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,
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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