On this page are the movies which were the 'Stairway to paradise' in Gene's career, not only because they were popular and made money for the studio, but because they showcased his genius for creating the new, the previously impossible, the innovative, the perfectly constructed, the choreographic masterpiece, the amazing and the sublime.
Mr. America. March 1953
Back in the days before his flying feet and fertile brain brought him to the top in Hollywood, Eugene Curran Kelly took a stand…
“I will not do that picture,” Gene told the V.I.P.
“If you don’t do that picture, I can keep you from making any others – and you’ll be through before you start,” the V.I.P. told the dancer.
“That picture will be a stinker, and I can’t afford to be in a stinker right now. As for making any other pictures, I jerked sodas for a living once before, and I’ll do it again if I have to, but I won’t make that picture.”
Kelly didn’t make the picture, it did turn out to be a stinker and the Hollywood V.I.P.s began paying more attention to the dark-eyed little Irishman and his pronounced ideas on what was good and bad for the movies in general and Gene Kelly in particular…
Lest these incidents create the impression that Gene is a know-it-all, swaggering ham, be it recorded that he is exactly the opposite. He simply knows his own capabilities and limitations better than anyone else, and is governed accordingly.
Entertainment World. March 6th 1970
Harry Clein. Is There a Future for the Hollywood Musical?
…When the Museum of Modern Art offered a retrospective of Gene Kelly musicals, I rushed past Monet and Modigliani to re-view the work of my own special favourite artist…
A Gene Kelly musical is just about the highest expression of exuberance ever conceived on film.
New York Daily News. February 1996
For as long as moving picture images flicker on darkened screens, Gene Kelly will be wrapped around a lamppost,
wearing a smile wide enough to cross the Mississippi River and soaked with enough water to fill it.
Ken Barnes. A Talent Undimmed. Perfectly Frank. 1996. (Frank Sinatra fan magazine.)
…I asked him if he had any regrets about his career. He thought about this for a moment and said “I wish I could have got into movies earlier.
I never had the chance to work with the kind of songwriters that Fred did.”
I looked at him and said sharply “That’s not true.”
He looked at me in surprise…”You played the original Broadway lead in Pal Joey, with a superb Rogers and Hart score, you appeared in two films
which had Cole Porter scores and in Cover Girl you had a wonderful batch of songs by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin.
Not even Sinatra can point to a pedigree like that.”
Gene broke into that Irish smile, nodded his head and said
“Well, in that case, I guess I don’t have any regrets about my career.”
Online Free library.
Since those halcyon days of the old MGM musicals, Hollywood has produced its share of working-man heroes.
Unfortunately, they’ve usually come equipped with four-letter vocabulary and grisly arsenals.
Kelly didn’t have to bother with such nonsense.
Los Angeles Times. April 23rd 1944
Gene Kelly’s argumentative dance with his ‘alter ego’, which is wowing the customers at Cover Girl, is symbolic of more than meets the eye. In real life one Gene Kelly is pulling just as hard against another – with the decision, so far, equally a draw.
One Kelly wants to dance; has always, it seems, danced; always will. It’s in every move of his lean, lithe body – the superb co-ordination of muscle and mind, even when, catlike, he crosses a room. The other Kelly wants to act…But mostly, and most successfully, it has been Kelly dance-acting…
Pittsburgh Press. October 30th 1944. Maxine Garrison
All in all, Gene stacks up as an excellent representative of the new school of movie actors. Unassuming but with the air of authority of one who knows what he is doing and can speak for himself, interested as much in the technical as in the acting end of movies, anything but scatterbrained, high-flying matinee idol of yesterday.
Daily Mirror (British newspaper) 20th July 1945
Gene Kelly's magnetic personality and his magnificent dancing
are a joy
Movie Glamour 1945
Kelly has a hunch that his best work in the field of dance-routine creation has always been done after hours. He was usually around on the MGM sets up to nine or ten at night during filming of a musical, checking on ideas or giving suggestions.
Singin' In The Rain review. March 1952. Source unknown
Do you think, as we do, that each film Gene Kelly offers, reveals the man's genius?
Movie Fan. July 1954
I Knew Him When. By Van Johnson
On the set [of Brigadoon] the other day, I happened to glance at Gene’s memo-schedule for one day. It read: ‘9-10 - rehearsal, solo; 10-1 -rehearsal, romantic dance with Cyd Charisse; 1-2 – lunch in office and conference with dance assistants to map out new routine; 2-4 – the Van-and-Gene number rehearsal; 4-5 – rehearse chorus and assistants; 5-6 – work on solo number. After dinner, go to cartoon department and work on animation for third sequence of
Invitation to the Dance.’...
I wish I had his drive.
Entertainment World. March 6th 1970. Harry Clein. Is There a Future for the Hollywood Musical?
…When the Museum of Modern Art offered a retrospective of Gene Kelly musicals, I rushed past Monet and Modigliani to re-view the work of my own special favourite artist...
A Gene Kelly musical is just about the highest expression of exuberance ever conceived on film.
Jeanine Basinger: Pyramid Illustrated History Of The Movies. Gene Kelly. 1976
Gene Kelly was a top movie star before he made An American In Paris or Singin' In The Rain. But with these two...he broke the mold. He became one of the few actors - much less dancers - to push beyond his image and establish himself as a creative force in American film history.
The Age. October 5th 1977. Phillip Adams
Nowadays people will kneel to men like Eisenstein or Griffith, yet it would be hard to convince someone that Gene Kelly’s joyous choreography for Singin’ In The Rain was as artistically important and legitimate as, for example, a solo by Isadora Duncan or Nijinsky…Yet I’d happily argue their respective cases until the cows come home
The first Guardian Lecture. British Film Institute, London May 20th 1980.
From Talking Film, Ed. Andrew Britton. A Guardian book. 1991. Interview with John Russell Taylor
JRT: How is a number (like Singin’ In The Rain) evolved? How does the dancer work with the choreographer – in your case it happens to be the same – how do they both work with the director – who in your case is the same –
GK: I fought myself a lot!
Gene 1994: We had a great group of people who were all very serious about making musicals an indigenous American art form, And we succeeded -- of course, not without some yelling at studio heads.
Manila Standard. February 4th 1996
“Hey, who else do you know who parlayed an umbrella and wet loafers into the greatest movie moment of all time,” Bob Hope said in a tribute to his longtime friend…
“What a talent. A dance instructor and chorus boy with a degree in economics who gave more talent to the big screen than almost anyone I know.”
Los Angeles Times. February 7th 1996. Twyla Tharp
Anchored a real and natural milieu, grounded in his own sense of what he did best, and also knowing show biz so well, Kelly could let the imagination fly. He accomplished some amazing adventures of great technological and dramatic complexity. Those numbers required terrific chutzpah to put over, and yet, when it was appropriate, he could be equally simple and straightforward.
...Years ago it fell to me to cast Kelly’s role in a revival of Singin’ In The Rain, and I can report that it could not be done. There are few roles about which that could be said, but Gene Kelly had become something larger – an American hero.
COVER GIRL 1944
Hirschorn, Hollywood Musicals 1981
It marked Kelly’s transition from hoofer to dancer, his famous ‘alter ego’ number being remarkably advanced for its time.
Magazine or book clipping. Source unknown
Cover Girl was important to Gene Kelly’s career in that it contained several elements which he would later refine, rework and enlarge in some of his musicals at MGM. Who, for example, would deny that the street setting of the ‘alter ego’ dance influenced the title number in Singin’ In The Rain? Or that for the Make Way For Tomorrow routine…contained exactly the kind of exuberance that permeated the whole of On The Town?
Phil Silvers. On 'Cover Girl'
When a friend remarked to him: “Phil, I didn’t know you were a dancer”. He replied. “I’m not, Kelly hypnotised me”
Gene, on the creating of the Alter-ego number
It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Technically nobody knew anything at the time, so it was done under very primitive conditions.
Robert Osborne, TCM ‘Now Playing’ magazine, 2007
It…included Kelly doing a breathtaking challenge dance with his own alter ego…the dance is an amazing combination of ingenuity, talent, creativity, special effects and bravado. It knocked audiences in 1944 for a loop – and still does. It also made MGM finally realise what a genuine jewel they had.
Modern Screen. August 1944
At the Hollywood preview of Cover Girl, when Gene Kelly’s amazing dance ended, and one of the biggest thunders of applause any Hollywood star has ever earned died down at last, an expert on the dance turned to his companion in the audience.
“That’s the greatest dancing since Nijinsky!” he said.
Gene Kelly didn’t hear that remark, until somebody passed it on to him. Then he was pleased, but not as thrilled as he might have been. Gene had his big thrill when he saw the complete rushes of the part in that picture that was to make him famous.
He’d dreamed about and planned the dance himself, argued with studio technicians who said it couldn’t be done, plugged for it ‘gainst the advice of half of Hollywood, worked it out painstakingly through tedious, weary weeks. It was his baby, and a million tiny things could have wrecked it along the way. But at last it was over, and the results were right there on the screen, and perfect.
Gene sat through it all in silence. Then he strolled out of the dark projection room at Columbia Studios. He didn’t say anything, but he felt swell. The cameraman who shot it followed him out. “Gene,” he said, “Congratulations! The public will love that dance.” And the public did.
Hollywood had never seen a dance like the one Gene did in Cover Girl…
Gene had been laying for just such a chance since way back…
When Cover Girl came up, Gene said, “This is it!” He played a guy with a love problem, and the script called for a dance. Why not fight it out with his inner self in a double-exposure dance?
“Because,” said the Hollywood wise men, “for one thing, you can’t pan and dolley in double-exposure.” “You can’t do this and you can’t do that. It’s never been done.” “About time then,” answered Gene.. But they had another argument: “Besides, waltzing around with your shadow like that will make audiences scream. They’ll give you the old guffaw, the belly-laugh, the yack-yack.”
“Not if it’s artistic,” argued Gene.
Gene Kelly found a big shot willing to take a chance in Harry Cohn, Columbia’s boss. He went home and stayed up a couple of nights until 5 a.m. sipping coffee and working out his dance and his ideas how to do it. He huddled and checked with cameramen and technicians. And he came up with a test that made Harry Cohn say, “H-m-m-mm-. Well, okay. Go ahead. Let’s see what you can do.”
From then on it was up to Kelly, and he knew it.
It would take a scientific thesis on movie camera and sound technique to explain how Gene Kelly came through…
He had to match one dance with another on a pre-recorded sound track, synchronizing every muscle he moved to beats of music. Every time his toes lit on the stage, they had to light on a certain spot marked off with chalk and tape to a quarter-of-an-inch exactness! He had to practice it all until he could do it blindfolded. Because the stage Gene marked off personally looked like a lesson in geometry which had to be covered with a black velvet cloth when it came time to shoot. There were a million technical angles – split-hair camera frames, scores of critical moments that had to jibe to a gnat’s whisker or the whole thing would be ruined…he’d look up at juicers and gaffers and veteran set workers in the rafters, and see some of them shake their heads like they thought he was stark nuts! In the scene where Gene and his shadow grab a lamp post at exactly the same time, the cameraman who filmed it said it was impossible to get. And even when he saw Gene’s timing work out on the print right before his eyes he gasped, “I still don’t believe it!”
That’s the kind of thing Gene Kelly put across for the first time in movie history…
If you saw Cover Girl, you’ll know that’s when Gene ends his dance tussle with his inner self by hurling a garbage can smack through a window and shattering the image along with the glass into a million pieces…They called a glass expert. “Can’t do it,” he judged. “If you hurl that heavy, weighted can through that plate glass, it will cut you to pieces, put out your eyes.”…
“I’ll put up my arm,” Gene argued. “I’ll close my eyes when I throw it.” The expert shook his head. “That glass will murder you.”
“Well,” cracked Gene, “I’m sorry I’ve only got one life to give to my art. But I’m going to do it!”
The news got around the studio that day…everyone who could get away sneaked onto Gene
Kelly’s set….maybe it was a little morbid…”Come on over and watch Kelly kill himself!”
They brought in three panes of glass – the limit in these war shortage days…
The first time…it bounced off the glass…But the glass cracked. Gene went through it again…It broke in the wrong place and the jagged glass splinters shot angrily out around him. He threw up his arms to cover his face – and it didn’t look so good to Kelly.
Charles Vidor, the director said, “Let’s print that one, Gene. What if you did flinch?…”
But Kelly, the stubborn Mick, shook his head. “I’ll do it right this time, if I get my throat cut.” And he did, hurled a schmeiser right on the button…
Work on the film had already begun when Gene was offered the role of Danny, and also took over the choreography.
Gene created Make Way For Tomorrow, Put Me To The Test, Long Ago And Far Away, and the famed Alter Ego number.
Sure Thing, Poor John, Who's Complaining, had all been completed before Gene took over. As had Passion For Fashion though they used later intercutting to insert Gene into the number, standing in the wings.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 4th August 1943.
Over to stage 4 where Mr. Gene Kelly, on a loan out from MGM for the extremely inviting chore of making love to Miss Rita Hayworth, is improvising some dance steps to a new Jerome Kern melody, and looks like anything but a dashing movie star, clad as he is in an old sweat shirt and white slacks that could have been washed in the mud that very morning.
And with Mr. Kelly is his brother, Sergeant Fred Kelly, who is helping Gene figure out his routines for Cover Girl and has been ever since Sergeant Kelly finished the screen version of This Is The Army at Warner Brothers.
Chicago Tribune. March 7th 1944.
Harry Cohn doesn’t know it, but in Cover Girl, when a chorus boy was taken ill, Gene Kelly put on his costume and took his place, and danced with the rest of the boys as background to Rita Hayworth.
Time Magazine April 1944
Miss Hayworth’s and Mr Kelly’s amatory ups-and-downs have a warmth and poignancy which is unprecedented in a cine-musical. When they cue into a song…they do not step out of character for the number. Their dance duets are the best since Astaire and Rogers split…Rita Hayworth…shows marked symptoms of acting. Even better is Gene Kelly. Few cineamactors can match his reticence, exact evocativeness and sincerity, or carry such acting abilities into dancing and singing.
Milwaukee Journal. May 7th 1944
Kelly says it is quite useless to try to explain to the lay mind the technical difficulties of the Alter-ego dance. It was an involved matter of making a pre-recorded soundtrack to govern the movements of the two dances which would later be merged into one, of dancing exactly on chalked lines, of split-second timing, of pan shots and dolly shots and double exposure. Even the photographer was rehearsed, for the camera had to be turned for Kelly’s duo of dances with precise rhythmic flow…Kelly believes this is the first time that double exposure has been attempted in Technicolor.
The dance took four days to shoot, and then there came a tense interlude of waiting, for the processing of the film negative was so complex that it was five days before the results could be seen. It all came out perfectly, however, with absolute precision achieved, and the finished product gives a complete illusion of one Gene Kelly dancing with another Gene Kelly - his conscience – who is a fierce, insistent chap, in spite of being a little on the transparent side…
Another dance of which Kelly speaks with special fondness was what he describes as “Really more of a mood than a dance,” done to Long Ago And Far Away. It is exactly 30 seconds – and 16 bars of music – long, but it tells its own story of nostalgic love. Kelly says that he and Miss Hayworth worked longer and harder on getting the right feeling into those 30 seconds than they did on any of their longer and more exuberant numbers.
Hartford Courant. 1944
Hartford tomboy…Eileen McClory…is now embarked on a movie career…she’ll tell you that Gene Kelly “rates away up there on high.” She learned to know Gene quite well on the set and thinks, as do all the other Cover Girls, that he is the tops.
The New Idea. August 1944
Gene Kelly, a tireless terpsichorean, did a dance which went on for four days. It was the most novel dance Hollywood has seen in years where novelty is the rule rather than the exception.
Mr Kelly, who also makes love to Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl, maintained his gruelling pace day after day in a large street set inside Columbia’s studio.
…he is a man wrestling with his conscience, except that he dances with it.
Except in rehearsals, Gene never went through the whole complicated routine in the continuing camera ‘take.’ The movies don’t operate that way. Each segment of the dance required a different camera position and doubling scheme, and the dual nature of the performance called for the same highly technical treatment. These details were protected as though they were a military secret.
So it happened that Gene did both parts of a dance duet which runs about 150 feet of film or about four minutes of screen running time to the finished picture. And he danced over a period of four eight-hour days during which Gene ate three to five meals daily. He also handled fan mail, went home to sleep, and played with the baby.
Family Circle. September 1st 1944
How about that dance Gene does in Cover Girl – the routine when he dances with his conscience? There has never been a finer bit of imaginative hoofing presented on the screen or stage.
Film Review 1945 on the Alter Ego dance
Nothing finer in the way of a dance routine has ever been filmed
Theatre Arts 1945
Gene: “Here I was supposed to be showing a fellow in violent conflict with himself. On the stage I know how I would have done it – a few twists and contortions, a fall to the stage – and they get it. But in films that wouldn’t come across.”
So instead he conceived of the dance with his shadow. Through the shady backstreets of a city a figure and its double perform in a tortured duet. Parallel movement gives way from time to time to a contrapuntal bout; the struggle builds up to a frenzied climax, and then ends abruptly. Here was an idea that the movie audience could catch and hold onto. And as dance, it proved a sensation, for with a trick of the camera Kelly was able to harness the extraordinary driving force of masculine movements repeated in parallel on the screen.
Current Biography. December 1945
Termed by Time Magazine “the best cinemusical the year had produced, and one of the best in years,” Cover Girl won high praise for Kelly. “Few cinemactors can match his reticence, exact evocativeness, and sincerity, or carry such acting abilities into dancing and singing,” said one critic. Singled out for special attention was the “alter ego” dance. A New York Herald Tribune writer declared, “The human race has been having trouble with its conscience since time immemorial. It remained for Gene Kelly, however, to get his still, small voice out into the open and – dance with it. Equally enthusiastic was the Times critic, who said that “for once a dance on the screen is not merely a speciality but actually develops character and advances plot.
Seventeen magazine. September 1946
Perhaps Gene’s most exciting film dance to date was the “alter ego” number he invented for Cover Girl. A New York Herald Tribune writer declared, “The human race has been having trouble with its conscience since time immemorial. It remained for Gene Kelly, however, to get his still, small voice out into the open and dance with it.”
Saturday Evening Post. July 1950
It was not until 1944 that his velocity began to resemble that of a shooting star. In that year Columbia borrowed him to play opposite Rita Hayworth in a picture with the scarcely compelling title of Cover Girl. But Gene was compelling in it. In one of Hollywood’s outstanding examples of cinema larceny, his Alter Ego number, in which he danced with a shadowy representation of his own conscience, stole the picture.
John Cutts. Films & Filming 1964.
Technically astonishing, the matching of the double exposure is done in perfect rhythm and synchronisation. Something more than surface happiness was communicated: a sort of lyric zest, an appeal to the senses that was instant and which floods the mind joyfully. Few routines have ever carried so much punch.
