For Me and My Gal 1942 based on a story by Howard Emmett Rogers inspired by vaudeville actors Harry Palmer and Jo Hayden. Directed by Busby Berkeley. Partners Harry Palmer (Gene Kelly) and Jo Hayden (Judy Garland) are inching closer to finally playing Broadway’s Palace Theater and marrying when he gets drafted. Harry slams his hand in a trunk to delay (or avoid) service on the same day Jo receives news of her brother’s wartime death. Appalled Jo leaves him. Remorsefully Harry tries to enlist, then becomes a troop entertainer and inadvertent hero.
This was the first real “adult” role for the nineteen-year-old Judy Garland. Kelly was 29. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Cover Girl 1944 Directed by Charles Vidor. Songs by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin. Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly) runs the nightclub at which girlfriend Rusty (Rita Hayworth) performs. When a fellow chorine auditions to be cover girl of Vanity Magazine, Rusty goes along, but is sabotaged by her so-called friend. Editor John Coudair (Otto Kruger) comes to the club. He’s drawn to Rusty because of her resemblance to a past love. When she’s offered a new career, Danny “nobly” steps aside and almost loses her. Kelly played Danny McGuire again 36 years later in 1980’s Xanadu. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Pirate 1948 based on the 1942 Broadway play (not musical) by S. N. Behrman. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Songs by Cole Porter. In a small Caribbean village, Manuela Alva (Judy Garland) fantasizes about being carried off by a pirate, Mack “the Black” Macoco. Her aunt and uncle insist she marry rotund mayor Don Pedro Vargas (Walter Slezak). Circus performer Serafin (Gene Kelly) falls in love with the girl at first sight, but hasn’t a chance because of her obsession. Recognizing Don Pedro as the retired pirate, he blackmails his way into performing and declares himself to be Macoco. Manuela warms, then discovers the deception.
The mayor accuses Serafin of being the real pirate and arranges his hanging. At a final performance, hypnotism works in the actor’s favor. “Be a Clown” with the fabulous Nicholas Brothers is a highlight. (The song is again used in Singin’ in The Rain.) “I wanted the opportunity to do a different kind of dancing,” said Kelly, “a popular style with a lot of classic form, acrobatics and athletics.” Garland lacks comedienne chops and heavily reliant on drugs, often delayed production. Rent on Amazon Prime.
On the Town 1949 Adapted from the stage musical. Book/lyrics by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, music by Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens, itself is an adaptation of the Jerome Robbins ballet Fancy Free. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Great show, well realized. Sailors Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munchin) arrive in the city with 24 hours leave. Gabey falls in love with the picture of Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen) “Miss Turnstiles” in the subway and is determined to find her.
Trying hard to see sights recommended in an old guidebook, Chip attracts humorously aggressive cab driver Brunhilde “Hildy” Esterhazy (Betty Garret). Ozzie is approached in The Museum of Natural History by anthropologist Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller) who sees in him her passionate “Prehistoric Man.” Both couples track Ivy from place to place with Gabey, eventually successful on Coney Island where she works. This was the first time a major studio filmed (some days) on location in New York City. Crowds of Frank Sinatra fans were an issue. Rent on Amazon Prime.
An American in Paris 1951 Inspired by George Gershwin’s music with songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. The lyrically romantic love story of World War II veteran/aspiring painter Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) and young Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron in her film debut) with whom he’s smitten at a nightclub. Jerry deals with patroness Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) who wants more from him than art. Lise has committed to entertainer Henri “Hank” Baurel (Georges Guetary) out of gratitude for his protection during the war. Jerry’s best friend Adam Cook (the reliably wry Oscar Levant) is a classical nod. Sheer pleasure.
Kelly’s wonderful choreography includes fine tap and a 17 minute ballet with evocative Impressionist sets costing half a million dollars to shoot. Some of the backdrops for the sequence measured 300 feet wide and 40 feet high. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Singin’ in The Rain 1952 Directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. If you haven’t seen this yet, you can’t justifiably call yourself a musical film fan. It’s sheer delight. Set during Hollywood’s transition from silent film to talkies in the 1920s, it employs the burgeoning relationship of silent film star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) to drolly show inherent problems with moving from silence to sound.
Don is matched for publicity with co-star, whiny Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen- marvelous), who insists they’re really a couple and has Kathy fired. The studio’s first attempt at sound is a fiasco. Don and BFF Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor – terrific) come up with a way to rescue the dud film by turning it into a musical, but not only can’t Lena sing, her speech is an affront to the ear. Kathy volunteers to dub the actress’s voice and the film is made. At the premiere, Don, Cosmo, and studio head R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) come up with a clever way to expose Lina and pave the way for Kathy.
Numbers are simply grand. “Good Morning” took 13 hours to shoot. Reynolds’ feet bled. Kelly was apparently so awful to her, Fred Astaire stepped in to help. Kelly had 103°F fever during some of the “Singing in the Rain” number which took three days to complete. Donald O’Connor was hospitalized several days after filming “Make ‘Em Laugh” due to constant smoking. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Brigadoon 1954 Based on the Broadway musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. New York Buddies Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson – particularly appealing here) are hunting in the hills of Scotland when they come across Brigadoon, a village not on the map. They arrive to find a curiously old fashioned market square joyously preparing for the wedding of Jean Campbell (Virginia Bosler) to Charlie Dalrymple (Jimmy Thompson). Tommy is immediately drawn to Jean’s older sister Fiona (Cyd Charisse) and she to him.
When clues make the Americans wonder about Brigadoon, they’re taken to schoolmaster Mr. Luncie (Barry Jones) who relates the tale of a place that emerges from protective mists only one day every 100 years. Should any resident exit, the town will dissolve and not return. Tommy and Jeff must depart before the end of the “day” or stay forever. In despair, Harry Beaton (ballet dancer Hugh Laing), in love with Jean himself, attempts to leave, but doesn’t make it. Now, Tommy must decide. Some lovely songs. Rent on Amazon Prime.