Gene Kelly for a period in the 1940’s and early 1950’s made a superb series of musicals that remain at the very pinnacle of the genre, from On The Town to Singin’ In The Rain he didn’t put a foot wrong. With the waning appeal of musicals from the late 1950’s onward Kelly switched to directing. Kelly spent most of his career at MGM of which he said “the days at MGM were marvellous. Everyone was pitching in. We had real collaboration. It was fun. We didn’t think it was work.”
Gene was awarded a special Academy Award 1951 “in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specially for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film”. Here is our pick of five of his best movies.
Anchors Aweigh (1945)
Gangway for Frank Sinatra and Kelly as song and dance lead the list of activities when sailors on shore leave fall in with a fatherless boy and his beautiful aunt. Includes the irresistible dance sequence with Kelly and Jerry, the cartoon mouse. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Picture; Best Actor: Gene Kelly; Best Song (“I Fall in Love Too Easily”).
Director: George Sidney
Cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Pamela Britton, James Burke, Henry O’Neill, Billy Gilbert, Kathryn Grayson, Jose Iturbi, Dean Stockwell
The Pirate (1948)
Kelly and Judy Garland with a Cole Porter score, set in the West Indies, and with great costumes and dancing, shining in the grand Minnelli-MGM style. Kelly plays a street musician who poses as an infamous Caribbean pirate so he can woo Garland, who has spurned him. Filming of The Pirate was frequently slowed down by the tumultuous relationship between actress Judy Garland and her director/husband, Vincente Minnelli and although it is a cult favorite today, it was a financial failure upon its release. Academy Award Nomination for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Cast: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, George Zucco
An American in Paris (1951)
One of the greatest of 1950s screen musicals is a happy collaboration between the grace and athleticism of Kelly and the colorful palette of Vincente Minnelli. An American G.I. lingers in Paris after the war to study painting and soon falls in love with Caron, an engaged mademoiselle, much to the chagrin of his romance-minded benefactress. Features a seventeen-minute, avant-garde ballet choreographed by Kelly to George Gershwin’s unbeatable melodies. The movie’s many awards include Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture and Best Musical/Comedy. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Director.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Cast: Leslie Caron, Nina Foch, Georges Guetary, Gene Kelly, Oscar Levant
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Perhaps the finest screen musical of all time is a particular treat for classic-movie fans as it portrays the frantic period when Hollywood’s pictures learned to talk. But this is no dry history lesson: it moves with a nimble grace through flashbacks and a romantic storyline while featuring a selection of the best Freed-Brown numbers from MGM’s musicals of the preceding two decades. The silver-screen characters from the late ’20s include matinee-idol Kelly and his silent diva leading lady Hagen, whose voice ensures that she won’t make the transition to sound, and fresh-faced Reynolds as an aspiring actress and singer who wins Kelly’s heart with her voice and good nature. The justly famous numbers include Charisse’s slinky “Broadway Ballet” and, of course, Kelly’s exuberant stomp through the title song. Other musical numbers include: “You Were Meant for Me,” “Make ‘Em Laugh,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” and “All I Do Is Dream of You.” The “Broadway Ballet” sequence in Singing’ In The Rain accounted for about a fifth of the film’s $2.5 million budget. Three off-screen airplane motors were needed to keep dancer Cyd Charisse’s 25-foot long silk veil afloat. Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy: Gene Kelly. Academy Award Nominations: Best Supporting Actress: Jean Hagen; Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse, King Donovan, Douglas Fowley, Jean Hagen,
Les Girls (1957)
This charming Cukor musical revolves around three showgirls who feel betrayed when one of them writes a memoir about their days in a French cabaret act. In flashbacks, each of them recounts a relationship with the leader of the troupe, Kelly. Porter’s score (his last written for the screen) is just too, too and includes “Les Girls,” “Flower Song,” and “You’re Just Too, Too.” Les Girls (1957) was Gene Kelly’s final film for MGM. His contract was to have run for two more years but the studio had no more musicals planned. It was the end of the era of the big-budget Hollywood musical. Adapted from Vera Caspary’s novel. Golden Globes for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy: Kay Kendall; Best Motion Picture, Musical/Comedy. Academy Award Nominations: 3.
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Gene Kelly, Kay Kendall,