Flying High, magazine article 1975
It marked a major advance in motion picture choreography and changed Gene Kelly, dancer-actor into Gene Kelly, genius.
The Entertainers. Magazine. After 1976. Gene Kelly: Dancing Athlete. By Saul Chaplin.
In 1943 Morris Stoloff, head of Columbia Pictures' music department, assigned me to write a comedy routine for Gene Kelly and Phil Silvers...So I walked over to the set, and there were Kelly, Silvers, and Rita Hayworth dancing and laughing uproariously. My first thought was that the gaiety was part of the number. I later learned that it was their general demeanor when the three of them rehearsed together...They each had many notions about the routine I was to write, Gene in particular. He discussed everything that he thought might affect the routine; the set, the other characters, the method of shooting, the plot of the film, and many other elements that I would have thought were irrelevant. As he spoke, I kept feeling more and more that he was going to be impossible to please. His parting words, however, allayed my fears and surprised me; "Make Phil as funny as you can, and don't worry about me - I'll take care of myself." I was to have a long association with Gene, and he would always maintain this attitude. And he always would be able to take care of himself.
Current Biography. February 1977
…Kelly turned in a compelling performance as Danny McGuire, a nightclub entertainer. “Gene Kelly comes into his own as a first-rank Hollywood performer,” Howard Barnes announced in his enthusiastic review for the New York Herald Tribune (March 3, 1944). “Whether he is forwarding the slight romantic plot…or is merely tapping the daylights out of an ornamental set, he is credible and engaging.”
Architectural Digest April 1992
…he went to talk to Harry Cohn about the Alter Ego dance – “How do you tell a man with not very much creative imagination that you’re going to dance with yourself for five or six minutes, and that the dance is meant to represent a man fighting with his conscience?”- but his persistence and his ingenuity usually won out.
Saul Chaplin. The Golden Age Of Movie Musicals And Me. 1994
Charles Vidor had never done a musical before, but that would not have mattered if he had not been so totally humourless. And there he was, up against Gene and Phil, who were trying to make the film as light and airy as possible. Vidor had no trouble with Phil, but Gene’s latent towering Irish temper would get the better of him every now and then until he and Vidor had a fistfight. Cohn (Head of Columbia pictures) had to be called down to the set more than once to settle their disputes.
Gene, Reflections interview 1994. On working with Stanley Donen after Cover Girl
I said, “Stanley if you stay with me you’ll be on every show I do, I’ll give you equal billing.” Well, he was on air…we were fast friends…Then we got Stanley a picture of his own, which we all wanted to do. Then he came back to me in Singin' In The Rain and It's Always Fair Weather, and that’s how we worked so well together.
Interview Magazine 1994
Interview Magazine 1994
I did Cover Girl on loan to Columbia, with Rita Hayworth, and that’s when I began to see that you could make dances for cinema that weren’t just photographed stage dancing. That was my big insight into Hollywood, and Hollywood’s big insight into me...
I shot that [the Alter Ego number] myself. Harry Cohn and the director didn’t even come down to the set; they didn’t think it was possible that you could pan and dolly in double exposure – because it had never been done. I just sat and thought all that out in an armchair, battling with myself like a writer.
ANCHORS AWEIGH 1945
Ballet Mag. Feb. 1946, Beryl de Zoete
We have the delightful task of praising the dancer Gene Kelly…in the glamour contest he would surely come out top…for he is, moving or still, the most entrancing sailor one has ever seen.
I have seldom seen a Western dancer from whose body such radiance emanates or who possesses such brilliance of expression
Picturegoer. September 14th 1946
Gene Kelly Is Home Again. W.H.Mooring
It was Anchors Aweigh that sent up his fan mail so that MGM
had to include him among their five most promising young male actors.
Film Daily. 19th July 1945
The honor goes to gene Kelly who lugs the main burden in a shining performance that places no ceiling on his talents as actor and dancer.
Daily News July 20 1945. Wanda Hale
Frank Sinatra gets top billing but Gene Kelly, the one male musical comedy dancer who has sex appeal, has the picture all wrapped up for himself. Only blind devotion will keep Frankie's worshippers from swooning at the sight of Gene long before this delightfully entertaining picture has run its course...
Herald Tribune. July 1945
Frank Sinatra...cannot hold a candle to Kelly as a performer.
Motion Picture Herald. August 1945
A new record at the Capitol. The biggest non-holiday week since stage policy resumed.
The Hollywood Reporter. July 27th 1945
Round-up of Anchors Aweigh reviews.
Kritical Kellys were doffed in the direction of Gene Kelly and the critical chorus did everything but change Gene's name to “Genius” in reviewing Anchors Aweigh...Kelly's big dance scenes really top the show...
Winsten in The Post:
Kelly outdoes himself in all three of his activities. His dancing is positively sensational. His singing holds up in the midst of stern competition. And his acting enables him to present a personality which is more appealing than that shown in any of his past movie chores...
Creelman of The Sun:
Gene Kelly, MGM's triple-threat man, holds together a mammoth production...This is...Gene Kelly's film. The fun lets down a little when he is not on the screen. He dances as well as ever. That is just a bit better than anyone else. He sings pleasantly, taking all the male vocal honors away from Sinatra...
Herald-Tribune. Howard Barnes:
Kelly does the wheel-horse job in keeping the proceedings spinning around a flimsy central idea. The sequences in which he dominates the screen are altogether the best in the production. Having designed his fast-stepping routines himself, they are of enormous help to a show which depends on incidental capers to keep in high gear. The Sinatra voice still makes the bobby-soxers squeal with delight, but the kid himself cannot hold a candle to Kelly as a performer...
Cook, World Telegram:
...Starting with the best, there is Gene Kelly hitting an absolute climax to the brilliant start he made on a career of dancing for the movies. You need no enthusiasm for dancing to be swept up in the imagination and wonderful facility this young man lavishes on his new picture. Frank Sinatra sings often, with and without Gene Kelly. When he is not singing, he is going to be small comfort to anyone except the frantic devotees who find his mere presence heavenly. Pitted against Gene Kelly, as adroit with a funny line as he is in a dance, poor Frank's shortcomings become more painful...
Bosley Crowther, The Times:
...that agile young fellow, Gene Kelly, conclusively proves himself to be the peer, if not the superior, at rigadooning, of Fred Astaire...Mr Kelly is the Apollonian marvel of the piece, dancing, singing, and performing in a delightfully gay and graceful style...Mr. Kelly...a fellow for you girls to make noises about, especially when he is dancing...
Gene, speaking of the animation sequence, quoted on TCM:
I get all the credit for this but it would have been impossible without Stanley. He worked with the cameramen and called the shots in all those intricate timings and movements.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. July 4th 1944
…Frankie and Kelly were strutting up and down a sidewalk in tight gob uniforms with Kelly giving Sinatra pointers on how to pick up a date for the evening…Kelly describes the trouble he was having teaching Frank how to dance.
“The script writers got kinda mixed up in this picture. They’ve got me doing the singing and Frank has to dance. So he’s giving me pointers on how to make all you gals swoon and I’m teaching him some snappy routines.”
Sinatra says that after this picture he’ll stick to swoon-crooning, there’s too many bumps in dancing. “There’s one scene where I have to follow Kelly in hopping up and down on all the beds. They’ve got big springs right in the middle that swoosh you up in the air. Only once, I missed the spring and went sprawling over the foot of the bed. I was limping for a week.”
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. July 8th 1944
Writing a Broadway column from Hollywood isn’t too easy a task, especially when it’s being written in a movie dressing room with a character in sailor pants – who is sometimes known as Gene Kelly – yelling, “Hey, De-Maupassant, get a tighter hold on that keyboard before you fall off the chair.”
As a matter of fact doing anything when brother Kelly is around isn’t too easy. At the moment Gene has become a dancing tutor with me as his only pupil, and by the time our picture, Anchors Aweigh, is completed, we will do a sailor dance together – so the script says in very large type. They tell me I’m doing okay at the dancing. Kelly calls me Nijinsky; the electricians call me Cohan; the set watchman calls me George Murphy, and Nancy, having heard about my newlyfound dancing ability, won’t call me at all.
Short magazine article, source unknown. Probably late 1944?
…”Say, wasn’t it terrific that we managed to finish Anchors Aweigh just 6 hours before my induction? And didja hear the one about between us both, Frankie and I make one good sailor?”
Hey, Keeler, forget The Voice – you’re doing swell on your own! And best of luck to you, boy, in the Navy!
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. November 9th 1944. Virginia MacPherson.
The picture is about the love life of a couple of sailors on leave…The love life’s been canned for three weeks. Frankie’s crooning to bobby-soxers in New York. And Iturbi’s long since packed his baby grand and departed.
But Kelly’s still dancing. And Miss Grayson’s still hanging over a balcony waiting for him to finish so she can toss him a rose and go home.
The scene is a Spanish tango number. Sort of a dream sequence in which Sailor Kelly shows Miss Grayson how much he loves her by dancing up and down trees, leaping across parapets and swinging over to her balcony a la Latin Tarzan in tights.
It’s a pretty dangerous number, too. Kelly skips along on a three-foot wall some 40 feet off the ground, and Director George Sidney holds his breath on every skip.
With the army so impatient and time so short, Sidney can’t afford to have his star break a leg.
So far Kelly’s swooshed through the air and landed where he’s supposed to without breaking any bones. That’s simple stuff. But when he caught the fake paper rose Miss Grayson tossed him he got an infected hand.
“There was a little wire in the stem,” explained Kelly. “And that punctured my hand. Now I dance all day and soak my hand all night. At least the nights I’m not dancing all night too.”
Today he wasn’t feeling so good. He’s leapt across parapets till midnight the night before. He had a slight touch of blood poisoning. Also shivers and a fever.
But the shooting deadline was hanging over his head and it doesn’t allow for any sick actors. So now Kelly rehearsed with his hand in bandages and then whips them off for each take.
All of which leaves Mr. Kelly a little on the pale and shaky side. He’s also embarrassed.
“I can just see the faces of those army guys when I walk in with my mitt all bandaged up,” he said. “They’ll take one look at my hand and say, ‘Oh, no ya don’t. We saw that picture!’”
Any movie-going sergeant might, that is.
Today he was dressed up in fancy black pants and a Spanish cape lined with red satin. First he tossed the cape at what would have been Miss Grayson’s feet, only she wasn’t there. This was her day off.
Then he went scooting up a tree and leaping over parapets. At the end of the wall he grabbed a rope and swung 45 feet through space to Miss Grayson’s roof, slid down a pole and landed on her balcony.
He scooted and swung just right, but Director Sidney thought maybe he’d better practice the slides a little more.
After the acrobatics comes a romantic clinch with Miss Grayson. If Kelly lives that long.
...The inspired casting of Gene Kelly, whose brilliant acting differs in all its main facets from that of Frankie, and whose dancing and singing marks the first real rival Fred Astaire has ever had.
Theatre Arts 1945
Of the four numbers Kelly devised for Anchors Aweigh, one was a grandiose Spanish solo, and each of the others utilized dancing partners of less than normal size or agility: one animated mouse (about one-quarter his height); one child (about one-half) and one crooner, Frank Sinatra (as high, but not so wide)...
...Gene said, “I didn’t teach the mouse how to dance. He taught me. The whole routine was his invention.” And if you watch the routine you are not inclined to disagree with him, so apt are the movements of the little mouse…If there is any doubt that this is an invention of skill and considerable taste, you only have to look at the inept distortions through which Walt Disney put Donald Duck in a similar scene in The Three Caballeros….Easy and natural as it looks, however, The King Who Couldn’t Dance was no simple matter to make. After the mouse had taught Gene the routine, there was still the problem of selling the idea to MGM and then working it out on film….The studio never was sold but in a moment of resignation they offered the dancer $100,000 to execute the sequence himself, assuring him that it would undoubtedly be cut from the final print. So he went to work. Having planned out the routine…the next job was to photograph Kelly plus space, the space to be filled with animations at a later date….when the dance called for the mouse to cross over, run back and then forward through Kelly’s legs, the cameraman was expected to pan sufficiently to allow for these as yet invisible activities. Today, rumour has it, that cameraman is still seeing space in peculiar places.
The next step was animation, and Kelly set two cartoonists from the MGM lot to do the job, after teaching them the routine through countless repetitions. Finally when one small cellophane figure had been drawn and painted in position for each of the frames of the sequence, these were photographically superimposed on the film. The sequence had taken two months to make, but it stayed in the picture and scored one more solid victory for fantasy.
Time Magazine July 1945
Anchors Aweigh…is easily the pleasantest couple of hours that can be bought currently in a movie theatre. …Kelly dances beautifully and Sinatra sings the roof off…their four days’ strenuous romancing is as rich as fruitcake with diversions and digressions...Among the best: The gay, easy byplay between Kelly’s rock-solid acting, which carries the show and is as sure as anything in pictures: Kelly’s dancing – the first in movies to stand comparison with Astaire’s.
The Miami News. 31st August 1945
Has anybody here seen Kelly? If the answer is “no,” you’re missing something! In Anchors Aweigh…he makes Sinatra look like a mere shadow…Gene Kelly hoists anchor and sails away on a breeze…
Kelly is the star at the top of this Christmas tree glistener in Technicolor. His voice is good and his dancing more entertaining than Fred Astaire’s. He clowns, mugs, and steals scenes, but knows how to be serious at the proper moments with surprising tenderness. His toreador dance-pantomime is real art.
Theatre Arts. October 1945
We are prepared to face a barrage of indignant squeals from the Frank Sinatra fans for suggesting that it is Gene Kelly’s dancing that makes Anchors Aweigh something more than a piece of agreeable fluff…Gene Kelly’s dancing transcends the pattern, and confirms his position as one of the leading film dancers and choreographers of his day…in a delightfully devised and beautifully executed dance with an animated mouse, he demonstrates what taste and inventiveness can do with a technique that Walt Disney developed and put to such unfortunate account only six months ago. The progress from Three Caballeros to Anchors Aweigh is not merely a measure of time elapsed. It is also an indication of the light that an active imagination can always turn on established forms.
Toronto Daily Star. 11th October 1945
To the eager beavers who scream with delight every time one Frank Sinatra opens his mouth, this will undoubtedly be known as the Sinatra show. But to others who are less hysterical over The Voice, it is the Gene Kelly show. With his dancing feet timed to a choreography of his own composition and with settings and technical effects of the highest order, Kelly is the star, the pivot around which the entire rambling production revolves. And in case there should be some who, recalling Sinatra’s previous lame attempts at picture making, will avoid this one because of his presence, it should be noted that the boy with the bow tie is quite secondary herein.…
When Kelly breaks into a dance with a cartoon character in the Disney manner, or when he stages a castle in Spain number and woos his ‘princess’ with tapping feet, it is the sort of stuff to urge an audience into applause. This department caught the film at the Capitol theatre in New York where uninhibited audiences did indeed applaud, vigorously, whenever the mood struck…
Ottawa Citizen. 22nd November 1945
Gene Kelly. He’s the talk of the town! Famed as a great dancer, he now blossoms out as a romantic favorite. Crowds coming to swoon with Sinatra – stay to hug Gene to their hearts.
He has had most fun with Anchors Aweigh, for several reasons. "First, it gave me an inkling of how I’d look and feel in a sailor suit”, he explained. “Then I met Sinatra, who became one of my best friends. And if I thought I looked odd in a gob’s uniform, all I had to do was look at Sinatra and I felt fine again!
“Just wait till Sinatra sees that in print!”
Tap Happy. Motion Picture magazine 1950
Just after Anchors Aweigh was finished and Kelly was wearing the same gob’s uniform in earnest while sweating it out at boot camp, he returned to Metro on brief leave. The elevator girl in the executive building raised her eyebrows enquiringly. “Retakes?” she asked. “Retakes”, agreed Kelly gravely.
Mr. America. March 1953
Kelly again demonstrated his genius in Anchors Aweigh by doing a very simple little dance with Sharon McManus. Little Sharon, a most wistfully appealing little girl, seemed to lose some quality when she spoke. Realising this, Gene did the dance with her without either one of them speaking a word – and it was delightful.
John Cutts. Films & Filming 1964
A film for which he was to receive his first official dance director credit...
The Mexican Hat dance…and the King who couldn’t dance cartoon sequence…both contain an air of breathless exuberance; a high flying anything goes spirit of boundless joy, which is utterly infectious
Tony Thomas, The Films Of Gene Kelly 1974
It was with Anchors Aweigh that Gene Kelly came into his own right; the vitality and the joyousness of his performance in this highly entertaining film fairly shouts with the triumph of a man who has hit his own unique stride, and to the approval of every onlooker. This is a kingpin of a musical.
Flying High. Magazine article 1975
By now MGM had total faith in all his abilities. Gene settled for 3rd billing, but it was his picture all the way.
Dance magazine July 1976
Norma McLain Stoop
… Joe Pasternak told me,
“That scene with Jerry mouse was Kelly’s idea. I only take credit because I allowed him to make it.”
Hirschorn, Hollywood Musicals 1982
Kelly’s energetic presence gave the narrative a freshness and vigour it lacked both in synopsis and in George Sidney’s rather pedestrian handling of it, it’s best sequences being the three major dances Kelly devised for himself.
Disney Magazine 1989. Gene, on being asked who his favourite dancing partner was:
“Jerry the Mouse. He was always on time and worked his tail off.”
...The MGM people didn’t think it was possible. I told them to call Walt. He said, 'Send Gene over here.' … He agreed that my dance with the mouse could be done and phoned MGM to that effect, which was all they needed to hear. Walt and I became very good friends after that."
Interview Magazine 1994
The fellow that pushed me at MGM first was Joe Pasternak, who made Anchors Aweigh.. Joe was very helpful, but he was only interested in singing….There was nothing I could do with a high C, so I had to make up dances with a little mouse, or dance with Sinatra, or do a dance on an empty stage.
USA Today. 3rd November 2006. On Jerry Mouse
His career peak; when he danced with Gene Kelly in 1945's Anchors Aweigh
Author Kit Whitfield July 2007 http://www.kitwhitfield.com/blog.html
The only time in history that putting an actor next to an animated character impresses you with how spring-heeled the actor is.
THE PIRATE 1948
Spokesman Review. May 9th 1946
Gene Kelly has asked for – which means he will get – a three-month vacation before starting work with Judy Garland in The Pirates. Judy still isn’t well enough to work in a studio.
Los Angeles Times. 14th December 1946
Gene Kelly has most of Metro watching his rehearsals of a tight-rope walking act for The Pirate.
Los Angeles Times. March 30th 1947
“Two years in the Navy, three years off the screen.” Gene Kelly shook his head lugubriously. “No, I’ll never be the dancer I was.”
