gene Kelly’s famous floor squeak/newspaper solo to “You Wonderful You” here, which I could wax rhapsodic about here, about how this is really how such things happen (or seem to at the time), or you could just spend five minutes watching, after which time you’ll agree and I won’t have to talk about it anymore.


It had been concluded that The Kid had yet to see Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which is by no means Kelly’s finest work (or Busby Berkeley’s) but, again she’s already binged on his film career, so it was this or Ziegfeld Follies.  Or, I suppose, Young Girls of Rochefort, which…not yet.

I had never seen Ball Game big-screen size before and it’s fascinating what that does to a performance. Besides the physical wonder of Esther Williams in even the smallest swimming scene and Gene’s solo Irish breakdown at that picnic (plus the numbers that remain my personal favorites, “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg” and “It’s Fate, Baby, It’s Fate”), Gene in particular seems kind of over the top in an unusual way. He’s got the crazy eyes in this one…


I mean, Betty Garrett (criminally underrated and under-utilized) never played ‘em small, and yet she’s always the right kind of large. The well-documented offscreen tensions between Kelly & Berkeley and Kelly & Williams probably explain Kelly’s performance here, as well as all the hodge-podging and montaging. Though I’m not sure anything can explain that closing number and its begging of the whole “are we in character, or not, or…?” question. Weird choices, Buzz.


The Kid seemed to enjoy her evening, however. And we’ve been asked to curate a few selections for next summer, by which time she’ll have accepted that she’s seen all the Gene and needs to branch out…Carmen Miranda time, anyone?

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) & Anchors Aweigh (1945)

2 Jul

anchors-aweighTake Me Out to the Ball Game and Anchors Aweigh (airing as a double feature on TCM July 4 beginning at 1:00 p.m.) are from an era of supremely well-made French pastry movies. They are full of highest quality ingredients and are also absolutely lacking in nutrition.

But maybe not absolutely. These are both screenplays of utter nonsense, but some find value in watching athletes working at their peak. And I am one – but these are my chosen athletes.

ballgameThe physical work of Gene Kelly and Esther Williams, the vocals of Frank Sinatra and (household favorite) Kathryn Grayson, the underrated Betty Garrett, the era-ubiquitous Jose Iturbi, Jerry Mouse…they provide me great comfort and great pleasure. They’re exactly as you think they’ll be, and with an éclair, who’s to say that’s a bad thing?


DVR Alert – Essentials, Jr.: The Pirate (1948) tonight

23 Jun

The Pirate (airing on TCM tonight at 8:00 p.m. as part of Bill Hader’s always well- curated “Essentials, Jr.”) is one of my wife’s favorite movies. It flopped when it came out (that wasn’t her fault, of course – she missed that by a couple of decades), and is still a love-or-hate to many.

pirate-1948-04-gI enjoy it, myself (The Nicholas Brothers alone make it an easy sell for me), but my wife experienced this at the right time of childhood to make it one of those Beloveds. She will also defend it with vehemence against all those who denounce its silliness as the wrong kind. The quotes that follow are hers.

“I think they were doing something stylistically that not many other musicals of the period were doing, creating a melodramatic, swashbuckly land that includes poses that don’t exist in the standard musical.”

“The scene where Kelly & Garland are looking out over the ocean – the scene with the big white hat…the insane banter, THAT is what they’re trying to do stylistically with the whole movie…they’re Lunt-and-Fontanneing. Sublime Ridiculousness.”

(Big But Full is a common phrase the two of us use in talk about comic (or any stylized) performance – there’s a lot of that around our house. It’s not all me. )

“This was the first thing I saw Walter Slezak in.” (I interrupt her here to ask, “What young girl doesn’t remember her first Walter Slezak movie?” That fact alone tells you everything you need about her and our marriage.)  “I’m always confused when I see him in other things that are not this…I like his voice. It was also where I was introduced to the idea of Pirates-As-Businessmen.” (Did I mention the thing with her and pirates? It long predates the arr-yelling trends of the last decade. I’m guessing it goes back to this movie.)

Her one complaint: “Be a Clown.” “THAT’S the end?” After the melodrama-romance-parody of the rest of the movie, ending on this (admittedly well-executed) number feels weird, like it was meant for another place on the storyboard and was tacked on the end later. As it turns out, it was indeed a result of the usual executive compromise.

kelly serafinI pointedly avoided asking her about Gene Kelly’s remarkably revelatory-of-thigh dream outfit . Most of her other talking points get fuzzy when we get up to that one, so it’s important to make her save it for last or pass it by altogether if possible, which it isn’t. But I reserve the right to edit that out.