Category Archives: Favorites

Happy Birthday, Gene Kelly

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Some of my most popular posts come from August 2012, when I celebrated Gene Kelly’s 100th birthday. So, since today happens to be the day, I thought I would compile those posts here and share them out again for everyone’s enjoyment! Basically I spent several weeks reading a biography and watching a TON of his movies and just generally immersing myself. It was a fun project and I love that people are still searching for fun information about Mr. Kelly and are led to my blog, of all things. So, whether you’re a fan or not, I hope you’ll enjoy!

On Thirst

One of the best things about the internet is that whatever you might have an interest in or a passion for, you can probably find other people who feel the same. It brings me endless joy to realize that the folks over at Pajiba take the objectification of movie stars as seriously as I do, and their annual Pajiba Ten list is one of my favorite things that happens during the year (even though I never agree with half of it). Recently, the podcast Thirst Aid Kit has further validated my enjoyment of keeping lists of famous people I will never meet, much less get to make out with. I am not alone in my thirst, you guys.

So, for those of you who’ve always rolled your eyes at my posts about ye olde Top Five list, you might wanna move along. I won’t judge. But for everyone else: The last time I talked about The List on this blog was in 2012. What?! I posted that I’d added Michael Fassbender. I can’t even remember who else would’ve been ON that list. (That’s a lie: it was Crowe, RDJ, Gerard Butler, and Javier Bardem.) But that is a long time ago, and the list has changed a whole bunch since then.

To be honest, I’ve been saying for the last year or so that my list is in shambles. I finally let go of Russell Crowe and Robert Downey, Jr (even though I still love them both) just because it seemed the list should be a more current and fluid thing. While I have a few people who definitely bring the swoon, I feel that I haven’t done my research as carefully as in the past, and I really currently have two or three TRUE thirst objects with a whole handful of other people who just haven’t quite broken through yet. So who’s on the list? I’m so glad you asked!

The Definites:

 

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Dan Stevens

I never watched Downton Abbey, and frankly any time I saw pictures of “Cousin Matthew” I couldn’t see the appeal. But that was before Dan Stevens lost some weight,  gained a beard (some of the time), stopped dying his hair, and started playing the magnificently effed up David Haller on FX’s Legion. I love that guy. His performance(s? If you watch the show you get it) are phenomenal and his accent is great. I seriously loved him in Beauty and the Beast, too. He’s very intelligent and funny (and amazingly sane, compared to David) in interviews. Yep. He’s here to stay for a while.

 

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Oscar Isaac

I truly love any time I am afforded the opportunity to explain to people who Oscar Isaac is. Have you seen the new Star Wars movies? Inside Llewyn DavisEx Machina? I am always delighted to point out when someone can be unrecognizable and wholly different from film to film. Oscar Isaac is super-duper talented and has the best hair in the biz. And have you heard him sing? (PS He wrote that song.) Swoon.

 

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Chadwick Boseman

My love for Tony Stark is true, but King T’Challa of Wakanda is now a close second in the MCU. I really, really need to jump on seeing some of Boseman’s other work but his portrayal of Black Panther had me hooked from the beginning. The man himself seems very intelligent, humble, and sensitive as well and his fashion onslaught throughout the press run for Black Panther was the stuff of legend.

The Maybes:

So many, you guys. Lee Pace was on the list for a good long while, got dropped for Oscar Isaac, and is maybe back on again. I need to jump on Halt and Catch Fire one of these days. Paul Bettany has been “#6” for a zillion years and that really hasn’t changed. Love him as Vision, love his razor-sharp, self-deprecating wit in interviews, just love him. I have a fun spiel about how we were all introduced to James McAvoy in that embarrassing moment where we thought to ourselves “Oh f**k, Mr. Tumnus is … hot?!” I love that he’s making a career out of brawn and menace (loved him in Atomic Blonde) and am 100% here for his casting as Lord Asriel in the upcoming BBC “His Dark Materials” series. Not even sure what needs to be said about Idris Elba: did you SEE Thor: Ragnarok? Post-Infinity War I have given in to the realization that I totally adore Tom Hiddleston’s Loki; not sure that love extends to the man himself, but I probably ought to watch The Night Manager, you know, for research purposes. JOHN CHO, people. Armie Hammer (that voice!  Man from UNCLE!)? Sebastian Stan is so pretty, you guys. I fell madly in love with Bertie Carvel in BBC’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but he sticks primarily to theater across the pond so I don’t know about him. Dominic Cooper is a button. Mahershala Ali burst onto the scene in 2016 but has been kind of quiet since. There is much to love about Chris Hemsworth.  And I’ve probably forgotten somebody else.

See the problem? Help me, readers! Anyone you want to advocate for? Is there anything I should watch that will help me make up my mind? Suggestions welcome! (Not for more pretty people; I’ve got plenty of those.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Judy Garland: Five Favorite Routines

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Today is the anniversary of Judy Garland’s birthday. I’m a latecomer to Garland fandom, but I think I’ve made up for lost time in the last couple of years. It doesn’t hurt that she made three movies with Gene Kelly, of course. Since I’ve got a few major films still to catch up on, I didn’t want to do a “favorite movies” post; obviously, since she’s known for her singing talents, a “favorite routines” post was the way to go. Here they are in chronological order, and before you ask: no. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” isn’t one of them. Enjoy!