Just then an assistant called him and Kelly went off to rehearse a scene for The Pirate…Gene…danced down the narrow street…up the side of a building to one balcony, across a parapet to another, down a drainpipe, back to a pavilion where he went round and round with a bevy of beauties, and over their heads to a pyramid of crates where, on the topmost lid, he paused and struck a nonchalant pose. Onlookers – all hardened studio employees – applauded…
In the Cole Porter score is a voodoo number that Gene said should really be something. Characteristically he handed the laurels to his partner.
“Judy is an eclectic person,” he declared. “She can act, sing, dance, and do all well. This voodoo is vital, brutal, very barbaric – but she carries it off in a way that I think will surprise everybody."
Los Angeles Times. April 3rd 1947. Hedda Hopper.
Gene Kelly, hoisted to the top of a stage by a camera crane for a dance scene in The Pirates, got stuck there for an hour when the crane broke down.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. April 29th 1947
Messengers and others on the MGM lot have a unique way of directing persons seeking Gene Kelly. “Is Mr. Kelly on the lot?” a caller asked one of the messenger girls. “Just a minute,” she said, stepping to the corner of a building, and tilting her head as if listening. Then – “Yes, he is,” she said. “How can you tell?” “I can hear the tomtoms! He’s in the building down at the end of this street – just go toward the tomtoms. When we hear them we know he’s here.” Kelly is rehearsing a voodoo dance with the African drums, for his title role in The Pirate
Hollywood Reporter. 29th March 1948
The Pirate is slated to steal top box office honors.
The simplest was to describe The Pirate is WOW!...Bright, fast, witty and wonderfully entertaining.
NY times. T.M.P.
Published: May 21, 1948
The difference between the talents of Gene Kelly and Judy Garland and those of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne is as night is to day... "The Pirate," which came yesterday to the Radio City Music Hall, is a dazzling, spectacular extravaganza, shot through with all the colors of the rainbow and then some that are Technicolor patented.
It takes this mammoth show some time to generate a full head of steam, but when it gets rolling it's thoroughly delightful. However, the momentum is far from steady and the result is a lopsided entertainment that is wonderfully flamboyant in its high spots and bordering on tedium elsewhere. Perhaps such unevenness is the inevitable consequence in the case of a will-o'-the-wisp romance so extravagantly larded with bizarre production qualities.
Gene Kelly is doing some of the fanciest gymnastic dancing of his career in "The Pirate"—and he's good, very good, indeed. As the strolling thespian, Serafin…Mr. Kelly scales balconies and swings through the air with the authority and grace exhibited by the late Douglas Fairbanks. When he is whirling about the screen, serenading beautiful Caribbean damsels, or vigorously performing a ballet depicting piratical exploits…"The Pirate" achieves the pinnacle of spectacle.
…For some reason Mr. Kelly doesn't attempt to duplicate Mr. Lunt's feats of magic, being content to hypnotize the unhappy Manuela (Miss Garland) into admitting her love for him and, again, to mesmerize the crafty Don Pedro into confessing that he is in fact the infamous pirate, Macoco.
Miss Garland teams nicely with Mr. Kelly, singing or dancing, and she throws herself with verve into a wild, slapstick exercise, tossing everything that's not nailed down at the dashing trouper. It's funny, but a mite overdone. However, the finale, which finds the pair on the threshold of living happily ever after, is a lively roughhouse session of clowning set to the tune of "Be A Clown," easily the best of Cole Porter's several songs. Walter Slezak as Don Pedro, Gladys Cooper as Aunt Inez and George Zucco as the viceroy do well by their roles. But "The Pirate" is Mr. Kelly's picture and he gives it all he has, which is considerable and worthy of attention.
Los Angeles Times. May 27th 1948
In perfect accord, metropolitan critics give the palm to The Pirate, at the Music Hall, for bouncing, beautiful entertainment, and they hail Gene Kelly as wonderful. He is said to be in top form with some of the most fantastic gymnastic dances ever.
Los Angeles Times June 26th 1948
MGM has produced a picture starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly which is spontaneous, beautiful and intriguing to the very last moment.
Newsweek magazine. 1948
With Judy Garland and Gene Kelly pitching energetically into the lead roles…The Pirate is one of the most delightful musicals to hit the screen in a month of Sundays…Pirate is a rare and happy combination of expert dancing, catchy tunes, and utterly unbelievable plot which manages to achieve pure escapism without becoming either sentimental or corny.
Screen Guide July 1948
Gene Kelly’s nimble hoofing and ingenious routines in The Pirate put him far in the lead over all screen dancers.
Joel Siegal. Film Heritage. 1948
The Pirate is wildly, wonderfully eclectic. One gets the feeling that the director is trying to combine and set in motion everything that has ever delighted him in the visual arts...It is a glorious and sophisticated entertainment, an immense, lavish production yet as enchantingly weightless as a daydream. The Garland and Kelly performances are extremely ambitious attempts at extending their usual ranges and are arguably the most satisfying of their respective careers. The screenplay is uncommonly witty in its satiric thrusts...The huge, lovingly detailed production is, I'm certain, the closest Vincente Minnelli has ever come to realizing the abstract, deeply personal world of whirling forms and colors."...The Pirate has its flaws – some of which were caused by studio tampering with Minnelli’s negative – but these hardly dim its lustre.
New York Herald Tribune.
Kelly has a particular triumph in the production. Where Lunt had to learn some Vaudeville tricks for the stage offering, Kelly takes a variety of them in full stride, while acting with sly authority in the straight passages of the farce. He dominates the doings in Pirate in no uncertain manner... Scrambled entertainment, but it has so much vitality and polish that it is a delight.
Dance Magazine. July 1956
ABC’s MGM Parade showed The Pirate, a Gene Kelly picture, in three installments during April. It is even better than one remembered. It is bad for television dancing to show good cinema dance sequences. The greater polish of the well-rehearsed, carefully produced movie dances makes television’s hurried productions show their slipshodiness.
John Cutts. Films & Filming 1964
It was a landmark in Kelly’s development as a dancer and choreographer…it…found Kelly’s powers of invention and ingenuity at a high-water mark of style and authority… He performed complicated dance routines with a true poet’s grace...
He turned his attention to balletic movement proper, mixing his own zestful style of humour and fancy in with a fantastic gymnastic display. The result was astonishingly flamboyant, most exciting, beautiful to watch, and extremely difficult to describe.
Vincente Minnelli. I Remember It Well. 1974
I never thought of anyone but Gene for the part of Serafin. Fred Astaire was too introspective to play the flamboyant swashbuckler, a pastiche – as Gene and I envisioned – of Douglas Fairbanks’ gymnastics and John Barrymore’s canned ham...
Gene and I, in putting together the numbers with choreographer Robert Alton, had fallen into the most intense professional association I'd ever had with an actor…I wondered aloud why our talents complemented each other’s to such an extraordinary degree. “It’s because my approach is less esoteric and more gutsy,” Gene said, “While yours is evanescent and ethereal”. He had been choreographing his own numbers, but as shooting progressed, Gene became involved in all facets of production.
Gene, quoted in Hirschorn 1974
We just didn’t pull it off. Not completely. Whatever I did looked like false Barrymore and fake Fairbanks. But that’s the result of the damned elusive camera I’d been trying to tame, It all looked good in rehearsal
Gene, That's Entertainment II . 1976
I always wanted to be a clown, and in The Pirate with Judy, I finally got my chance.
American Film 1979. Gene, on the original, deleted, Mack The Black number:
"We were doing a little bit of overgroping. It was a sensual and sensuous experience – both words are applicable – but I think it was too long and said too much. I didn’t mind that they cut a piece of that out. That didn’t hurt the picture."
Dallas Times Herald. June 1980
Gene: MGM bought it because they needed a picture for Judy Garland very, very badly. I was secondary to Judy. In all honesty, Judy was a bigger star at the studio than I was. It turned out to be a big flop, doing business only in the big cities. In the small towns you couldn’t give it away with dishes. The public refused to accept Judy in a sophisticated grown-up role, and refused to accept me in a mustache and wearing tights.
Hirschorn. Hollywood Musicals 1981
What seems to have improved with the years is the dazzling dance direction by Kelly and Robert Alton. Nina being the choreographic highlight of the film…a routine of sustained inventive brilliance.
Gene. American Film magazine 1985
Vincente and I felt that we had the world licked on that. We had me playing it like John Barrymore; it was an inside joke, but we thought the public would grab it. Nowadays with all the kids that know so much about cinema lore, this might have worked, but then it didn’t. We couldn’t even give dishes away to sell the picture, except in a few cities, like New York, Chicago, maybe L.A….we somehow missed the boat on that.. Now, when The Pirate plays, it is a cult picture. The kids all get it, and it plays colleges, and it does well.
We were a good team…If Vincente took too long arranging the extras in the background, I’d say, “Come on, we are an hour behind; let the girl cross her legs the other way.” He’s say, “Ok, ok.” …we enjoyed each other. Often people thought we were having too much fun making the picture and to the exclusion of other people. That is not so.
Gene Kelly, the Dancing Cavalier. Hollywood Then And Now. August 1991.
Awash with the hot-house hues of director Vincente Minnelli, trembling with the girlish, romantic anticipation of Judy Garland and sparkling with the music of Cole Porter – The Pirate is all this, but most of all it is a feast of Gene Kelly.
Looking particularly handsome in curly hair and a mustache, and wearing the most colourful costumes of his career, Gene revels in the part of Serafin…The dances are splendid and, in true Kelly fashion, cover a lot of ground….The films reputation has grown, and for the fancier of Gene’s swashbuckling side, it is a treasure.
Gene, Reflections TV interview 1994. On working with the Nicholas Brothers:
The mistake we made was that they were so good, we decided to use up every flash ending in the book, so we got the number a little bit too long. But we had such fun. We did enough bravura endings for fifty numbers.
In The Pirate I just had to work and master a lot of that karate and Kung-Fu. That was fun, I liked that.
It is now considered by people who look at films now and love dance, to be one of the greatest dance movies ever made.
Gene, on dancing with the Nicholas Brothers: I was instructed not to do it by the studio. They told me the number would be cut from the film in the South. I insisted, we did the number, and it was cut out in a lot of Southern cities.
Sheryl Flatow. Biography Mag. March 1999.
Dancer From The Dance: Gene Kelly, television, and the beauty of movement. Velvet Light Trap. Spring 2002. (Goliath Reading Room)
In the ballet Macoco/Kelly is garbed in a black, tight-fitting, one-piece, short-legged costume. It is a costume that, for the period, reveals quite a bit more than the norm. Minnelli’s design... emphasized Kelly’s well-defined thighs, pumped biceps, and well-announced manly bulge…
John Fricke & Lorna Luft. Judy Garland. A Portrait in Art & Anecdote 2003.
Judy, on the first reading, at Cole Porter's house, of Anita Loos’ original screenplay for The Pirate:
In Anita’s version Gene was Jose or Gomez or someone – he was not a pirate but a fisherman…she came to the part where Gomez and Manuela meet. And she said “When Gomez sees Manuela he drops his nuts –uh, nets.” Well, I thought I would die, I was in hysterics.
Dorothy Tuttle Nitch:
There was a huge “voodoo” song and dance. Now, Gene Kelly was a genius – and a very sexual person. And this was a very, very, sexy number and very well done; it was supposed to be pretty wild and wonderful. And Judy was great; she and Gene enjoyed working together, and she liked the challenge of doing something different. But L. B. Mayer wanted every picture a family picture – the number could not be that sexy, so it had to be changed a bit. And they did it again...and then they cut it out anyway!
Digitallyobsessed.com. DVD review July 2007
The Pirate sparkles, thanks to Minnelli's peerless panache, Cole Porter's catchy melodies, and—most of all—the combustible talent of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, who not only nail their song and dance numbers, but also their tricky screwball roles, and produce a healthy quotient of sexual chemistry along the way….
…. the story itself isn't what revs The Pirate's engine. On the contrary, it's the tongue-in-cheek line deliveries and exaggerated reactions by Kelly and especially Garland that infuse the film with infectious glee. Those who dismiss The Pirate as a campy mess don't realize the performers' posturing is carefully calculated to satirize both the swashbuckling genre and overdone theatrics of yore. Achieving the proper tone is difficult, but the cast rises to the challenge, filing captivating, often uproarious portrayals. As the quintessential ham actor, Kelly beautifully hams it up.
For Kelly, The Pirate would be a defining musical, allowing him at last to immerse himself in the athletic, masculine style of dance that would become his trademark. By combining awe-inspiring acrobatics with balletic grace, he fully integrates his numbers into the story, and puts on the type of gymnastic display audiences would demand from then on. Many cite The Pirate Ballet—a noisy mix of pageantry and pyrotechnics—as his pièce de résistance, but I prefer the sleek, Spanish-flavored Niña and rough-and-tumble Be A Clown (with the fabulous Nicholas Brothers), both of which display the full gamut of his abilities. Kelly reprises the latter song with Garland (in full clown regalia), and their joyous interpretation has become a classic.
It may have taken a few decades, but we've finally evolved enough to appreciate its artistry and embrace its charms. Glory hallelujah!
Along with the amusing, Pepe Le Pew-like solo number "Nina," Kelly is afforded the sort of fantasy sequence that both he and Minnelli gravitated towards throughout their time at MGM. In this case it's the gravity -defying "Pirate Ballet," which features Serafin surrounded by an absurdly over-the-top
Garland serenades Kelly twice, first with " You Can Do No Wrong" (which has the kind of lyric you only get from Porter, "When you gaze in my direction/Life is caviar") and then with "Love of My Life." The latter finds the two nuzzling one another at their steamiest, or at least the steamiest they were allowed to get in front of a camera without Louis B. Mayer ordering the print be burned, reportedly the fate of the deleted and destroyed number " Voodoo." The romantic chemistry is there, and they also make great comic foils for one another, both of them overplaying The Pirate's most famous non-musical set piece, in which a furious Manuela attacks Serafin with everything in the room that isn't bolted down (and also slaps his derriere with a sword, if you're into that).
WORDS AND MUSIC 1948
Gene had just one number in this biopic of Rodgers and Hart. A ballet called Slaughter On 10th Avenue.
Tony Thomas The Films Of Gene Kelly 1974
It was another triumph for Gene Kelly in his efforts to bring worthwhile dancing to the screen, and the piece was also an excellent showcase for his muscular masculine style.
The Dancing Times. December 1948
Suddenly, the whole picture is made worthwhile. The Slaughter on Tenth Avenue ballet comes on. It brings so much vitality into the film that it makes up for all the duller patches. Slaughter On Tenth Avenue is a brilliant ballet. I rank it as second only to the Red Shoes ballet. It is superbly staged and perfectly executed. I have had a feeling for a long time that Gene Kelly is the best of the screen’s male dancers. Words And Music confirms it.
Picturegoer. 6th August 1949
No single feature in any film for months has aroused so much comment as the dance in Words and Music by Vera Ellen and Gene Kelly…When the film was shown in the West End, sophisticated Londoners sat the show round to see that item again. All sorts of people are talking about it: Picturegoer readers write glowing letters to praise it. To young people, especially, it’s out of this world.
From the moment…Gene Kelly struts out to meet his girl, the sequence has the stamp of “difference.”
…It could have been so easily cheap and nasty, but some queer amalgam of music, choreography and mood lifts it to a strange perfection of its own.
American Film 1979. Gene:
I remember I broke a rule once when I shot Slaughter on Tenth Avenue with Vera Ellen. I dug a pit below the stage, and at the point where she fell down the stairs I put on a 28mm lens. There was a rule at MGM that you could not shoot a woman star with less than a 40mm lens. A close-up had to be with a 50-100mm lens. It was a good rule: MGM was thinking commercially. The executives raised a little hell about it, and then they forgot about it.
Sheridan Morley & Ruth Leon. Gene Kelly, A Celebration 1996
It was a sensation, the first complete ballet in a Hollywood film, and it vindicated everything that Kelly had been arguing for.... This was film dance on its own terms
I changed the libretto from ..comedy...to a tragic ballet... We rehearsed the number for four weeks and shot it in three days.
Bright Lights Film Journal.
Words and Music saves the best for last: a rousing, over the top version of "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," a jazz ballet tale of Love and Death set among Manhattan’s demimonde. Jazz ballets were all the rage in the forties and fifties, and did a lot to sour Americans on both art forms. Artsy, arty, and contrived, they lacked the spontaneity of jazz and the purity of ballet. As a friend of mine liked to say, they "begged for parody." Remarkably, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, choreographed by Kelly, rises above its roots. Gaudy, cliched, melodramatic, and theatrical, it simply moves too fast to get bogged down in its own excess. Kelly, in his trademark too-tight shirt and pants, has a ball as a tough guy who dies for love, and Vera-Ellen is the sweetest bad girl you’d ever want to see. This is kitsch that never gets old.
British Film Institute.
Standouts include… Gene Kelly and Vera Ellen’s electrifying eight minute ballet.
Gene. On Slaughter On 10th Avenue:
I had a piece of music first, and just put the dance on it – that was an easy one. Usually I have to take it the hard way because of the medium in which I’m working, and that’s to start with an idea, work it out, and then get the musicians in and fight with them.
Interview Magazine 1994
Gene: It was already an entire piece of music. All I did was write a new libretto….We started out doing a Bolshoi thing, with a lot of magnificent lifts…Finally we saw that we had some high spots, but we had lost our story. So we threw practically every one of them out and went into the story of the girl vamping the guy, and the bad guy coming in trying to get the girl and shooting her. It was interesting to do and less trouble than doing a thing where you start with an idea in your head.
ON THE TOWN 1949
Magazine article 1980. Gene. Talking to Iain McAsh
It was the favourite of all my own pictures because it was such a breakthrough…we used hidden cameras and we had police protection…I saw it again on television last year. It’s a bit dated now, but that film still has a warm place in my heart.
Entertainment World. March 6th 1970.
Gene: It was tough getting them to let me shoot in New York. I had to stamp my foot and act like a movie star.
Gene, BBC interview 1974
I do love On The Town. I think maybe my biggest contribution to the film musical. We did better pictures but that turned things around.
Dance and Dancers November 1952.
The way the dancing was integrated into the plot of On The Town was the work of a genius.
One never becomes conscious of the film being held up for the dance numbers.
It was an entirely new treatment of the film musical.
Official guide to the Glasgow Film Festival. February 2012
A wonderful adaptation of the stage musical that has a vivacity and dynamism that never ages. Gene Kelly’s athletic style and creative ambitions are visible in every frame of the film that he also co-directed with his future Singin’ In The Rain collaborator Stanley Donen.
His co-star in the film, Ann Miller, remembers him as "just so handsome...He was marvelous because he was ballet-trained as well as being a hoofer, and he had a lot of sex with it."
Gene, interview, source unknown:
Once On The Town became a hit, Metro let me do pretty much what I liked.
New York Times.
One of the most original, inventive and irresistibly charming of all American musicals.
Magazine article, ?1970s
Kelly’s revolutionary jubilant musical with which he took over from Fred Astaire as official top dog in the flying feet division….lashings of Kelly exuberant, muscular, acrobatic choreography…Kelly & Donen’s inventive directorial collaboration pointed the musical in a new direction.
