If you haven’t heard of “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) or its movie star Gene Kelly, then you’re missing half of your life. Fact. Gene Kelly defines a certain era of Hollywood song and dance men with his all around acting, dancing, directing, producing and choreographing. He was the only musical man that did all these things, and he will surely be remembered as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars. Discovered and honed by Metro Goldwyn Meyer through the legendary producer Arthur Freed, Kelly isn’t only iconic but he is for the reason…he is showbiz.
For Me and My Gal (1942) – Gene Kelly first appeared on screen with Judy Garland in the war time show business musical “For Me and My Gal” in the early forties. After being discovered on Broadway, Kelly’s career moved faster then a bullet as he sky-rocketed to fame after appearing in this mediocre romp. Though the movie is hardly memorable, Kelly and Garland still manage to win audiences over with a box office of $4 million dollars as compared to its $80 thousand dollar budget. Kelly was a box office draw, but I don’t think MGM knew that yet.
Cover Girl (1944) – Still in the Big Studio System, MGM allowed Columbia to borrow Gene Kelly for their 1944 film “Cover Girl”. Originally a film to showcase the talents of their beautiful new star, Rita Hayworth, Kelly proved to MGM how valuable he was to the studio when “Cover Girl” won big bucks. Kelly plays Danny, a nigh club owner and the boyfriend of Hayworth’s Rusty. When Rusty is offered a high paying job as a cover girl, she shoots up to fame and her business/romantic relationship with Danny is tested. Because of the success of “Cover Girl”, Columbia bought the rights to Broadway musical “Pal Joey” as a vehicle for Kelly, but MGM decided to stay smart this time and upgraded Kelly to REAL leading man status.
Anchors Aweigh (1945) – MGM gave Gene Kelly artistic free hand to make his own dance numbers for his next movie, “Anchor’s Aweigh”. The film also marked as the first film of the successful Kelly/Sinatra collaborations for the studio. Playing Joseph (Kelly) and Clarence (Frank Sinatra), two different sailors who get along beautifully, the film revolves around their love triangle with “Aunt” Susie (Katharyn Grayson) as they try to win her heart their own ways. Kelly plays the rugged half of the team, like Ole Blue Eyes plays the soft gentleman. “Anchor’s Aweigh” worked in every way possible, and became Kelly’s most iconic performance of the 1940s. He also garnered his first and only Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role (travesty right? Right!?). The film also featured the first time live action and cartoons interact together on screen, with Kelly’s famous number “The Worry Song” with Jerry the Mouse.
“The Worry Song” – Anchors Aweigh (1945) – Gene Kelly & Jerry the Mouse
Zeigfield Follies (1946) – As a celebration of MGM’s 40th anniversary, producer Arthur Freed puts together an array of studio movie stars for the musical revue. Every scene is unrelated – just featuring stars, songs and comedy sketches, just like the original Broadway revues. However, the film gave Gene Kelly the chance to dance with another famous musical man, Mr. Fred Astaire.
The Pirate (1948) -For me, “The Pirate” sits as one of the underrated of MGM’s musical films. The film went through a lot of trouble as artistic conflicts were on the set and Kelly’s co-star Judy Garland’s drug addiction and reported on-set paranoia took toll. It’s sad because the movie got bad press for that. But when you re-visit the film, there is still a certain charm to seeing Kelly/Garland in all their musical/comedy form. They charmed me, and the movie definitely does not deserve all the bashing it gets. It’s funny and cute, just like it’s meant to be.
Take Me Out to The Ball Game (1949) – Though a classic in it’s own right, the title song alone gives me reason to watch it, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is the weakest of Kelly’s work in the 1940s. It is also the worst of his collaboration with Frank Sinatra. Almost the same story as “Anchors Aweigh”, the film this time revolves around a fictional Baseball team called the Wolves in whom Kelly and Sinatra are apart of. But their friendship is tested when they learn that the new owner of the team is a woman (Esther Williams). And you’ve guessed it…they both fall for her and try to win her heart.
On the Town (1949) -Putting old elements back together…and the sailor’s uniform, Kelly comes big very strong with the exuberant and exciting “On the Town”. The film explores the 24 hours of 3 sailors who have shore leave in the fast-paced New York City. The three sailers (Kelly, Sinatra and Jules Munshin) fall for three fascinating women Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen and Betty Garrett, and knowing their fate that this will only last a day, decide to live it up and go “on the town”. The film is nothing but a fun musical romp that is enjoying. It is campy, crazy and just a whole lot of fun. The sounds and sites of New York also makes the film iconic and almost a love letter the the Big Apple.
