Criterion posted a pile of MGM musicals, and I got Katy to watch The Pirate, which she didn’t like, even though it’s about a circus-boss scam-artist ladies’ man who pretends to be a notorious pirate in order to win over a pretty girl, then discovers her fiancee is the real notorious pirate, fat and retired.

Stars: Gene and Judy

Blustery and Loud: Walter Sleestack (The Clock King of TV’s Batman) and Gladdie Cooper (Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady)

Yitz: Lester Allen as Capucho, the movie’s secret star

Michael Koresky:

In The Pirate, Garland’s unhappily betrothed Manuela, who craves romance and adventure, insists, “Underneath this prim exterior, there are depths of emotion, romantic longings.” It’s a statement that could be made by virtually any character in any musical. These are hardly frivolous matters. The musical is for anyone who has ever longed for something or someone — that is to say, everyone. What is life without fantasy? To be firmly grounded, one must occasionally walk on air.

We’ve got three guys who live in the same building over a cafe: painter Jerry (Gene Kelly), pianist Adam (Oscar Levant of The Band Wagon and The Barkleys of Broadway) and semi-rich guy Henri (French singer Georges Guetary). Each has a backstory, love and career aspirations, but only one is Gene Kelly so we don’t spend much time with the other guys.

The ladies: Leslie Caron (whom I recently saw in Surreal Estate) has a killer introduction via musical dream sequence. After Gene acts stalkerish towards her (as we know from watching classic movies, this is the correct approach) she starts to fall in love with him, but whoops, she’s due to marry Henri who once saved her from nazis. Rich, overconfident Nina Foch picks up Gene as his sponsor, then starts to act possessive.

So Gene and his two women take up most of the plot, but surprisingly Oscar gets a long dream sequence of his own, where he plays a dramatic piano piece conducted and accompanied and viewed by other Oscar Levants (someone has been watching Keaton’s The Playhouse). At the end Gene finds out about the whole nazi thing and grudgingly lets his girl go, then proceeds to dream himself a massive, astounding ballet (IMDB confirms Gene was a big Red Shoes fan). Sometime during the ballet Leslie must’ve had a heart-to-heart with Henri, because he brings her back to Gene at the end, leaving one happy couple, two broken-hearted rich people, and one lonely, out-of-work Oscar Levant. Then one assumes Nina pulls her sponsorship so Gene never gets his art show, and the couple lives off Leslie’s perfume-counter pay in their tiny apartment.

Written by major songwriter Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady) and directed by Minnelli between The Pirate and The Band Wagon. The songs have a rocky start with the unintelligible By Strauss, then Gene’s got a great routine for I Got Rhythm but there are children interfering with the song. Finally Gene and George get in a nice version of ‘S Wonderful halfway through. Oh and Gene and Oscar sing one in the apartments where Gene dances in a doorway. But really it’s all about the three dream sequences.

J. McElhaney in Senses of Cinema:

Chris Marker has stated that when he, Alain Resnais and Ghislain Cloquet were in London in 1952 filming Les Statues meurent aussi they began every day by attending a 10am screening of An American in Paris. An American in Paris: a film which, apart from a few second-unit shots, recreates Paris entirely on Hollywood soundstages and the back lot; Les Statues meurent aussi: a documentary short on what happens to African art when it is exhibited in museums where it loses its relationship to the folk culture from which it sprang and as a result becomes lifeless, part of the “botany of death that we call culture.” In a larger sense, the short is also about the nature of art and what it (along with science and religion) means to us in our fight against death, becoming the “instrument of a desire to seize the world.” There are, of course, many ways for an artist to seize the world and consequently many ways for the artists we sometimes call filmmakers to do so as well, through the most rigorous of documentaries to the most stylised of musicals. Marker does not go into detail as to what it was he and his collaborators got out of this daily ritual of watching An American in Paris except to note the “lightness” that they felt watching the film. Consequently it may have been nothing more than a refuge from the seriousness of the work on their own obviously very serious film. But let us suppose for a moment that what these three French filmmakers saw in the faux French world of An American in Paris was a cinematic universe parallel rather than antithetical to their own, one equally possessed with a desire to seize the world and equally concerned with its own version of the “truth” but paradoxically articulating it within the realm of artifice. In the midst of a review of Francis Ford Coppola’s musical One from the Heart Serge Daney describes Coppola as working within the Minnellian idea “that a good illusionist does not ‘break’ the illusion, but constantly multiplies it, ad infinitum. The truth of a mask is not the face but an excess in the mask .. Two minuses make a plus. Two falsehoods make a truth”

Katy says she’ll do a guest write-up for Gigi, so consider this a placeholder. She liked the filmmaking very much, and I’m sure it was very good (Minnelli can do no wrong) but I was put off by the story.

Young Gigi (Leslie Caron, who was actually 26, so I guess it’s all okay) is being taught by her family how to please men, and super-rich Gaston (Louis Jourdan of Letter from an Unknown Woman, which we watched directly afterwards) is bored with every girl in town except Gigi. At the end he decides that he loves her, much to the delight of her family, including dirty old grandfather Maurice Chavelier (27 years after The Smiling Lieutenant), motherly (but not her mother – Gigi has no parents) Alvarez (Hermione Gingold of The Music Man) and stickler aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans, star of two Hitchcock movies in the 20’s). Won an awful lot of oscars – pretty much everything but acting and special effects.

First Minnelli movie I’ve watched since Meet Me In St. Louis (and his 13th since then – I must catch up). Writers of Singin’ in the Rain (and it shows, with all the behind-the-scenes crossover) but different songwriters. I didn’t know much about it, besides its position on some lists of great films, but was still impressed at how great it was, in direction and dancing and music (in that order) more than anything else. Katy enjoyed, too.

Fred Astaire, a decade after Holiday Inn, is looking more alive and alert than ever, despite being in character as a has-been showman. He’s paired with (eventual love-interest, natch) young Cyd Charisse of Singin’ in the Rain by two enthusiastic show writers. They bring the project to an overbearing actor/director, but he turns their comedy into a dreary version of Faust, so after the investors have given up the writers reclaim the play and undo the director’s pretentious changes, touring to eventual acclaim. It’s all in fun.

Nanette Fabray (of not much else, but still alive, so there’s time) as a writer of the play holds her own in the singing and dancing scenes, but her comic foil partner Oscar Levant (a composer and pianist, also of An American In Paris and Humoresque) I found more hammy and grating. Maybe it was more his big clown face than his acting, but there’s something unpleasant about him. Jack Buchanan, as the director (who is good-natured enough to stay with the play after the rewrite), is far better here as a noisy, self-obsessed Orson Welles caricature than as the fey hero of Lubitsch’s Monte Carlo. The one scene with a major dancer who’s not one of our stars is when Astaire dances through an arcade with Leroy Daniels. It’s a wonderful dance, and even more wonderful that Daniels is apparently playing himself, known around Hollywood as a rhythmic shoe-shiner who had a hit country song written about him.

No Oscar nomination for the song “That’s Entertainment” – I guess it wasn’t considered an original song. I liked all the songs pretty well, though Katy notes they didn’t try to make any sort of unified sense out of them. We get Astaire and pals in baby clothes dancing on their knees to “Triplets,” country Nanette in “Louisiana Hayride,” and Cyd’s big-drama “New Sun in the Sky”. As the cast regains control of their play and starts to turn it back into an entertaining piece, these songs get added seemingly at random. It adds to the comedy that we never remotely see how these bits connect in the finished play.