The Milwaukee Sentinel. 2nd April 1949. Buck Herzog.
If I hadn’t been right on the scene when it happened I would have considered the incident a bold figment of some over zealous press agent’s mind. But there I was on the set of On The Town…and there were Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and the clever comic Jules Munchin, beginning a cute little sailor song and dance. “Ready,” shouted the assistant director – Kelly is the regular director – “action.” They begin jigging as a huge wind machine, out of picture range, whirls to simulate outdoors! Woosh! The wind catches full pint size Frankie and he is literally cascaded into Munshin who catches Kelly off balance and all three go toppling over like bowling pins. Everyone howls – even Frankie who later quipped, “For me they should have just a whisper, not a wind machine.”
Evening Independent. April 25th 1949
Sinatra, Jules Munchin and director Gene Kelly leave May 7th for New York, where they’ll shoot exteriors for On The Town.
Herald Tribune. 1949
I suspect it was Kelly working before and behind the camera which gave On The Town its get-up-and-go.
Time Magazine January 1950
By combining a fluid cinematic approach and slick Broadway professionalism, Co-Directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen have turned out a film so exuberant that it threatens at moments to bounce right off the screen….It also leaves a happy impression that MGM has hit upon a bright new idiom for cine-musicals and a bright new directing team that knows how to use it.
National Film Weekly. February 4th 1950
…the best news that emerges from the spate of announcements of new spectacles on the way…is that Gene Kelly is back where he belongs.
The New York critics have just sat in judgment on his latest, On The Town, and united in their chorus of praise…It seems the Young Master of Leap, Bound and Tap has put away his cloak and sword and put on the dancing shoes in earnest once more – which will please many picturegoers.
Evening Standard. March 27th 1950
On The Town has revived my tottering faith in the musical. By discarding the decrepit backstage formula and bursting out into the open air, it has added a new dimension to this form of entertainment....This blend of movement, sound and colour sets your eyes, ears and toes tingling as if you had been given a shot of adrenalin while travelling in a jet airplane...the best movie that has been produced since the end of the war.
Hollywood Album 1950. Gene:
It’s been tough to direct and star in a film at the same time or let’s say that it’s confusing. The toughest part of the entire project is when I have to cut myself out of the film. Stanley Donen, who co-directed On The Town with me, while looking at the daily rushes, brought my attention to an unnecessary scene in which I appeared. So – out – cut! Director Kelly did the cutting, but believe me, actor Kelly was sore!
...In On The Town the routines were lively but not so definitely demanding. It was good fun without too many aching bones…Making pictures – especially since I have been given the ‘go’ sign on directing – is compelling work with very little spare time for introspection and boredom.
Saturday Evening Post. July 1950
The line inching up to the Radio City Music Hall…to see Gene Kelly in his latest musical film On The Town, was nine blocks long…Kelly’s studio, MGM, was impressed…They had kept their fingers crossed on the undertaking by limiting its production budget to $1,500,000…for a musical a mighty skimpy kitty….the films rapid New York getaway caused a flurry of lip-smacking and hand-rubbing in the strong rooms where Metro tots up its profits….But though it is doubtful if Kelly went banjo-eyed with the wonder of it all when On The Town broke the Music Hall’s waiting-in-line record, previously held by Greer Garson’s Mrs Miniver, he must have told himself, “Brother, you’ve come a long way.”
When word got around that Kelly was to share with Stanley Donen the chores of directing On The Town…Gene’s well-wishers wrung their hands. “Here’s a guy who needs a director hard-boiled enough to put sash-weights in his shoes,” they said, “and now he’s going to be his own codirector! This On The Town is likely to end up a Sadler’s Wells Ballet in sailor pants.”
The foreboding of the viewers-with-alarm turned out to be premature. While Kelly can be strong-minded when it comes to rejecting a director’s ideas if he doesn’t like them, he is after all a pro. And, as such, his first concern is to improve his product…even if it means throttling down his natural inclinations. More than once while Codirector Kelly was watching Actor Kelly in the daily rushes of On The Town, he remarked with evident relief, “I had a hard time holding that guy down. But I made it!”
Picturegoer. August 5th 1950
Good and original Technicolor musical romp with a full measure of tuneful songs and well-devised dance numbers…
High spots in the musical: The stimulating New York exteriors; the peppy dance sequences; Betty Garrett’s comedy act as a man-eating taxi driver; the suggestion of personal enjoyment put over by this hard-working sextette.
Regarding the last aspect of the film, Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Frank Sinatra have each told me on separate occasions the great fun they had in making On The Town.
John Cutts. Films & Filming 1964
A film of wonder and astonishment, a work of breathtaking gaiety: a musical masterpiece…As it began, so it ends: the waterfront at dawn. But not so its shattering impact. That lovingly lingers on. For not a single moment does On The Town let up or let down. Its energy and excitement is only equalled by its invention and its ingenuity. With air in its lungs, blood in its veins, vigour in its heart, it…was wholly and wonderfully alive.
It was about people rather than puppets. It proved Kelly and Donen could work wonders with a tired old formula, that they worked well together and had an abundance of ideas.
Entertainment World. March 6th 1970
Harry Clein. Is There a Future for the Hollywood Musical?
Although Kelly’s foot-stamping gained him location shooting in New York, he lost the battle to retain Leonard Bernstein’s lovely, albeit difficult to sing, score because “the songs weren’t hits.”
Sunday Times, Oct. 1970,
Gene Kelly’s free version of the Bernstein stage show has all the exuberance and vitality of Kelly’s own extrovert personality…everything flows…The new integrated musical has achieved its first masterpiece.
Gene, BBC interview 1974
With On The Town we took a lot of the clichés out of the movies
Gene, Magazine interview 1974:
Stanley Donen and I would pace out the steps the night before with a stopwatch and a metronome.. Then Frank Sinatra and I would turn up the next morning in a yellow cab. The camera was in the back of a van with Stanley lying on the floor. Sometimes people would recognise us, but it was all so quick that we had the scene by then.
Tony Thomas The Films Of Gene Kelly 1974
It took the musical out of the studio and into life. The credit for this belongs to Gene Kelly. By 1949 Kelly was a man to be taken seriously at MGM
Gene, Films Illustrated 1974
I was going into the army but I disliked the fact that being an actor gave you a certain pull. So I chose the Navy. They assigned me to making training and documentary films and I really started to learn something about the camera. One of the films I made was about the Benjamin Franklin, a damaged aircraft carrier, coming home. It was a very emotional moment as she berthed and I wanted to sneak close-ups of the faces on the dockside. I used to hide the camera wherever I could. In fact it was that film and those locations that gave me the whole concept of On The Town.
Film Buff. February 1976. Barbara Wolf. The Art Of Gene Kelly.
On The Town has been so extremely influential that its originality is no longer so obvious as it used to be, but the perfect consonance of style and subject is still almost unique. It was the first musical ever made on location…But in contrast to the striking reality of the settings, the action is at every point stylised to an extreme, the characters never walking when they can dance, never speaking when they can sing. Kelly’s technique here has close affinities to what goes on in experimental and art cinema, for it aims at and achieves an experience as unlike ordinary reality as possible. Nothing is more literal than the camera’s eye, yet special effects and editing can create dislocations all the more effective because they are founded on distortions of the literal. In On The Town, the performance of ecstatic action against somewhat grimly realistic images somehow cuts the viewer’s imagination free, with an effect like the severing of a kite from its string. The film creates its own welcoming world, a place of exuberant delight.
Dance magazine. July 1976.
Norma McLain Stoop
…I asked Gene Kelly whether his film On The Town was the first movie that was really balletic.
In a crew-neck sweater and loafers, relaxed on a couch in his large, very informal livingroom, he hesitated a moment before replying.
“In a way, yes. What was more vital, I believe, at that time, was that it took the camera and used a real backdrop – New York City!” …He grins…”The studio couldn’t believe all this was really happening. I had made them some money on other films and they said, ’Well, let this crazy fella do it for a week.’ It did work, and it changed the outlook of motion pictures…
“We did use some ballet in the film, of course, but only a little, because I was working with two non-dancers…and I had to do the trick where I danced with two people representing Sinatra and Munshin. This device was certainly not new; it was done successfully on stage by Agnes de Mille in Oklahoma…It never works in films; the public won’t buy it when you substitute two people for the so-called stars…you have to sneak into this sort of thing in a movie….
“The idea of three men dancing together seems to be a very effective masculine way to approach things…Historically, it goes way back to the nineteenth century...Things grow better if they have roots…So the fact they were American, and that it was American music, delighted all of us.”
American Film 1979. Gene:
I explained to the studio that I could shoot a picture on location in New York. The first stumbling block was Frank Sinatra. Those were his famous days, and he was as hard to hide as the Statue of Liberty. …we hired yellow taxis. We would push Sinatra on the floor of the taxi, and I’d get on top of him, and Jules Munshin would get on top of me so that the taxi would seem empty. Munshin and I were stronger than Sinatra, and so we always made him the low man in the taxi. No, he didn’t like that.
American Film 1979. Gene, on the Barre dance
There was nothing the censors could put their fingers on. The red colour, the girl in black, and the sailor in white were very sensuous. Yet I never laid a glove on her. There was nothing the censors could say. If they did, I could have said, “What? Do you have a dirty mind?” But yes, it was very sensual, and the colours did it.
Hirschorn, Hollywood Musicals 1981 The freshest most invigorating and innovative screen musical of the decade, and the perfect vehicle for Gene Kelly…they invested it with so much that was new and exciting…that they changed the entire concept of the film musical…relying on dance for its chief mode of musical expression. . Thomas G Aylesworth The History Of Movie Musicals 1984 The film was not merely clever. It had the look and feel of a new era. Kelly had learned his trade well. Gene. Dallas 1980: We did all that New Wave cutting in On The Town as the guys got off the boat and walked through New York. That was long before Jean Luc Godard had. But I’m sure somebody in the 1920s did it better than we did, but the picture was lost and no one knows about him. Gene. American Film magazine 1985 It was my first directorial chore. It was a film that broke new ground. It was a film the studio wasn’t crazy about…L.B.Mayer never wanted that picture to be made. We never realised it until after we had made the picture, and he came to me and he said “I was wrong about that picture. You fellows did a good job.” I was passing him in the barbershop. That’s the only discussion I ever had with him about that picture. David Parkinson, Sight and Sound. 1993 Gene Kelly was never in any doubt that On The Town was to be a milestone in cinema history. “I really believed it would be a masterpiece because I set out to make it so. Everything we did in the picture was innovative – from the way we flashed the time of day across the screen…to the way we cut the picture, which was revolutionary for its time, and which was greatly admired by the French. The fact that make-believe sailors got off a real ship in a real dockyard and danced through a real New York, was a turning point in itself.” …It is interesting to note that that several segments of On The Town contain distinct echoes of the way dance was used to establish rhythm and pace by the impressionists of the French silent screen. Like Abel Gance and Marcel L’Herbier before them, Kelly and Donen delighted in a mobile camera, and fashioned all manner of dollies, cables and cranes to achieve their effects… One suspects that Kelly’s fundamental motivation was his screen-dance mandate and commitment to galvanising the musical. His assault on the conventions of the classical Hollywood narrative was born out of necessity – they were in the way. On The Town set a new agenda for the screen musical…without it, there would probably never have been a West Side Story, Sweet Charity or Fame… The film boasts a bewildering variety of dance styles, including ballet, soft-shoe, ethnic, tap, and comic hoofing. Kelly’s response to the challenge of bringing their kinetic energy to the screen was to institute a catalogue of novel camera movements and positions…The camera was thus made to participate in the action, moving to its centre rather than looking on with distant detachment…by cutting and repositioning the camera, as in Main Street, he fashioned a diagonal area into which he and Vera Ellen could dance, thus creating the impression of three-dimensional forward movement… On The Town is one of the glories of the Hollywood studio era… a fusion of form and content, with Kelly and Donen using camera movement and a bold, new filmic language to capture the pace and excitement of a day in the life of New York, It is to Kelly’s credit that a film from such a populist genre has had such an impact on so many aspects of the cinematic art. John Updike. New Yorker 1994 Brought in on a forty-six-day schedule, on a budget of merely a million and a half dollars…viewing it on video, I found myself continually smiling…On The Town is that happy occasion, an ambitious film not spoiled by any signs of ambitiousness. Time Magazine February 1996 When Kelly and Donen took a company to New York in 1949 to film some of the musical numbers for On The Town… it was a first…When towards the end of the picture they inserted a jazzy, muscular but definitely balletic dream sequence…it was an equally significant innovation. No longer did filmmakers have to invent implausible backstage stories in order to provide a plausible environment for song and dance. Or create silly never-never lands where such activities could be played as quaint native customs. Kelly’s confidence gave us the nerve to follow him anywhere he wanted to lead… Michael Singer. A Cut Above. 50 film directors talk about their craft. 1998 Gene: …Here was this play set in New York City with about 24 chorus people representing blacks and Japanese and Whites and Hispanics…So I phoned Arthur Freed, and he said that MGM owned the rights to the play. I told him I wanted to make it as soon as I got out of the service…I found out later that Louis B. Mayer had gone to see it and didn’t like the melting pot idea…all these people touching and dancing with each other….when I was still in the Navy I had gone out to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to shoot some footage of the USS Ben Franklin..I would sit in [anyone’s] living room, point the camera out of the window and steal all the shots I needed…no one else would know that a movie was being made…I tried to explain to MGM that…we could hide the camera and get all the shots we needed on city streets. But they didn’t believe it… That was a real ship coming in at the beginning of the movie…I got permission from the Navy because I was one of their boys…We did it all with stopwatch timing. We didn’t have playbacks. It was an exciting thing to do, and very primitive now.
Hirschorn, Hollywood Musicals 1981
The freshest most invigorating and innovative screen musical of the decade, and the perfect vehicle for Gene Kelly…they invested it with so much that was new and exciting…that they changed the entire concept of the film musical…relying on dance for its chief mode of musical expression.
Thomas G Aylesworth The History Of Movie Musicals 1984
The film was not merely clever. It had the look and feel of a new era. Kelly had learned his trade well.
Gene. Dallas 1980:
We did all that New Wave cutting in On The Town as the guys got off the boat and walked through New York. That was long before Jean Luc Godard had. But I’m sure somebody in the 1920s did it better than we did, but the picture was lost and no one knows about him.
Gene. American Film magazine 1985
It was my first directorial chore. It was a film that broke new ground. It was a film the studio wasn’t crazy about…L.B.Mayer never wanted that picture to be made. We never realised it until after we had made the picture, and he came to me and he said “I was wrong about that picture. You fellows did a good job.” I was passing him in the barbershop. That’s the only discussion I ever had with him about that picture.
David Parkinson, Sight and Sound. 1993
Gene Kelly was never in any doubt that On The Town was to be a milestone in cinema history. “I really believed it would be a masterpiece because I set out to make it so. Everything we did in the picture was innovative – from the way we flashed the time of day across the screen…to the way we cut the picture, which was revolutionary for its time, and which was greatly admired by the French. The fact that make-believe sailors got off a real ship in a real dockyard and danced through a real New York, was a turning point in itself.”
…It is interesting to note that that several segments of On The Town contain distinct echoes of the way dance was used to establish rhythm and pace by the impressionists of the French silent screen. Like Abel Gance and Marcel L’Herbier before them, Kelly and Donen delighted in a mobile camera, and fashioned all manner of dollies, cables and cranes to achieve their effects…
One suspects that Kelly’s fundamental motivation was his screen-dance mandate and commitment to galvanising the musical. His assault on the conventions of the classical Hollywood narrative was born out of necessity – they were in the way.
On The Town set a new agenda for the screen musical…without it, there would probably never have been a West Side Story, Sweet Charity or Fame…
The film boasts a bewildering variety of dance styles, including ballet, soft-shoe, ethnic, tap, and comic hoofing. Kelly’s response to the challenge of bringing their kinetic energy to the screen was to institute a catalogue of novel camera movements and positions…The camera was thus made to participate in the action, moving to its centre rather than looking on with distant detachment…by cutting and repositioning the camera, as in Main Street, he fashioned a diagonal area into which he and Vera Ellen could dance, thus creating the impression of three-dimensional forward movement…
On The Town is one of the glories of the Hollywood studio era… a fusion of form and content, with Kelly and Donen using camera movement and a bold, new filmic language to capture the pace and excitement of a day in the life of New York, It is to Kelly’s credit that a film from such a populist genre has had such an impact on so many aspects of the cinematic art.
John Updike. New Yorker 1994
Brought in on a forty-six-day schedule, on a budget of merely a million and a half dollars…viewing it on video, I found myself continually smiling…On The Town is that happy occasion, an ambitious film not spoiled by any signs of ambitiousness.
Time Magazine February 1996
When Kelly and Donen took a company to New York in 1949 to film some of the musical numbers for On The Town… it was a first…When towards the end of the picture they inserted a jazzy, muscular but definitely balletic dream sequence…it was an equally significant innovation. No longer did filmmakers have to invent implausible backstage stories in order to provide a plausible environment for song and dance. Or create silly never-never lands where such activities could be played as quaint native customs. Kelly’s confidence gave us the nerve to follow him anywhere he wanted to lead…
Michael Singer. A Cut Above. 50 film directors talk about their craft. 1998
Gene: …Here was this play set in New York City with about 24 chorus people representing blacks and Japanese and Whites and Hispanics…So I phoned Arthur Freed, and he said that MGM owned the rights to the play. I told him I wanted to make it as soon as I got out of the service…I found out later that Louis B. Mayer had gone to see it and didn’t like the melting pot idea…all these people touching and dancing with each other….when I was still in the Navy I had gone out to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to shoot some footage of the USS Ben Franklin..I would sit in [anyone’s] living room, point the camera out of the window and steal all the shots I needed…no one else would know that a movie was being made…I tried to explain to MGM that…we could hide the camera and get all the shots we needed on city streets. But they didn’t believe it…
That was a real ship coming in at the beginning of the movie…I got permission from the Navy because I was one of their boys…We did it all with stopwatch timing. We didn’t have playbacks. It was an exciting thing to do, and very primitive now.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS 1951
Empire Magazine. 2003
An American In Paris: Astounding choreography and footwork from Kelly,
who makes Justin Timberlake look positively arthritic by comparison.
George Feltenstein. Original Soundtrack notes.
Freed chose Kelly [for the role]. At this point Gene was just approaching his professional zenith.
Seven years after his debut,,, his credentials had grown beyond song-and-dance-man:
Kelly had made his mark as a choreographer and director as well. His versatility as an artist, and his personal commitment to extend the boundaries of musical filmmaking itself,
was without peer.
Literally thousands of individuals poured their best talents into making AAIP the masterpiece it is….It is highly unlikely that such a collection of gifted artists will ever again be assembled under a single creative aegis.