“New York, New York” – On the Town (1949) – Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra & Jules Munshin
Summer Stock (1950) – In the year of 1950, Gene Kelly appeared in the weak musical film “Summer Stock”. Though Kelly wasn’t too ecstatic to do it, he appeared in the film as a fair well to Judy Garland, who was fired from MGM that year because of her infamous reputation. Garland was in Kelly’s first MGM movie, and out of respect to her, he appeared in her last. Kelly plays Joe, a Broadway hoofer, who puts up a show in Jane Falburry’s (Garland) because of her aspiring performer sister. Though the film did not have a lot to offer in terms of plot, the movie featured a spectacular intricate number where Gene Kelly performs with items around the stage, most notably a newspaper. You just have to see the number to see how wonderful it is. The movie also features Judy Garland’s iconic number “Get Happy”.
An American in Paris (1951) – Vincente Minnelli, Gene Kelly and Arthur Freed as a team was Hollywood Gold when “An American in Paris” won 6 Academy Awards in the Best Picture Oscar of 1951. Mostly the brainchild of these three men, their collaboration was in perfect harmony as the cameras started rolling to create this spectacular picture. Kelly plays Jerry, an American solider left in Paris after the war. Aspiring to be an artist, Joe starts a relationship with American socialite Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) for funding for his work. He soon meets a young French woman by the name of Lise (the legendary Leslie Caron in her first major film role) whom he falls in love with. As he becomes conflicted with his relationship with Milo, we learn that Lise is hiding something (or someone) too. Kelly discovered the 18 year old Caron for this picture, which popped her into stardom. The film also features an unbelievably beautiful Gershwin score performed by the cast with the most outstanding costumes and sets. The most memorable thing about the effort is the 17 minute ballet that Kelly choreographed himself at the end of the film. Take a look at an expert from that ballet (can’t find the full version)! You won’t regret it.
“An American in Paris Ballet” – An American in Paris (1951) – Gene Kelly & Leslie Caron.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – Iconic. Masterpiece. I want to end there but there are so many other things to say about this film. A lot of people believe that this one movie defines the whole genre of musical movies. I can’t help but agree with them. This is heart and soul Gene Kelly’s work. Though he had an amazing co-director in Stanley Donan, this film is really his brain child. From the smart storyline of Candon and Greene’s original screenplay to Freed and Nacio Herb-Brown’s score the whole movie is absolute perfection. Set in a time when “talking pictures” were sort of tabu in Hollywood, we follow screen star Don Lockwood (Kelly) as he transitions his silent screen career to talkies. The film is supported by great players like Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. But Jean Hagen’s squeaky voiced spoof of a silent screen star named Lina Lamont steals the show. All the musical numbers are rightly in place, with the classic “Singin’ in the Rain” number as the title tune. Kelly shines in a career best. This was the role he was born to play and will always be remembered for.
“Singin’ in the Rain” – Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – Gene Kelly
Brigadoon (1954) – the film isn’t Gene’s best, even the Lerner/Lowe score is a bit lacking. The best thing about the film though is the casting of Cyd Charisse as Gene Kelly’s romantic lead. Seeing these two dance together on screen will always be a treat. It may not be the stronger part of Gene Kelly’s career (especially to follow up a gem like Singin’ in the rain, but nothing can follow that up).
It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) – I don’t have much to say about this film either. It’s not one of Gene Kelly’s best. It comes off as rather cheeky in a bad way. There is however that scene where Kelly skates around New York city through an intricate tap routine. That alone saves the film for me. It’s a classic scene.
Les Girls (1957) – I would consider “Les Girls” as another movie that I count as one of those Gene Kelly gems that are underrated. It’s another light musical picture that showcases the talents of great performers in the 1950s. When one of “Barry Nichols'” (Kelly) Les Girls sues another for libel, the movie gives us a classic narrative through the three showgirls that Barry supposedly had affairs with. These three ladies are found in 50s stars Mitze Gaynor, Kay Kendall and Taina Elg. The film shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but come on, it’s a fluffy 1950s musical starring Gene Kelly. Kelly’s screen persona is so strong here, that I do wish MGM had lent him to Columbia that year to film “Pal Joey” (1957), which ironically stars Frank Sinatra.
Xanadu (1980) – “Xanadu” isn’t a great film. Hell, it isn’t even a good film. It belongs in the list of 80s B-Movies that were trying to make a buck. But when you really look at the film, there are so many redeeming qualities to it. Not that it’s any good still, but it’s campiness works decades later. Here in the film, Gene Kelly plays a much older man who’d fallen in love with a God many years ago (Olivia Newton-John). I’m not saying God as in “she’s a brilliant, hot, sexy woman”…but Greek God, kind of of God. Yes, that’s what “Xanadu'” is about. And how she (yes, Sandy from “Grease”) inspired artist. But it’s still a pleasure to watch because of the great musical moments this bad film has to offer. Especially the one bellow that Kelly is in. The ole man’s still got it!
“Whenever You’re Away From Me” – Xanadu (1980) – Gene Kelly & Olivia Newton-John