Freed, Kelly, Minnelli, Lerner, Caron, Johnny Green, Saul Chaplin, and so many others…proudly looked upon AAIP as a prized achievement in their careers, and rightly so. …The film continues to weave its magic among audiences half a century after its production…
The magic of AAIP is likely here to stay…forever.
Narrator, The Making of An American In Paris DVD 2008
In some ways the film’s accomplishments and subtleties have yet to be fully appreciated.
An American In Paris Opening Day at the Empire in London created a new record, beating Caruso and Solomon's Mines.
Gene, 1951 For An American In Paris we wanted to do a ballet without an actual story line or plot, a ballet that suggested, rather than narrated, a ballet which said more with things unsaid, than with things said….an emotional whole while consisting of the integrated arts which spell ballet, whether on the screen or the living stage. Look Magazine. Movie review. 1951 As movie fare, An American In Paris is champagne-and-caviar…The combined creative talents of star and choreographer Gene Kelly, Gershwin’s brother Ira and friend Oscar Levant ,producer Arthur Freed and director Vincente Minnelli make it one of the glittering entertainment gifts of 1951… Marion Vorosko, a dancer in the ballet. (source unknown) I remember Gene Kelly had a something about him that you would just do whatever he wanted. He was your baby brother, he was jazzy and he had a good sense of humor and he sometimes looked concerned but not worried. An American In Paris Pressbook …The movies are doing an about-face from previous contentions that ballet was not film box office… Kelly…describes its goal as the choreographic counterpart of what the great French Impressionist painters accomplished in their medium through the use of colour, light and form… Largest of the ballet sets is that of the Place de la Concorde, with its painted backdrop measuring 40 feet in height and 220 feet in length and with its sculptured fountain characteristic of the whims of Raoul Dufy. Other sets depict the flower market of the Madeleine (Renoir), a picturesque street leading uphill to the Butte of Montmartre (Utrillo), Carnival Square in the Jardin des Plantes (Rousseau), the Place de l’Opera (Van Gogh), and an actual recreation of the Toulouse Lautrec 1896 drawing, ‘Chocolat Dancing in Achilles’ Bar.’ The sets, filling two of the studio’s largest sound stages, occupied Art Director Preston Ames, fifteen designers, twenty-five painters and thirty sculptors and plasterers throughout the six-month period of preparation. A third stage was turned into an exclusive wardrobe for the film’s 210 costumes, designed by Irene Sharaff… The seventeen-minute ballet…made the greatest demands on Gene Kelly’s time, energy and creative talent. For six weeks he trained a ballet troupe of 120 dancers for the number’s nine different scenes. In the course of the six months preceding, he had mulled over ideas for it, had teamed with Vincente Minnelli to write its original libretto and had joined in the planning of its unusual sets and costumes. “All of us in this business,” says Kelly, “are constantly striving to do something new and different that will mark an advance in our profession, In making An American in Paris, everyone associated with the picture had the feeling that this was our big opportunity…We hope that audiences will find a completely unique and refreshing atmosphere in it.”
For An American In Paris we wanted to do a ballet without an actual story line or plot, a ballet that suggested, rather than narrated, a ballet which said more with things unsaid, than with things said….an emotional whole while consisting of the integrated arts which spell ballet, whether on the screen or the living stage.
Look Magazine. Movie review. 1951
As movie fare, An American In Paris is champagne-and-caviar…The combined creative talents of star and choreographer Gene Kelly, Gershwin’s brother Ira and friend Oscar Levant ,producer Arthur Freed and director Vincente Minnelli make it one of the glittering entertainment gifts of 1951…
Marion Vorosko, a dancer in the ballet. (source unknown)
I remember Gene Kelly had a something about him that you would just do whatever he wanted. He was your baby brother,
he was jazzy and he had a good sense of humor and he sometimes looked concerned but not worried.
An American In Paris Pressbook
…The movies are doing an about-face from previous contentions that ballet was not film box office…
Kelly…describes its goal as the choreographic counterpart of what the great French Impressionist painters accomplished in their medium through the use of colour, light and form…
Largest of the ballet sets is that of the Place de la Concorde, with its painted backdrop measuring 40 feet in height and 220 feet in length and with its sculptured fountain characteristic of the whims of Raoul Dufy. Other sets depict the flower market of the Madeleine (Renoir), a picturesque street leading uphill to the Butte of Montmartre (Utrillo), Carnival Square in the Jardin des Plantes (Rousseau), the Place de l’Opera (Van Gogh), and an actual recreation of the Toulouse Lautrec 1896 drawing, ‘Chocolat Dancing in Achilles’ Bar.’
The sets, filling two of the studio’s largest sound stages, occupied Art Director Preston Ames, fifteen designers, twenty-five painters and thirty sculptors and plasterers throughout the six-month period of preparation. A third stage was turned into an exclusive wardrobe for the film’s 210 costumes, designed by Irene Sharaff…
The seventeen-minute ballet…made the greatest demands on Gene Kelly’s time, energy and creative talent.
For six weeks he trained a ballet troupe of 120 dancers for the number’s nine different scenes. In the course of the six months preceding, he had mulled over ideas for it, had teamed with Vincente Minnelli to write its original libretto and had joined in the planning of its unusual sets and costumes.
“All of us in this business,” says Kelly, “are constantly striving to do something new and different that will mark an advance in our profession, In making An American in Paris, everyone associated with the picture had the feeling that this was our big opportunity…We hope that audiences will find a completely unique and refreshing atmosphere in it.”
Variety. August 29th 1951
Kelly is the picture’s top star and rates every inch of his billing. His diverse dancing is great as ever and his thesping is stand-out. But he reveals new talents in this one with his choreography…
Look magazine. Movie review. 1951
…As movie fare, An American in Paris is champagne-and-caviar. Even more sumptuous than England’s The Red Shoes, it bubbles over with a…ballet paean to Paris…But throughout, it remains brashly American in tempo and viewpoint…The combined creative talents of star and choreographer Gene Kelly, Gershwin’s brother Ira and friend Oscar Levant, producer Arthur Freed and director Vincente Minnelli make An American in Paris one of the glittering entertainment gifts of 1951.
An American In Paris Pressbook
Gene Kelly has been bitten by the painting bug! In preparation for his role as the ex-GI art student in MGM’s new Technicolor musical An American in Paris…the star took daily instructions in the art of brush and easel from Gene Grant, internationally famous artist.
In lieu of a professional model, Kelly practiced on Oscar Levant…
An American In Paris Pressbook
And Now Gene Kelly Dances With Grandma!
…Gene Kelly adds another dancing star to his list of partners
…Mary Young, who dances a waltz with him…Mary has the distinction the others lacked. She is a 63-years-old grandmother!
Time magazine October 1951
An American In Paris is a grand show – a brilliant combination of Hollywood’s opulence and technical wizardry with the kind of taste and creativeness that most high-budgeted musicals notoriously lack. The Technicolorful result is smart, dazzling, genuinely gay and romantic, and as hard to resist as its Gershwin score….Throughout, the film breathes the buoyant spirit of Gene Kelly. In 1949’s On The Town…Kelly staked his claim as the most original talent in Hollywood musicomedy; the new picture makes his claim secure. As a dance designer-performer, he is equally adept in Hollywood’s most ambitious ballet and in a delightfully informal number setting I Got Rhythm into the form of an English lesson for an adoring clump of French children.
Los Angeles Times. October 7th 1951
“We employed everything we could think of that the camera might legitimately contribute in the climaxing number of An American In Paris,” said Kelly. “Dancing, as such, with large numbers of people, is not sufficient. You have to create a dramatic illusion, comedy and everything else that has a direct appeal to audiences, in an attempt to stir them, to evoke an emotional response. Any illusion that the camera technique may supply to augment this is important. That is the whole difference between stage and screen dancing…
“What we tried to do…was to recreate the musical mood of the composition in a picture, not necessarily as George Gershwin thought of it when he wrote it, but as he would have adapted it to the screen."
Silver Screen December 1951
One of the most imaginative films to come out of Hollywood in many a day, An American In Paris has everything anyone could wish for in a musical. It’s in Technicolor, features all-Gershwin music, lavish sets and brilliant dance numbers, Gene Kelly’s the star and, as always, does an outstanding job.
New York Times 1951:
Kelly’s the one who pulls the faint thread of Alan Jay Lerner’s peach-fuzz script into some sort of pattern of coherence and keeps it from snapping in a hundred pieces and blowing away.
Magazine article 1951
No matter how gigantic his movies, he always looks as fresh, friendly and regular as a kid..on your block. You admire Kelly's easy singing, you are captivated by his magical dancing, but you love him for his simple naturalness, informality and pep.
Picturegoer 1951. Seal Of Merit
It represents what is possibly the highest standard of expert professionalism yet touched in Hollywood musicals… It’s dance routines by Gene Kelly establish him – if he needed to be established – as the dominant personality in his branch of filmdom…A stylish, imaginative, ultra-modern piece of work.
Picturegoer. December 22nd 1951
It is a Picturegoer Seal of Merit film, the first musical thus honoured; it is the best musical of the year; it is also one of the highspots of musical film-making, possibly even the most important highspot in the last decade... An American In Paris is the peak point in an experimental trend in musicals which began at MGM somewhere around Meet Me in St. Louis, developed with varying success, through The Pirate and Summer Holiday, and last year reached maturity in On The Town…
But it has virtues that On The Town did not have…
And for sheer, magnificent virtuosity, for décor and dance conceived entirely in terms of film, the screen has never seen anything of its kind to equal the American In Paris ballet – slick, modern and, I think above all else, very American. Both Hoffmann and The Red Shoes, of course, harked back to the classical in ballet and music…
The ballet in An American In Paris lifts the audience up and takes it right into the middle of it all so that you get the feeling of actually being a part of the whirling, exciting scene. A full fifteen or twenty minutes of enchantment.
Choreographer Kelly has done the film, picturegoers and MGM more than proud.
An American In Paris Pressbook
Gene Kelly recently proved himself Hollywood’s most economical star. For MGM’s new Technicolor musical An American in Paris, his entire clothes budget for the film totalled under 50 dollars. As the impoverished ex-GI in Paris, who would rather paint than eat, he wears slacks, T-shirts and a single sports jacket.
Tatler Magazine 1952
It has the originality, gaiety, melody and sentiment to rise from the ground, lifting high once more our hopes that in the musical film the cinema might yet achieve its counterpart to ballet and poetry.
New York Times. February 3rd 1952
Saul Steinberg, artist – his brief brush with Hollywood, where he went to ‘dub’ Gene Kelly’s drawing hand in An American In Paris, resulted in three days employment.
TV Radio Mirror. 1962
Leslie Caron: He’s thoroughly professional and idealistic, a perfectionist. We rehearsed one number every day for one month. He created at least five versions before he was satisfied.
John Cutts. Films & Filming 1964
It reunited Kelly with Vincente Minnelli, and their compatible talents met crash-on to produce a gay musical confection chock full of sublime moments….Crowning all of these bright spots, however, was the final ballet…a virtuoso piece of staging…what was communicated was an overwhelming sensation of exhilaration. One’s senses were set alight.
The Ledger. June 25th 1974
At the beginning of An American In Paris, Kelly-as-Mulligan is introduced as he sits up in bed in a tiny Paris flat… We meet him from the back, and Kelly pantomimes a high-reaching yawn with his arms and torso. From that moment we know we are in a musical, and we know that man is a dancer – someone who gets more from mere movement than the rest of us. One would like to think that such ageless images as that one hold true in ever-aging real life. Does Gene Kelly yawn just like that when he gets up in the morning?
“No, I do it differently.” He pauses. He has let you down. “Actually I did it this morning that way. I didn’t want to get up. I was up late watching television, realized I wasn’t sleepy, decided to read and read and read, and then all of a sudden it was 4 o’clock and yes, I yawned the way I did in An American In Paris.”
He knows how that has cheered you, and he flashes that…song-and-dance-man smile. No, the movies could never have lived without him.
Film Buff. February1976 Barbara Wolf. The Art Of Gene Kelly.
The stylistic premise of An American In Paris is, interestingly enough, almost the reverse of On The Town, reflecting both Minnelli’s different temperament and his similar awareness of the function of style. Instead of exuberantly stylised action before realistic settings, An American In Paris begins in a setting of idealized artifice a never-never land of sheer delight and wish-fulfilment. Minnelli’s back lot Paris, all scrubbed cobbles and quaint vistas, and Kelly’s starving-gladly-in-a-garret painter, all high hopes and breezy charm, suggest the ultimate in carefree liberation. Yet the sunny surface of the film is a veneer. Its underlying story tells of compromised lives and hopes, amid false promises of fulfilment, which find their culminating expression in the rich, haunting melancholy of the ballet. Kelly’s performance throughout is beautifully modulated, keeping the two moods of the film in careful balance, only gradually shifting the weight of the scales from lightness, through sporadic bursts of feeling, to the final intensity….Kelly’s dancing and choreography are absolutely equal to his theme, and the result is an almost unique achievement in the history of film, a great original ballet conceived entirely in cinematic terms. An American In Paris represents Kelly’s finest work as a choreographer and actor, just as Singin’ In The Rain…is his most durable achievement as director, comedian and popular dancer.
Leslie Caron. The Magic Factory. Knox
Onto the set came the sexily dressed female censor...Then I remember the whole performance that went on: Gene practically seducing her on the set and she being thrilled with all the attention…Everybody was sort of giggling in corners, and Gene was doing his whole number with her. It was very funny.
EastBay Express movies, Kelly Vance
An American in Paris — If one had to pick a screen persona that defined the Hollywood-style American man for all time, in all his brash, charming, idealistic, glib, muscular, overheated glory, it would have to be Gene Kelly in Vincente Minnelli's An American in Paris. If not then call it the finest musical ever made, and let it go at that.
Violet Glaze. Pop Matters A comparison of Gene and Bruce Lee
Standards of studio decency probably prevented Kelly from stripping to the waist like Lee did on the flimsiest of pretenses ... but the nude bodysuit Kelly wears in An American In Paris (1951) leaves nothing to the imagination. Dressed or not, Kelly had a sensual, blue-collar, unpretentious demeanor that took all the starch out of dance and made enjoying his films an acceptable enterprise for regular Joes.
Hirschorn, Hollywood Musicals 1981.
The superb ballet which climaxed An American In Paris was full of light and movement. Nothing of its kind from Hollywood had quite possessed its class, sense of style and chic…it was 18 minutes of screen magic unsurpassed in the boldness of its design and the dazzle of its execution.
Thomas G Aylesworth The History Of Movie Musicals 1984
Kelly’s first complete triumph was An American In Paris… The final ballet was, beyond question, a truly cinematic ballet…conceived and performed with taste and talent. It was the uncontested high point of the film.
Times Daily March 15th 1986
I remember seeing An American In Paris up in the Korean mountains on Christmas Day of ’51. We marines had a little Korean kid with us, an orphan named Chang, and we took him to the movies…Chang didn’t believe there was a Paris - only some clever movie tricks, with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dancing on bridges that never were.
Stephen Harvey, Directed by Vincente Minnelli. 1989
…As pre-production work accelerated in the spring and early summer of 1950, one crucial issue was still unresolved – whether An American In Paris would be shot entirely at Culver City, or become the first MGM picture filmed in la Ville Lumière. For authenticity’s sake, the director and star campaigned hard for the latter; Kelly cited the success of On The Town, due in no small part to its New York locations…Producing a musical so far from home posed a variety of logistical problems – as Preston Ames pointedly asked Kelly, “Have you ever danced on cobblestones?”…
Paradoxically, the decision to confine An American In Paris to the studio only liberated its creative team, at least as far as the climactic ballet was concerned. ..Had they been bound to the notion of dancing through a succession of Parisian parks and boulevards, the result might well have been déjà vu with a twist – a kind of On The Town in berets. Instead, the need to conjure up a dream Paris with lights and canvas prompted a far bolder leap of the imagination…Nothing would ever surpass the ballet for bright-hued, delirious abstraction. Both music and choreography are a joyful projection of the city’s essence as only an outsider’s senses could perceive it.
The Entertainers. Magazine. After 1976. Gene Kelly: Dancing Athlete. By Saul Chaplin.
Another of Gene's unsung talents is his ability to work with children. He can get them to do anything. He teraches them at their own level without ever being condescending. He has infinite patience...He genuinely loves children. In the "I Got Rhythm" number...the children were all represented as being French. Actually, most of them were American, but under Gene's tutelage they all became French. He taught the French children English, and the American children English with a French accent. They all adored both the game and their teacher.
Interview with Nina Foch: I hope you can talk about Gene Kelly, who not only acted with you in "An American in Paris," but also directed you. What was he like in those capacities, as far as you could gauge?
He was a man who changed the face of dance. And acting was not his thing, particularly. He was perfectly nice.
I’ve heard that you thought he was difficult at times …
No, I didn’t think he was difficult. Where’d you hear that?
Well, I just was reading previous interviews — not that you were the first person to say it — that indicated you thought he was very demanding …
No, he wasn’t demanding. He was — well, I don’t know, how would you say? He was a nice man. I don’t think he enjoyed acting too much.
He was more interested in the choreography and directing?
No. He wasn’t interested in directing then. He was a very serious, very important dancer in the world. He changed the face of dance by himself.
Vincente Minnelli, I Remember It Well.
Working with old ladies and children can be cloying, but Gene achieved just the right balance, maintaining the charm without stooping to sentimentality. His irrepressible personality can’t be upstaged and he’s one of the rare people who can get away with such cute touches.
Gene wouldn’t need much direction. It was a role he was born to play. In later years he joked about my words of instruction. “No, Gene”, I would say. “Make it jaunty”. Gene of course was born jaunty...
With so much dancing involved, the work of Gene and his assistants, Carol and Jeanne, was a vital part of the picture’s success.
The Disney Channel Magazine. March/April 1988
"The whole inspiration for the ballet was the canvases of the great Impressionist painters like Toulouse-Lautrec, Dufy, and Renoir. There really was never much of a story there. But there was emotion, the emotions of the young man’s feelings about his love for this French girl. It was a matching of emotion with the tones of these great painters’ canvases that gave the ballet its impact.”
Gene, Reflections TV interview 1994.
MGM agreed to shoot in Paris, but the council and the mayor wouldn’t allow it. MGM would never say they weren’t allowed to do anything, so they put out the publicity that we preferred to do it on the back lot because Kelly couldn’t dance on cobbles.
… Gene knew a little bit about music, a little about orchestration. He used to play the violin as a matter of fact, which nobody seems to know. To make sure he heard everything that was in the orchestra we had two pianos and percussion rehearsing with him…I put themes in different places because it had to build to the ballet the way Gene wanted it...
George Feltenstein. Original Soundtrack notes.
In a sequence subsequently deleted, a bewitched Jerry can’t help but express his euphoria over the lovely Lise with a rendition of ‘I’ve Got A Crush On You.’
The footage of the sequence no longer survives. It is indeed a shame, as Gene Kelly put a great deal of effort into this sequence where his character could only dance around his tiny flat. He often referred to this sequences in subsequent interviews as one that he regretted losing from the picture...
Both Minnelli and Kelly were particularly enamoured of Toulouse-Lautrec and developed an astoundingly impeccable re-creation of his famous rendering of Chocolat the jockey...
The affection held for An American In Paris by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was evident…. In the special recognition given Freed and Kelly….Freed was honoured with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. … Although he was nominated as Best Actor… in Anchors Aweigh.... the Academy felt a special award more appropriate for Gene Kelly in light of his enormous work on AAIP. He was given a special statue “specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.”
Oscars were also earned by Johnny Green & Saul Chaplin (Scoring of a Musical Picture); John Alton & Alfred Gilks (Cinematography); Walter Plunkett, Irene Sharaff & Orry Kelly (Costume design); Cedric Gibbons & Preston Ames (Art Direction); and Alan Jay Lerner (Story & Screenplay).
Review by June L. 2008
Watching Gene Kelly dance is one of the great pleasures of the movie musicals from the 1950’s. As the generation of children seeing these films on television we marveled at Mr. Kelly’s mastery of movement and style. We liked Fred Astair too, but Gene Kelly’s dancing was favored above all others.
And whether he was partnered with Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon, or Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ In the Rain, or Leslie Caron in An American in Paris, Mr. Kelly’s dancing was always an expression of the story, giving it much more depth and richness.
Leslie Caron. The Making of An American In Paris DVD 2008
Speaking of the dance on the quai.
We knew we were doing something lovely…but the water was becoming very stagnant – it smelled mouldy – but once the lights were on…and Gene was singing and we were dancing, then it was magic moments. It was very tender and a moment of great closeness.
Euan Rasey, trumpet player in the 'fountain dance'. Quoted on The Making of An American In Paris DVD 2008
I played it very straight the first time. Gene was the guy in control of the music and he said “No, make it sexy and sensuous”, so I played what I thought was sensuous and sexy, not burlesque, a sense of sexiness to it. That was my interpretation of being sexy. Gene was overjoyed, very happy, a wonderful guy. He came back and said “Thank you so much”, and kissed me on the cheek. Said that “You made the whole thing happen.”
...Gene was the final arbiter on most of the music. After we made a take he danced right in front of us…a wonderful performer and he respected us too.
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN 1952
All the more beautiful with drops of rain,
the bloom of your laughing smile
J W Hackett. Haiku poetry
Michael Coffey. The Irish In America. 1997
As Gene Kelly danced and sang obliviously in the rain, he became an indelible image of Hollywood itself.
Rob Marshall: It’s a perfect musical…It’s very funny,and every song comes out of the story…Also the casting’s perfect…There’s nothing so extraordinary as that number, Singin’ In The Rain….it’s completely organic, and I love that.
Mel Brooks: It’s heavenly. It’s the best damn musical ever made. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen did an incredible job directing that and Gene Kelly was just fabulous in it…
Music author Will Friedwald: It is not only the four most rapturous minutes in the history of the cinema, but…a glorious affirmation of everything it means to be alive.
Gene was not afraid of ridiculing himself. That is one of the wonderful qualities in Singin’ In The Rain.
He caught the spirit of the spoiled movie star and exploited it like mad. He loved every second of it, I know he did.
Toyah Wilcox, English actress.
It always plucks your heart strings.
Comden & Green:
He was fun to be with. During the filming of Singin’ In The Rain we’d gather in the MGM Commissary and laugh and scream, and yes even sometimes argue.
British Film Institute website.
Gene Kelly’s genius as a performer is there for all to see. What is less acknowledged is his innovative contribution as a director. Kelly binds the dance and musical elements into the narrative, and successfully combines two distinct traditions within American dance – tap and ballet.
Thomas G Aylesworth The History Of The Movie Musical
The picture went way over budget and it was worth every penny…the choreography was inspired. Each of the three great production numbers was staged differently, and their juxtaposition gives the picture its notable qualities of variety and lightness.
It was hot summer, we were under tarpaulins. Gene had a cold, the rain made it even worse, damper.
If you’re in a sauna and put water in, the steam makes you twice as hot, and that’s what it was like.
John Cutts. Films & Filming 1964. On the Rain Dance
Here was the very quintessence of Kelly. Irrepressible in the most forbidding of circumstances…
defying the elements and challenging pessimism with a song on his lips, a smile on his face, untold joy in his heart,
and magic in every waterlogged step…
Of all Kelly’s dances, this is his best. It is so compact, so self-contained.
A thing of beauty, lyric grace, joyous communication and overwhelming appeal.
Picture Show. October 20th 1951
Gene Kelly has at last realised an ambition – a holdover from childhood.
At long last he gets to wear a complete cowboy suit for a silent movie sequence in MGM’s Technicolor musical Singin’ In The Rain.
“As a child I always envied the gear of the movie cowboy,” he smiled. “Then, when I finally got into pictures, nothing could have been farther away than a cowboy role. But, at last I’ve made it.”
Picture Show. October 20th 1951
Here is one of the most original and enchanting musicals to come out of Hollywood. Brilliantly directed and danced, its slender story has a sincerity that is unusual and a charm that is irresistible, while the sumptuously staged, skilfully designed climax…reaches new heights in dazzling spectacle.
Picture Post. 16th April 1952
Sheer exuberance does it again. Singin’ In The Rain, Gene Kelly’s new musical, is better than his last, An American In Paris, nearly as good as On The Town, his masterpiece, and wittier than either. The opening scene of extravagant ballyhoo at a Hollywood premiere in the roaring ‘twenties is played with a light-hearted irony that sets the tone for the film. We are in on the joke as Hollywood laughs at its past…it is that rare thing – a picture with style.
Picture Show. May 3rd 1952
Brilliantly directed, lavishly set in the lush days of Hollywood…this is a feat of fun and color, dancing and high spirits, romance and cynicism, in which the fun poked at talkie teething troubles and feminine fashion never becomes malicious.
Dance and Dancers November 1952
…In Singin’ In The Rain, Kelly was not afraid to debunk the ‘twenties and the early days of Hollywood. One dance sequence with Cyd Charisse had some fine choreography worthy of any ballet company’s repertoire. In this film also Kelly was generous enough to give a young dancer, Donald O’Connor, one of the hit numbers and a big slice of film time. This generosity to other artists has been a noticeable feature of all his work.
Entertainment World. March 6th 1970
Harry Clein. Is There a Future for the Hollywood Musical?
Gene: “People who see Singin’ In The Rain today say, ‘My God, look at that camp.’ But in those days, the guy sitting in the theatre didn’t understand it…Being young ourselves then, we had our laugh at the older generation.”
John Springer. All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing. 1971
Everything about Singin’ In The Rain worked just a little better than it did in any movie musical before or since.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. July 1st 1974
When he talks of Singin’ In The Rain, even the modest singer-dancer-choreographer-director-civil-libertarian himself exudes just a touch of self-esteem.
“It’s weathered so well with the years. I think that’s mostly because it’s a period piece…That movie rings with truth, about the panic in Hollywood when talking pictures came in. I don’t think people got to see it now because of the nostalgia thing. Most of them don’t know anything about that time.
Gene. Michael Parkinson Interview 1975.
The idea was to be so much in love and so ecstatic and joyous that you reverted to childhood and splashed about. You know all kids do that. Film Buff. February 1976. Barbara Wolf. The Art Of Gene Kelly.
Directed by Kelly and Donen, Singin’ In The Rain is practically a retrospective of their individual and joint accomplishments to that time. Their technique, as vehicle for the comedy and dance, had achieved perfection….Kelly’s dancing almost surpasses his work in An American In Paris, making up in variety for what it loses in passion…He moves in and out of half a dozen styles…Given such opportunities, Kelly transcends all his previous comedic performances: yet in his capacity as director, he makes his cast look so good that the film is more an ensemble piece than a star vehicle. Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Douglas Fowley did the best work of their careers, while Jean Hagen was encouraged to all but steal the film from the lot of them.
The Best of MGM. The Golden Years. 1928-1959. James Robert Parish and Gregory Monk.
“I’ve made a lot of films that were bigger hits and made lots more money, but now they look dated. But this one, out of all my pictures, has a chance to last.” So spoke Gene in 1977. “The picture was made with love. We weren’t putting down Hollywood. And everything in it is true. It all really happened when movies went into sound.”
American Film 1979. Gene:
Shooting the title number …was just terrible for the photographer, Hal Rossen. He had to backlight all the rain, and then he had to put front light on the performer. Luckily there was only me…That was as tough a job as I’ve ever seen, because you can’t photograph in rain and see it.
The first Guardian Lecture. British Film Institute, London May 20th 1980.
From Talking Film, Ed. Andrew Britton. A Guardian book. 1991. Interview with John Russell Taylor
Freed…wanted the song in the film very much but didn’t know how to put it in. Neither did Comden and Green. He said “Gene, what will you do with this?” I said, “Arthur, it’s gonna be raining and I’m gonna be singing. “
I said, to go out and sing in the rain without looking like an idiot, one must have quite an impulse. I said “Love”. I fall in love. So when I am singing I am in love with the young lady…I go out on the street and act like an idiot. I revert to what we all did as children…The dance is not a difficult dance…has to be played more than it is danced. That was rather hard to do, the lighting of the rain and the backlighting was never done before in that big an area…that problem was solved by cinematographer Harold Rossen. Without him we couldn’t have done that number. So the technicians had a much more difficult time than I did. I think I composed the number in three days...
There was a very elaborate fantasy sequence…I experimented with aeroplane motors and yards and yards of light material…I had to lift Cyd up and at the same time wrap the veil around me…It took all my strength to do it because the force from the motors was tremendous. My stomach muscles were tightening, my arms were like steel bands. It was like lifting this room. Of course you can’t let that be seen on screen.
Hirschorn Hollywood Musicals 1981
The number “An irrepressible ode to optimism” as it has been described by Comden & Green, was the apotheosis of his art, and the climax of an adventurous career...
...The Crazy veil dance...was Kelly at his most lyrical, and a high spot in a film crowded with them.
Rudy Behlmer Behind The Scenes. 1982
Donald O’Connor: Everything about it was top notch…Stanley and Gene did not put on blinkers here, they were open to suggestions from everybody in every department.
Entertainment Weekly. Jan. 1992
Kelly’s apotheosis came when he sang Singin’ In The Rain…High-voiced and easy, alone in the patently fake downpour of a studio set, Kelly revelled in the plastic bliss of a world where one can breathe out one’s longings in song and dance.
People magazine June 1992 Puddle Jumper
Take one ordinary black umbrella, a lamppost, a street full of inviting puddles and a patently fake studio downpour. Sprinkle with a lilting tune sung and danced by a guy who manages that rare combination of athletic grace and roguish appeal. The result is the most famous song and dance in movie history…
Sitting on a paisley sofa in his white-shingled Beverley Hills house and nursing a stiff leg incurred during his hoofing days, Kelly…affectionately recalls its genesis. “I wanted to bring audiences back to their childhoods, when they would cavort in the rain even though their mothers would give them hell. I also wanted to make them feel like they were in love. A fellow in love does silly things.”
Peter Wollens. 'Singing In The Rain' 1992
By pushing the art of dance onto the terrain of film, Gene also took the art of cinema with him to new heights.
Jeff Laffel. 1992. Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Adolph Green: "…Sure the finished script was good, but it was Gene and Stanley, the light touch that Gene and Stanley gave to it, that added so very much. Remember the Broadway Rhythm section where the hoofer goes from vaudeville to the Palace to the Ziegfeld Follies…and the costumes and arrangements are getting classier and classier though they are singing the same lyric? That was Gene and Stanley. They were so damned creative on that picture. They did a job of directing that I don’t think anyone else could have done. They took a line and threw it away instead of lingering on it. It was so light, so free…
"It was not unusual for Gene or Stanley…to call us in New York and tell us about certain scenes they wanted changed and new scenes to be written."
Gene, People magazine Feb. 1996, from 1992 interview:
I just dance in the water. Any good dancer could do that. Doing the dancing, that’s work, creating is a joy.
Gene. TV interview 1994. On the Rain Dance:
The most difficult thing was to dub the taps. I had people wearing different kinds of shoes, trying to dub the sound like it was real, I ended up dubbing it with the old metal taps against squishy sounds by a terrific sound man named Bill Sarocena – he should get a lot of credit.
The Irish In America. Edited by Michael Coffey. 1997
"Gene Kelly was elegance and panache. That [he was]
Irish mattered little. The very notion of Irishness,
abetted by the silver screen's larger-than-life
image-making, had expanded at last beyond its
traditional stereotypes. As Gene Kelly danced and sang
obliviously in the rain, he became an indelible image
of Hollywood itself. "
50th Anniversary screening, Ann Arbor, Michigan 2002
Singin' in the Rain" has become the quintessential musical, in part because of its technical brilliance but mostly because of the charisma and magnetism of Gene Kelly. Kelly, with his athletic and versatile dancing and his compelling on-screen persona, has become one of the icons of dance. Kelly was a dancer who was able to successfully combine masculinity with his art...Although there are moments in the film that defy reality and tumble into the realm of Hollywood musicals, where people can burst into song with no warning, there is never a scene in the film that you wish was not included. This is partly due to Gene's dynamic presence on-screen, his bright, slightly crooked smile and his fun-filled, acrobatic dance style.
Donald O'Connor. 'What A Glorious Feeling' DVD
He tried to incorporate a lot of my personality outside his own, and then he got himself in there as Kelly. I think that's the great director that he is.
Kathleen Freeman. 'What A Glorious Feeling' Documentary, SITR 2 disc Special Edition DVD. On watching the filming of the rain dance.
The dance that he does is not even about dance, it's about love. And he was magical. You can still see that after all these years, and still get the same elation, the same excitement
Kathleen Freeman. On Moses Supposes: They each do things in the dance that accommodate the other one's style. That's the height of respect.
Letter to the Editor, New York Times. 1st December 2002
To The Editor:
Re “After 50 years, It’s Still a Glorious Feeling” by Wendy Wasserstein. (Nov. 3)
Singin’ In The Rain opened at Radio City Music Hall 50 years ago. I vividly remember the reaction at the showing I attended. The response was very much as Ms Wasserstein suggested: ecstatic applause followed every single musical number – just as if the movie were a live musical on a Broadway stage.
Harold B. Crawford, Matawan, N.J.
Empire. January 2003. Ian Freer
…There is an enticing purity in Kelly’s philosophy, a simplicity that courses through Singin’ In The Rain…the musical is an ode to joy…
As well as its storytelling sophistication, Singin’ in the Rain also appears ageless through its sky-high level of film literacy. Boasting more film references that a Quentin Tarantino scrapbook, Rain is chocker with Hollywood skits and spoofs (the opening premiere is a riff on Show Girls Of Hollywood, and that’s just for starters), mounted with love and affection. With its network of allusion and pastiche, Singin’ In The Rain is a postmodernist film before postmodernism was invented…
Most likely to love it?
French auteurs Francois Truffaut and Alain Resnais, who both cited it as a favourite film; Madonna, who consulted with Kelly for a Singin’ homage on her 1993 world tour; Morecambe and Wise, whose parody of the title song became their finest hour..
What to say?
“It’s a conglomeration of movie lore.” (Gene Kelly.)
What not to say?
“So, Jean Kelly is a bloke and Sid Charisse a girl…?”
Clipping. Source unknown. Possibly Empire. January 2003
If you’re not bouncing like a two-year-old on uppers after watching Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s gleeful, primary-coloured masterpiece you might want to consider taking up Satanism. Kelly’s never been better than
Magazine (title unknown) list of best film performances. November 2002
There is the wonderful comedy of Kelly’s acting in Stanley Donen’s candied backstage musical – the sun-browned vanity he brings to his turn as a silent film-star. Then there is the cosmic wonder of his dancing; those muscular escapes, that uplifting splash through a downpour.
Timesonline October 2003
Few would have guessed from his on-screen performance of the trepidation felt by Donald O’Connor (obituary, September 29) before filming began on the 1952 MGM classic, Singin’ in the Rain, fearing that he might be out of step with the great Gene Kelly. As a self-taught hoofer, O’Connor recalled that, in his early days, the choreographer had always had his work cut out, even at times claiming that he was unteachable because he didn’t move conventionally because of his “deformities”. Donald found he was the reverse of most dancers, who automatically turn to the right in a number — he turned to the left, as that was the way his weight pushed him when beginning a new dance step. Later, he found that both he and Kelly shared the same problem. “That’s why we looked so good together in that film,” he believed.
"I went to see Gene to discuss our mutual ‘deformities’, and he reassured me he always turned to the left, too. I had nightmares the night before that our two dance styles would clash and we wouldn’t look compatible, but I needn’t have worried as everything went just fine between us.”
Empire. April 2005
A great showcase for Kelly’s ability to move from delicate dance subtleties to muscular gymnastics, it is five minutes and ten shots that inspired Morecambe and Wise, A Clockwork Orange and any crowd caught in a storm.
New Yorker 2006. Leslie Caron: “I remember when Betty Comden and Adolph Green were trying to write the movie,” Caron said. “We were friends, and we would all go to Gene Kelly’s house on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. And they said, ‘Oh, we’re sweating, we’re so hot. How will we finish this script?’ And they complained about ‘that goddam song’!”
Sir Alan Parker. Film director. 100 Greatest Musicals. British TV 2006
For a filmmaker, just looking at Singin' In The Rain, the sheer precision and expertise that goes into it, and that kind of classic Hollywood film was at its best.
Michael York. 100 Greatest Musicals. British TV 2006
He had the 'flu apparently, he was under the weather. Can you imagine that? But being a trouper he did it and he did it superlatively.
Marti Pellow. British singing star. 100 Greatest Musicals. TV 2006
Gene Kelly for me, not only did he look good, could carry a tune, and Singin' In The Rain, I mean, is forever.
Cliff Richard. 100 Greatest Musicals TV 2006
It comes on and you've got to see it, I don't care how young or hip you are.
Michael Ball. English Musical Theatre and recording star. '100 Greatest Films' TV 2006.
Great looking, brilliant, innovative choreography, done with a wry sense of humour. It was lovely. However you feel at the beginning, you come away with your spirit lifted. Gene Kelly was incredible. You can't fail to watch that film and have a smile on your face at the end. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
Daily Mail Weekend magazine. 2013
Film and theatre director Richard Eyre
The film I watch time and time again is Singin’ In The Rain. It never ceases to make me happy.
INVITATION TO THE DANCE 1954
Gene, article in Girls Book Of Ballet. Ed. By AH Franks 1953 (At least 6 editions of this book were published.)
When someone asked me…why I had taken up a film career...the reply was “To make Invitation To The Dance”…It was a dream of mine almost since the first day I ever went to a cinema...
The time came when I dared put up my suggestion of an all dance picture…the suggestion almost resulted in a psychiatrist being called…to examine me…. M.G.M. was not a benevolent institution for the benefit of actors with hair-brained ideas…Now would I be a good little actor and please go away and make pictures which would earn a lot of money.
I was prepared to fight. I had the most important of assets to help me – sheer unadulterated enthusiasm…Eventually came the most exciting day of my whole film career, perhaps of my life. M.G.M. agreed to let me go ahead with my crazy scheme...
The third episode “The Popular Songs” introduces eleven of the most popular songs of the past decade…including Sophisticated Lady and Just One Of Those Things. My own solo is Sunny Side Of The Street. In St. Louis Blues one of the backroom girls, our choreographer (Carol Haney) gets one of those rare opportunities to step to the front and be seen.
Now I should like to start it all over again, just to convince myself that we could have made a far better job of it.
Motion Picture magazine 1952.
In France for the initial stages of Invitation To The Dance
While Gene auditioned from morning to night, Betsy, in the midst of the crowded tourist season, searched for a house. She found it in an old reconverted mill in a village outside Paris…The housekeeper and a gardener with a bicycle went with the house…Together they caught an early train to Paris each morning…Kerry went to her French school, Betsy to the Berlitz School of Languages for a day’s wrestle with French, and Gene to a rented rehearsal hall to work on the choreography for the film.
“The thinking part of his work had begun,” Betsy said, and often quite alone in the hall for days at a time, Gene thought and tried out routines…
The ‘thinking’ part of his work over and the main dancers chosen, the Kellys took off for London where the picture was to be filmed.
Deseret News. July 22nd 1952
The French studio situation is hopeless so Gene Kelly’s Invitation To The Dance will be danced in London. And all dancers double for Brigadoon which is simply bursting with ballet.
The complete originals of the following excerpts from letters and notes are in the Gotlieb Archives in Boston. They give a great insight into all the planning and preparation which goes into the production of a film:
Letter from Richards & Marks, Theatrical Agents, London. To Gene at the Savoy. 23/7/52
Gene had asked about jugglers and unusual types of artiste – they recommended Percy Rich, Juggler, and 12-year-old Douglas Chapman, skater, actor, dancer.
Letter from Gene to Stanley Bult Circus Fans Association of Great Britain
26 Canning Rd
Saying he will be in London shortly to make a film about circus clowns, asking for access to their research library. He would get to London in the next week or so.
Letter from studio manager to the Ministry of Labour, Foreign Labour Division.
Saying Gene wanted to use Hassan Ben Ali Moroccan troupe for four or five weeks. But red tape meant they could not get permits until after he needed them. [Typical British bureaucracy!]
Gene: from handwritten production notes.
Don't forget to ask Johnny Green about the bells. Can we get them in London or must we start looking for them now in Paris?
Circus Day Sequence:
Main: Clown, wire walker, equestrienne, 8 clowns
Bits: Fat man, toy seller, bird seller, man with costume, wire walker, capitan, 9 acrobats
Extras: 40 men, 40 women, 15 children, background
15 men, 15 women dancers
To include 15 special girls
Production schedule for Circus:
Rehearsal days, July 10-August 25. music recording starts August 11.
25 new costumes, 25 new for crowd, 100 rentals.
Shooting starts August 18 for 6 days.
150 extras for 1 day and 100 on 2nd day.
Memo from Leila Simone. 16/7/52
re music and orchestra. Ibert has 17 days to finish the complete score. Rehearsals from August 7 – shoot August 18
Royal Philarmonic has to be booked for definite or they will lose them.
“John and I would both love to get 10 minutes of your time to discuss all this with you.”
Letter to Circus & Variety Agency. Charing Cross Rd. London. 7/8/52
Gene wants to use Moises Fereira for 3 weeks at £200 a week, as long as he can do a back somersault on a tight wire.
Fereira had not replied by 15/8 so they had to engage a different tightrope walker.
Ring Around The Rosy
Rehearsals 26/8- 15/9
Costumes 16 principals, 90 extras.
New York Times. September 14th 1952 Stephen Watts. London ...The star director takes up a cheerful, non-apologetic, non-aggressively defensive attitude about his film. “It is strictly experimental,” he says very early on in our conversation on the subject. “We know that. I'm going out on a limb with this one – I know that too. But I firmly believe people are going to like it. Already we have done things with dancing in films which would never have been accepted ten years ago. Now it's time to try to go a bit further. But we must go slowly.” This is not the full length ballet picture Kelly wants to make one day. He is moving by stages towards it, he hopes. But he is no arty iconoclast; he means to be commercial, in so far as he wants the public to like what he gives them and to want more... Invitation To The Dance has involved a lot of work spread over a long period... since...the beginning of the year Kelly has been looking for dancers; he looked at them in Munich, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Copenhagen and London. Then, commuting between Paris and London he conferred with Freed, with scenic artists, musicians, and especially with his assistants, committing to their memories, visual imaginations and notebooks as much as possible of what he was getting at. He rented a house near Chartres and for some weeks worked physically on routines until he and his two special girl assistants knew every move by heart... In spite of the pressure, Kellly contrives to remain even-tempered, quick with a friendly smile or a gag, and indestructibly polite... Kelly has had to devise his own working methods. To the sidelines spectator they appear to be wearingly intensive, pleasantly informal and highly efficient.
New York Times. September 14th 1952
Stephen Watts. London
...The star director takes up a cheerful, non-apologetic, non-aggressively defensive attitude about his film. “It is strictly experimental,” he says very early on in our conversation on the subject. “We know that. I'm going out on a limb with this one – I know that too. But I firmly believe people are going to like it. Already we have done things with dancing in films which would never have been accepted ten years ago. Now it's time to try to go a bit further. But we must go slowly.”
This is not the full length ballet picture Kelly wants to make one day. He is moving by stages towards it, he hopes. But he is no arty iconoclast; he means to be commercial, in so far as he wants the public to like what he gives them and to want more...
Invitation To The Dance has involved a lot of work spread over a long period... since...the beginning of the year Kelly has been looking for dancers; he looked at them in Munich, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Copenhagen and London. Then, commuting between Paris and London he conferred with Freed, with scenic artists, musicians, and especially with his assistants, committing to their memories, visual imaginations and notebooks as much as possible of what he was getting at. He rented a house near Chartres and for some weeks worked physically on routines until he and his two special girl assistants knew every move by heart...
In spite of the pressure, Kellly contrives to remain even-tempered, quick with a friendly smile or a gag, and indestructibly polite...
Kelly has had to devise his own working methods. To the sidelines spectator they appear to be wearingly intensive, pleasantly informal and highly efficient.
Cable from Arthur Freed to Gene, October 1952:
We have cleared Ring Around The Rosy so be happy. Do not give any publicity connecting it with La Ronde.
Picturegoer. October 11th 1952
Hugh Samson. My,This Kelly’s Keen
“Ya-ya-ya-ya!” shouted Gene Kelly at MGM’s Elstree studios. “Let’s try it with the playback music. Everyone in a straight line.”
And into action with the corps de ballet went the slim, lissom Kelly, for a scene in the all-speechless, all-dancing, all-experimental Invitation To The Dance.
This is a four-episode film. It’s in Technicolor. It’s expensive. It’s gay and colourful. And it’s nearly all Kelly.
Kelly is directing. He’s starring. He’s arranging the choreography. He’s bossed the casting, too.
This is the picture he planned to make two years ago. He decided to film it at Elstree because he could draw on top-line ballet talent from the Continent. ..
Kelly…is known as a hard-worker in the studios. I watched him at Elstree and can confirm that.
In clown’s rig and painted face, he just kept moving on the colourful Italian village set.
One moment he was behind the camera. Peering through the viewfinder. The next, he was dodging out to line up with the corps de ballet for a furiously fast dance number.
Then, when there was no shooting, he was getting fifty extras ready for the next take.
He perspired. He took sips of water from the glass proffered by an assistant. He went into consultation with his blue-jeaned chief choreographer Carol Haney. He worked out camera moves with the technicians.
Then Kelly glanced our way and said; “Ah, I spy strangers.”
He came over, shook hands and obviously had plenty to talk about.
“But I’m pretty tied up right now. I’ll be seeing you over the lunch table, anyway.”
Everything about this picture is unusual…The film has no script, only synopses. Kelly’s system is to spend three to five weeks in rehearsals on the sound stages. Then he moves onto the sets and takes about a fortnight to complete the shooting.
He was getting near the finish of the Circus ballet when I looked in, and already his mind was working out the next sequence.
Kelly was nearly twenty minutes late for lunch. “Sorry,” he panted. “I had to see yesterday’s rushes. There’s so much to work out.”
He squeezed lemon juice over fried plaice, and beads of perspiration crept through his clown’s make-up. “Sorry,” he apologized again. “No time to take it off.
“It’s all work – sixteen hours a day. I get Saturday off – I don’t think I want to direct another picture; not unless it’s something very special.”
Clearly, Invitation To The Dance is something very special so far as Gene Kelly himself is concerned.
“It’s an experiment,” he agreed. “but the most interesting experiment I’ve ever tackled.” He paused to drink – he’d reached the coffee stage in five minutes flat – and added: “It’s good for me. I don’t know what the others in the picture feel about it. I think it’ll be a success. Financially, too.”
He glanced at the clock and rose. “Must get on now,” he said. “There’s a lot to do.”
The keenness of the man is infectious. I found myself racing through lunch, almost as eager as Kelly to get back to the set.
“Come on boys,” he called out. “Let’s go through that last routine.”
“Ya-ya-ya-ya!” he shouted again, stamping foot on floor to get the tempo. “Make it a take this time, boys.”
What a man! Chasing from camera to set, weaving in and out of the extras, conferring with technicians, shouting for “red light” – he went flat out on his experiment.
Dance and Dancers November 1952
“I love dancers,” he says. Dancers love him also because most of the dancers in London have been assured of their bread and butter in the past few months. Their daily trek to Boreham Wood studios of MGM has rewarded them well…they will all be in the Kelly film…When the film is finally released it may have a profound influence on the future relationship between the dance and the cinema.
In spite of all the talent…it will virtually remain a one-man show. Kelly is everywhere – planning, writing the stories, building up the choreography, rehearsing his own roles, rehearsing everyone else’s. Choosing costumes and colours, designing some of the costumes himself. Dancing, then rushing to work with the camera-man. All this, as well as dealing with the innumerable problems which crop up the whole time.
Modern Screen December 1952
American In London
This ‘hoofer’s dream’ as he calls it, is a really fantastic project. It will be a Technicolored spectacle consisting of four ballet stories danced to four totally different musical moods. The plans have been two years and three continents in the dreaming. Film is rolling through the cameras, but the entire picture is not even yet planned. Kelly claims he is still working ‘off the cuff.’ In fact, impressed but incredulous visitors to the set report, “He is actually making it up as he goes along!”
Far from being haphazard or careless, this daily improvisation is carefully maintained to keep to the spirit of the project.. It is an exciting new idea. There will be no dialogue…no continuation of story. Each narrative ballet follows a rough plot outline, but the actual performance is dictated only by great dancers’ response to great musical inspiration…
Completely honest with himself, Gene Kelly knows that a movie of nothing but ballet is a tremendous gamble. Many of his gravest doubts were erased, however, the day he received a special Oscar for An American In Paris…
Although the famous Kelly feet will star in only the ‘Clown’ and ‘Modern’ dances (he may do a ‘bit’ in the jewel sequence), Invitation is really his baby. His heart and imagination will be in every downbeat, in every gesture. He is acting, directing, dancing, choreographing and inspiring every foot of film.
Naturally, this kind of hard work means that Gene is not overly eager for gaiety and nightlife after studio hours. Much as he loves people, he has no time for parties. He just wants to go home, relax, maybe dream up some new ideas.
Motion Picture & Television January 1953
One has only to watch Gene in action to realise there will be no hasty rushing of work. Hour upon hour is spent with his art director or assistants, while the great star Yousekevitch waits. His will be the first scenes finished as he is scheduled for a tour in the United States.
Rehearsals consist of perhaps eight bars of music on a studio piano, a few steps to the music, a pause for more consultation and the same bars and steps over and over, with Gene always in command. There is no riding on past glory. Invitation To The Dance is a brand new innovation in movie making – four separate ballets – with no story theme or dialogue.
Screenland January 1953
Kelly’s working like a dog on his present movie, Invitation To The Dance. It’s a terrific chore to direct and dance in a movie. This is his first full directorial responsibility, and he’s really the writer too. Because there’s no story and it’s all dance, he conceives it from day to day, as he goes along.
He pointed with a grimace to his head when I asked him about the script for a wordless movie. “It’s all in there,” he explained, “and I work from day to day. Every night I go home and rotate my scalp like this (he massaged it for a second), hoping there’ll be enough there to shoot on the set the next day.
“It’s an awful strain,” he confided, “directing the picture as well as dancing in it. It means no parties, no shows – I haven’t had a chance to read a book in weeks. There’s a constant strain. It isn’t as if I had to do this,” he added with his engaging lop-sided grin.
New York Herald Tribune. March 22nd 1953
In his latest movie he's everything from the piano player to scenery painter.
Cue. 2nd May 1953. Joe Hyams
…When we talked with Kelly over the trans-Atlantic phone recently, he was in London at the Savoy Hotel, putting finishing touches on Invitation to the Dance which he had spent almost a year in making…
His gravelly voice had an edge of excitement.
How is the picture coming, we asked.
“It’s almost through, and it’s the most wonderful thing yet…I hope – mind you, I said hope – that the people who see it will think it is as wonderful as we who made it.”
Why did you feel it necessary to do the picture in Europe?
“We couldn’t have made it in America. For one thing, if it had been done in Hollywood, it would have been done in an entirely different way. Instead of my being the only movie star, there would have been others, because the studio would have felt it needed more box office assurance, in view of the money it cost.
“also, we are working with frozen funds, which makes it possible to be experimental. We are able to use a lot of talented people not known to motion picture audiences….
“This is the type of film which I feel will definitely increase the prestige of American films in Europe and add immeasurably to our foreign market for pictures. I hope to make the Europeans believe we are aspiring artistically, so they will have a greater respect for the fine things we are attempting in our studios at home.”
Magazine article 1953 Inspiration For Dancing, by Helen Gould
It takes courage to dance off the beaten path, as Kelly does, but the studio realises that his talent can create something new for motion pictures. So they told Gene to go ahead with Invitation To The Dance. He admits that he “wrote the story, acted in it, directed the choreography – and swept the floor.” It was a one-man project, but he realised the picture would have to be done with only ballet artists. So, for three months he toured Europe, searching for a cast. Kelly held auditions in Paris, Belgium, Denmark, Milan and London.
He found such people as Claire Sombert, whom he describes as “an absolute Montmartre gamin, but a dream on film.”…Then he added such talent as Tamara Toumanova, the only free-lance ballerina who doesn’t belong to a company, and the highest paid dancer. He persuaded Belita and Igor Youskevitch to come from America…
For a clown sequence, Gene learned to walk a tight-rope. He would do his own role in front of the camera, then, still in clown suit and make up, wind up behind the camera directing the rest of the scenes.
Eugene Register Guard. December 25th 1953
…The gossips have printed that MGM was concerned about Invitation To The Dance, fearing that it might have a limited audience. Gene Spiked such reports. “Some people say the picture will appeal only to ballet lovers. I say that’s a lot of nonsense. I think it will have great popular appeal. Anybody who likes to see dancing should go for it…I’ve always held that you shouldn’t underestimate the intelligence of the movie audience…I remember how everybody said we were nuts to put that big ballet number in An American In Paris…I started to get cold feet, I began to think what would happen if it really flopped.” So he settled for a movie of three different sequences. One of them is stark drama and caused a rumpus with the censors. “It’s quite a strong bill of goods. In one of the scenes I’m walking down the street and a prostitute comes up to me. The censors got real up in arms about it. That’s something I can’t understand. I don’t see why we can’t have two seals in this country. That’s the way they do it in Europe and they get better pictures for adults…I don’t believe in letting children see things that aren’t good for them. There are certain pictures I wouldn’t let my daughter see. It’s ok to show scenes of murder and guys getting beaten to a pulp. The censors approve that, but they worry about how close the girl stands to me in the street scene.”
Movie Pix. February 1954
His all-dance, all-music Invitation To The Dance is a startling innovation in film technique…
Picturegoer. July 17th 1954
Anybody Here Seen Kelly?
Paging Gene Kelly. Quite a number of dancers in several different countries, would like to have a chat with the star who came over to England a couple of years ago to make Invitation To The Dance.
They’d like to know what has happened to the picture. So would a mighty lot of picturegoers.
After nearly two months of rehearsal, the picture went into production at MGM’s Elstree Studios in August 1952…
Now, Invitation has disappeared. There’s no news of its showing. At Elstree they will tell you, stoutly: “Not to worry, you’ll see it. But we don’t know when.”
And so far as MGM is concerned…It has been dropped from the list of past, present and future productions of the company…
When I met Gene Kelly on his arrival over here, he told me: “This film has been a dream of mine almost since the first day I went to a cinema….There has never been a picture devoted entirely to dancing…simply using the screen as a medium to express new dance ideas.”…
Once on the floor, the film caused quite a bit of comment. No one knew from day to day what Kelly had in mind. Then all they would get would be a few squiggles he’d worked out on paper.
One reason for the delay in completing the picture was that Kelly could not get the cartoon sequences done in this country. And he had another film, Seagulls Over Sorrento, to make here.
Back in Hollywood, they had to wait until his return and quite apart from the fact that cartoons take time, Kelly had to fit in this work with other filming…
Those who have seen any of it agree that it hits a new high in film ballet. It’s a lush and lovely production…
Meanwhile, the gossips are busy. Some say that the film will be kept in cold storage and snippets of it used for individual dance sequences in other pictures.
But I don’t think we’ve heard the end of the story yet. Gene Kelly is a fighter. He had to fight to get it produced and I don’t think he will let his lifelong ambition be shelved.
Hollywood Album 1954. Gene:
From a date late in 1951…until the time of this writing (1954)…I have been absorbed off and on with a film project that, if nothing more is to be said for it, will present the most dancing ever seen in one picture. Naturally I am hopeful the public and the critics will find considerably more to say on its behalf. …I’ll admit I was the most surprised hoofer in the business when MGM told me to go ahead. I’ll also admit I promptly got cold feet. …It was our producer, Arthur Freed, who came up with an appropriate title, Invitation To The Dance….
Whenever it is mentioned, questioning stares seem to be turned my way. The looks seem to say “All dancing? No dialogue? Do you think that’s commercial? You must have rocks in your head!” I think the answer is probably yes to all of those unspoken utterances, including the one about the rocks….
Personally, I feel the picture represents my own finest work. I can only hope now that the public will agree.
Daily Mirror May 23rd 1955
The modern sequence is the most daring love-play I have ever attempted but I think I have handled it with sufficient discretion to satisfy the studio, the public and the censor.
Gene, June 1955, Press conference London:
“I’ll be frank. Invitation To The Dance is still in the oven. It must be well-cooked and well-done before it can be served”.
Gene: From booklet accompanying the cinema release:
On and off during the past three years and several months – four other pictures have taken their share of time I have been absorbed in a film project that, if nothing more were to be said for it, presents the most dancing ever seen in one picture. Naturally, I am hopeful the public, and the critics, will find considerably more to say for it….
It was late in 1951, shortly after we finished An American In Paris, that I became obsessed with the idea of a motion picture telling its story completely in dance, without a spoken word. I’ll admit I was the most surprised hoofer in the business when MGM told me to go ahead. I’ll also admit I promptly got cold feet. The result was a compromise. Instead of one story, I decided on three of approximately half an hour’s duration each, put together to make one full-length feature…
Now that our project is being shown to the public, I have taken typewriter in hand, primarily because I feel an urge to answer those stares turned my way whenever this long-lasting project has been mentioned. The looks that say, “All dancing? No dialogue? Do you think that’s commercial? You must have rocks in your head!” I think the answer is probably yes to all of these unspoken utterances, including the one about the rocks.
Regarding the picture being commercial, yes, I definitely feel it is. Dancing certainly is an established and commercial form of entertainment, whether it is ballroom, ballet, or what-have-you….Isn’t novelty itself commercial these days?…Personally I believe the picture represents my own finest work. I can only hope now that the public will agree.
Invitation had its world premiere in Zurich.
Schweitzer Rodes-Zeitung April 1st 1956
Where is the Diaghilev of motion pictures? Today it can be said. Maybe he has been found in Gene Kelly...Invitation To The Dance stands as one of the few extraordinary motion pictures America has created these last few years.
Film & Radio. 7th April 1956
Film & Radio. 7th April 1956
An excellent dance picture. A risky undertaking but a successful one...A valuable and interesting picture.
Die Tat. April 9th 1956 Almost running, Gene Kelly arrived at the Press reception at the Eden au Lac Hotel. His plane from Paris had been delayed... It is pleasant and enjoyable to chat with Gene Kelly. He answers all questions fully and frankly... The title stems from Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation To The Dance. Parts from it are heard in the background of the picture's main title. Neue Zűrche Zeitung. 9th April 1956 MGM chose Zurich for the World Premiere of this important and unusual dance picture...The spontaneous applause which over and over again, sounded into the dance sequences showed how precisely our public has recognised the cinematic and dancing creative intentions and accomplishments of Gene Kelly. With this picture, Gene Kelly has come closer to his artistic target – the 'film pure' of the Dance. 11th April 1956 Opened in the presence of Gene Kelly...a climax of the dance picture...Invitation To The Dance will be referred to as a turning point...no single sequence could be presented...on the stage...This picture has wit...close to being the absolute picture of the Dance... Invitation To The Dance is an enchanting work, highly satisfying technically as well as artistically. It will delight not only lovers of tha Dance but also film enthusiasts.
Die Tat. April 9th 1956
Almost running, Gene Kelly arrived at the Press reception at the Eden au Lac Hotel. His plane from Paris had been delayed...
It is pleasant and enjoyable to chat with Gene Kelly. He answers all questions fully and frankly...
The title stems from Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation To The Dance. Parts from it are heard in the background of the picture's main title.
Neue Zűrche Zeitung. 9th April 1956
MGM chose Zurich for the World Premiere of this important and unusual dance picture...The spontaneous applause which over and over again, sounded into the dance sequences showed how precisely our public has recognised the cinematic and dancing creative intentions and accomplishments of Gene Kelly. With this picture, Gene Kelly has come closer to his artistic target – the 'film pure' of the Dance.
11th April 1956
Opened in the presence of Gene Kelly...a climax of the dance picture...Invitation To The Dance will be referred to as a turning point...no single sequence could be presented...on the stage...This picture has wit...close to being the absolute picture of the Dance...
Invitation To The Dance is an enchanting work, highly satisfying technically as well as artistically. It will delight not only lovers of tha Dance but also film enthusiasts.
Die Welt Wocke. April 13th 1956
Zurich can be legitimately proud: The dancer Gene Kelly came here from Paris by air, especially to assist personally to the World Premiere of his new picture.
Schweizer Familien Wechenblatt.
21st April 1956
This fascinating dance picture, apart from the fact that it is brilliant entertainment for everybody is for the film expert one of the most important creations in the history of motion pictures...
Gene Kelly's Invitation To The Dance is an invitation to most beautiful enjoyments for eyes and ears. A magical world of film and dance...
Daily Mirror. England. 23/5/56
After seeing Gene Kelly's new movie, we can safely say there's no business like toe business. This sprightly dance delight is not merely art but sheer enjoyment...a scintillating cinema offering...the Technicolor perfection of these sequences represents an accomplishment that should rate serious Academy Award consideration.
Bosley Crowther. New York Times. Wednesday 23/5/56 Mr. Kelly deserves some admiration. So does MGM for letting him go at his picture...For Invitation is most unusual in its creative concept and form... New York World Telegram and Sun. May 23 1956 Gene Kelly got a lot of extremely good dancing out of his system in Invitation To The Dance, his lavish spree in terpsichore and color...In all his pictures Gene dances with a buoyant relish that seems to say he never could have enough. Now that he has taken charge as director he allows nothing to intrude on the dancing. New York Journal American 23/5/56 Gene Kelly comes up with something completely off the beaten screen track...It's a delightful entertainment, brilliantly created staging and photographed in lush Technicolor and excellently danced.
Bosley Crowther. New York Times. Wednesday 23/5/56
Mr. Kelly deserves some admiration. So does MGM for letting him go at his picture...For Invitation is most unusual in its creative concept and form...
New York World Telegram and Sun. May 23 1956
Gene Kelly got a lot of extremely good dancing out of his system in Invitation To The Dance, his lavish spree in terpsichore and color...In all his pictures Gene dances with a buoyant relish that seems to say he never could have enough. Now that he has taken charge as director he allows nothing to intrude on the dancing.
New York Journal American 23/5/56
Gene Kelly comes up with something completely off the beaten screen track...It's a delightful entertainment, brilliantly created staging and photographed in lush Technicolor and excellently danced.
Letter to Gene c/o Studio de Billancourt
50 Quai du Pont du Jour. Billancourt
June 27th 1956
Writes of cable received from MGM man in Germany regarding showing of Invitation To The Dance at the Berlin Film Festival as the opening event:
Invitation To The Dance is the most sensational Gala opening film for any Berlin Festival since inception six years ago. Two thousand enthusiastic top personalities and officials in soldout Glora Palast and Filmbuehne applauded 34 times during performance and for minutes at the end.
Nationwide TV and radio dedicated special programs to Invitation. Press reviews and publicity outstanding.
To Gene from MGM Zurich. Jack Guggenheim.
I can't tell you how much joy, honor and pleasure you have given us by coming to Zurich. You have warmed the hearts of the Zurich people wherever they had the privilege of seeing or hearing you. Your decision to come is so much more to be applauded if I consider that you lost by it two days of much needed rest...
Time Magazine June 1956
Invitation To The Dance is the first feature-length ballet film that ever came out of Hollywood…the absence of what passes for human speech in most movie scripts will probably attract more customers to this show than the presence of well-known dancers…
The trouble seems to be that Hollywood just cannot bring itself to put the art before the coarse. Gene Kelly spent more than three years in the production of this picture, and he had been thinking about it for a decade before shooting started. He devised the choreography, commissioned the music, directed the dancers and the camera, and he dances a leading role in each of the three episodes. Yet when it came to a showdown with his studio bosses, Showman Kelly was forced to play for the quick cash and let the enduring credit go. In the first of his danced playlets, however, Kelly manages to reach something not too far from the Diaghilevel, and that one effort should persuade the ballet enthusiast as well as the movie fan to accept his invitation to the dance.
…From almost any point of view, this ballet seems as good as many (and rather better than some) in the standard repertory. Indeed, MGM apparently thought it was too good for the general public…
Dance Magazine June 1956
Although it is at last being released here – Plaza Theatre, New York City – on May 22, 1956, it actually went into production, in England, in 1952. As the years went by, one began to hear rumors – of sequences dropped and added, of a cartoon dance that was taking an interminable time to produce, of soaring budgets that had the studio people shaking their heads. Then one heard that the studio was re-editing, changing, shortening, popularising the film, and that Kelly himself despaired of what they were doing to his picture.
Just how much truth lies behind all this remains largely in the realm of conjecture. Kelly is out of reach, and MGM isn’t talking. But, judging from what the scholars would call internal evidence, the release prints show signs of tampering…And yet, seeing this Invitation To The Dance, one can only wonder why MGM hesitated so long over its release. For Gene Kelly has filled his film with moments of great verve and imagination and an abundance of the kind of genial, rhythmic routines that he does best. If his more artistic aspirations fail to attain ballet perfection, he has nevertheless struck an overall level of novelty entertainment that should gain many a convert to future dance films. Not that Kelly has compromised to win a wide audience; rather it would seem that neither his taste nor his style have made that particularly necessary. The distressing thing is that MGM, after having commissioned the work, had so little confidence in the public as to delay the release of this pleasant and often ingenious picture until now.
Perhaps what threw them was Kelly’s obvious artistic sincerity in making the film in the first place…And then, aside from Kelly himself, there were no stars – no stars that fitted in with Hollywood’s concepts of picture exploitation. Convinced that they were dealing with art, MGM seems to have been at a loss as to the best way to sell it.
The ironic thing – and this may come as a shock to Gene Kelly as well as to MGM – is that the artistic pretensions…are its weakest aspect. Certainly the dancing throughout is first-rate, both technically excellent and splendidly captured by the camera. Nor can one find fault with the music…But the librettos that Kelly has provided for his three ballets are of a kind that have long been superseded in the ballet, dance narratives designed to touch or amuse but affording no moments of either eloquence or revelation….More than any other dance director in Hollywood, he is conscious of the camera’s ability to augment or heighten the effect of a dancer’s movement…Kelly’s choreography for this [first] ballet reveals both the strengths and the weaknesses of the entire film. He moves into the dance easily…His camera is constantly mobile, always working out the best vantage point from which to view the dance and – equally important – preserving the line of the dance as it moves from place to place…he achieves patterns of extraordinary exuberance and vitality….for Miss Sombert there are some pretty moments as she twines about a net; Youskevitch…has a brief, lyrical solo. But their dance together is little more than a series of arabesques, a demonstration of virtuosity where emotion is required.
More seriously off-key is Kelly’s own performance as the Clown…He is at his best in the vigorous clown divertissement, performed with half a dozen others. Here there is humor, rhythm and the kind of physical dexterity that has placed Kelly among the most admired of all film dancers…
The first two ballets were filmed in England; Sinbad the Sailor…was put together in Hollywood and finds Kelly on more familiar ground both literally and figuratively. To Roger Eden’s witty and sophisticated adaptation of the Scheherezade music, he has fashioned a gay, imaginative fantasy…Here…the excitement comes not from the novelty alone but from the skill with which he has integrated his own dancing with cartoon figures…It is obvious that the possibilities of working in this fantasy medium sparked his imagination far more than the dance itself, and he responded with marvellous inventions in the jazz ballet idiom that he knows best….With settings that are little more than the sketchiest of sketches, Kelly is able – and willing – to throw conventional restraints to the winds…
But these are all reservations about a picture that is, above all, a credit to the courage and enthusiasm of its creator. At the time that Gene Kelly made his Invitation To The Dance, it was the first all-dance feature…But it is still the first feature in which the dancing was conceived and designed in its entirety for film, and as such it is full of ideas and suggestions for future work in this genre. And more there certainly will be for, whatever his limitations as a choreographer, Kelly has put together a bold and beguiling film, a dance entertainment that holds great promise for the fresh, exciting art of dance in the movies.
Time. June 11th 1956
…Hollywood just can’t bring itself to put the art before the coarse. Gene Kelly spent more than three years in the production of the picture…yet when it came to a showdown with his studio bosses, Showman Kelly was forced to play for the quick cash and let the enduring credit go. In the first of his danced playlets, however, Kelly manages to reach something not too far from Diaghilevel and that one effort should persuade the ballet enthusiast as well as the mere fan, to accept his Invitation To The Dance.
Films In Review. June-July 1956
Films In Review. June-July 1956
…It should not be forgotten that Invitation To The Dance is a labor of love. Though it is not completely an artistic success, and not at all a commercial one, it is something all intelligent people should see. It took genuine ability to make it, and dedication and courage. R.V. Tozzi.
Dance Magazine. July 1956
Dance Magazine was host to some 500 notables of the dance world at a gala midnight preview of Gene Kelly’s MGM film, Invitation To The Dance, May 17 at the Plaza Theatre. Among those present in the celebrity-packed house were Diana Adams, George Balanchine, Lucia Chase, Alexandra Danilova, Sammy Davis Jr., Serge Denham, Andre Eglevsky, Frederic Franklin, Nora Kaye, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Mata and Hari, Jerome Robbins, Maria Tallchief. NBC Radio’s “Monitor” program interviewed many of the distinguished guests in the theatre lobby. The film’s official premiere, on May 22, was a benefit for the Ballet Theatre Foundation.
New York Times August 20th 1956
The Queen will attend a film of Gene Kelly’s new film Invitation To The Dance, to be given in the presence of Mr. Kelly.
Royal Performance in Edinburgh
The Living Cinema. Edinburgh 1956
Mr. Kelly is a highly intelligent and highly artistic dancer. He knows what he wants to do and he is not afraid to engage in battle with anyone who tries to stop him from doing it...Mr. Kelly can introduce many millions to the art of the Dance who would otherwise aspire no higher than rock and roll.
Letter to Gene from Seventeen magazine
Dear Mr. Kelly. We have just seen a preview of your new picture, Invitation To The Dance. We find it beautiful, unique and entertaining and we think the readers of our magazine will feel the way we do... [They ask Gene to write an article for the magazine.]
John Cutts. Films & Filming 1964 By far the best thing was the final Magic Lamp cartoon dance… there was lots of natural fun to it. …The highlight of the dance, a rhythmic tap routine performed by Kelly and two awesome looking Harem guards, was a pure hypnotic delight. Tony Thomas The Films of Gene Kelly. 1974 No other entertainer has devoted so much time and effort in trying to interest the public in a movie about the skill and joy of dancing. Gene, quoted in Thomas 1974 I rend to agree with those who find the whole thing a bit much – each piece is enjoyable by itself but three in a row is probably more than most people can take.
John Cutts. Films & Filming 1964
By far the best thing was the final Magic Lamp cartoon dance… there was lots of natural fun to it. …The highlight of the dance, a rhythmic tap routine performed by Kelly and two awesome looking Harem guards, was a pure hypnotic delight.
Tony Thomas The Films of Gene Kelly. 1974
No other entertainer has devoted so much time and effort in trying to interest the public in a movie about the skill and joy of dancing.
Gene, quoted in Thomas 1974
I rend to agree with those who find the whole thing a bit much – each piece is enjoyable by itself but three in a row is probably more than most people can take.
Film Buff. February 1976. Barbara Wolf. The Art Of Gene Kelly.
Immediately following Singin’ In The Rain he had gone to Europe to produce, direct, choreograph and star in an all dance film. For complicated reasons, this Herculean and even slightly mad enterprise was undertaken away from the stimulus and security of Kelly’s usual collaborators, technicians and crew, and consumed more than a year. Despite depressing conditions and results, Kelly completed his noble experiment, only to have the studio shelve it.
Boca Raton News. July 30th 1976
“I was making a lot of money for the studio,” Kelly reminisces, “so they said I could make a film with classic dances. Then they said I had to be in one sequence so I did one sequence. Then they said I had to be in the next sequence…then they held the film for five years and TV came in…”
The resulting movie had scarcely any audience, in comparison with many big musicals. Yet even today MGM is reportedly studying a plan to revive Invitation To The Dance, which is felt by many to have flopped simply because it was too advanced and individualistic to be sold by the formula advertising of the day.
Ray Bolger. That's Dancing. 1985
Invitation To The Dance was the most ambitious all-dance film ever attempted. It will always stand as an extraordinary piece of filmmaking by a master-craftsman determined to share with his audience the artistry, exhilaration, and the sheer joy of dancing.
Projections 4. Ed. John Boorman, Tom Luddy, David Thomson, Walter Donohue. 1995.
Graham Fuller, from an interview with Gene, 1994.
Gene: …I set the production up in London. All the music was written. I had hired costume designers and was having the sets built when one of our actors dropped out because of the money. An agent had got hold of him and said, “This is an MGM picture, you should be getting paid like Clark Gable.” I tried to persuade the actor to do it because it was an experimental film and that even our star, Igor Youskevitch, was only getting a little over scale, but it was no good. I cabled MGM and said, “I’ll have to hold off the picture.” They said, “No, no, we can’t stop now, or you’ll have to come home. You’ll have to step in and perform yourself.”
That meant I had to invent something that I could do. I couldn’t dance beside Youskevitch – I hadn’t done ballet for years. The only thing I could think of was to play the clown who’s tragically in love with a young woman… Before that we had a different story about an older woman who’s frozen out by two guys fighting over a younger woman. I had Jacques Ibert…working on the music. He was very flexible and was able to switch things around. So I did that role, although very begrudgingly. I’m not fond of it, I’m not fond of the whole picture, but I should have been firmer and told MGM, ‘I’m not going to do it. I’ll come home.’ After that, I didn’t trust anyone who said they would appear in a picture until they were on the job.
…the publicity department got to work and said, ‘This multi-million-dollar musical…’ which it wasn’t. It was done for literally what they would pay for half of a B-picture. Then they didn’t release the picture until 1956. By that time the dream of showing off these great ballet dancers was over, because television had shown them – so the bloom was off the rose. The picture had cost $665,000 and I got a consortium together and raised $1 million to buy it off the studio at a profit for them. But they wouldn’t sell it; that’s the way corporations work.
Michael Singer. A Cut Above. 50 film directors talk about their craft. 1998
Gene: We didn’t foresee the impact of television I know that if I had foreseen it I wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of shooting Invitation To The Dance so that people could see that there were more dancers in the world except for five or six of us out in Hollywood. That’s why I did the picture….No sense of dedicating six months or a year of your life…Invitation To The Dance was an homage to the dancers of the world.
[MGM] didn’t know what to do with it. Of course they thought I was a little nutty…They cut the third ballet, which was based on popular songs. I just had a piano track and the singers were going to be Sinatra, Garland etc – but it never saw the light of day…funny but that’s now been done by Twyla Tharp for Baryshnikov…Sinatra songs…MGM thought it was nonsense…Invitation To The Dance wasn’t a great picture, but it had some very good things.
A few of the songs intended for the abandoned fourth section of the film, a pastiche of about 12 popular songs of the period:
Just One Of Those Things
Sunny Side Of The Street - Gene was to appear in this number
St Louis Blues