For Me and My Gal (For Me and My Gal, 1942)

This is the first Garland/Kelly collaboration, and I just think it’s so charming. They’re both young and gorgeous and have such great chemistry. If you’ve spent any time on this blog you’ve already seen this multiple times, but I hope you won’t mind watching it again. I never do!

The Trolley Song (Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis is a great specimen of Judy Garland’s work. It was directed by Vincente Minelli, who married Garland shortly after making the movie. I think that viewers fall in love with Garland through Minelli’s lens, probably just as he was. “The Trolley Song” became a Garland standard for many years, and so it just barely edged out “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for this list.

We’re a Couple of Swells (Easter Parade, 1948)

Judy’s co-star this time around is Fred Astaire (stepping in for an injured Gene Kelly), and here’s my favorite number from this adorable movie. I love that it’s not the usual, glamorous kind of thing, and that both Garland and Astaire embrace the fun. Garland’s facial expressions and little added mannerisms prove what an amazingly talented and dedicated performer she was.

I Don’t Care (In the Good Old Summertime, 1949)

These last two picks are straight Judy with no help, and she nails them both. I just love this song, and it’s a major showcase for Garland’s singing. She looks like an absolute knock-out in that red dress, too, and a couple of shots of Van Johnson looking super-handsome in a tux certainly don’t go amiss. I highly recommend this movie, which is another version of “The Shop Around the Corner.” Johnson and Garland have fabulous chemistry, and as always, it’s such a cute story.

Get Happy (Summer Stock, 1950)

Summer Stock is the last movie that Judy Garland and Gene Kelly made together, and it’s the last musical she made for MGM. At this point, her many problems were working against her, and I think that seeps into the movie in some ways. It’s very inconsistent: there are some great numbers, but it lacks the sparkle of earlier Garland performances. The “Get Happy” number doesn’t entirely seem to fit the film, in some ways, but it’s such an electrifying moment that I always come back to it as a favorite. It’s a testament to Garland’s huge talent that even with all of her issues, she still commands the screen here.

Happy birthday, Judy!

Musical Moment: Happy Birthday, Debbie Reynolds!

You know what’s coming, don’t you? I don’t need to bother with much introduction. Perfect for a Monday morning, too. Happy birthday, Ms. Reynolds!

The movie: Singin’ in the Rain (duh)
The song: Good Mornin’

Musical Moment: Happy birthday (RIP), Rex Harrison

Rex Harrison was an important actor for a long time, but today he’s probably best known for the classic musical, My Fair Lady. There’s tons of fun trivia about this movie: despite having performed the role of Eliza Doolittle on stage, Julie Andrews was passed over in favor of a better-known actress, Audrey Hepburn, who then had to have her singing numbers dubbed by Marni Nixon. Andrews would go on to beat Hepburn at the Oscars, winning Best Actress for Mary Poppins. Meanwhile, Harrison also won the Oscar, despite barely singing a note. The film won eight Oscars in all, including Best Picture and Best Director (George Cukor). I’ve always been a fan of My Fair Lady, and today we’ll celebrate the anniversary of Mr. Harrison’s birth with one of my favorite numbers.

The movie: My Fair Lady (1964)
The song: Just You Wait! (‘Enry ‘Iggins)

Happy Birthday: Five Drew Barrymore Favorites

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Let’s talk about Drew Barrymore. She occupies kind of a strange place in filmdom: she’s pretty much Hollywood royalty, coming from a family of celebrated actors. She was a promising child actor, but then she through an extended wild (and troubled) period. She’s sort of A-list as an individual, but I guess I would say most of her movies fall into the B-list category. Still, she’s come a long way, and these days she’s something of a media mogul. She directs, produces, and is by all accounts an accomplished professional. Good for her, I say. I actually used to find her extremely irritating, but at some point I became an unabashed fan. She’s a powerful woman in a business largely overrun by men, and she’s always been herself. For that, I salute her and wish her a very happy birthday (we’re the same age!), and in her honor, I’d like to feature some of her movies that I really love. They’re not high drama or exemplary film-making, but they’re entertaining and enjoyable; the kinds of movies you’ll come back to again and again. Let’s have a little fun on a Friday morning, shall we?

The Wedding Singer (1998)
Remember when Adam Sandler was charming? If you’re having trouble, I’d recommend a viewing of this adorable rom-com. It’s got all the goofy earmarks of a Sandler production, but the story is sweet, and Sandler and Barrymore have good chemistry as a pair of good-hearted dreamers. Drew is at her quirky, adorable best here, and if the climactic scene on the airplane doesn’t get you all sniffly, you don’t have a soul.


Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
I think this is the movie that made a fan out of me. Sure, her accent is terrible. But Drew’s version of Cinderella is a delightful tomboy, a reader and a thinker who captivates Prince Henry (Dougray Scott, SWOON) by being unlike every other girl out there. Plus, Angelica Huston and Megan Dodds are deliciously villainous as the evil stepmother and sister, and I just love Melanie Lynsky as the more sympathetic sister. Looking for excellent pick-up lines, guys? Take some notes: Dougray Scott is on fire here. Seriously, how can you not love a Cinderella who wields a sword?


Charlie’s Angels (2000)
A fun, silly action flick starring girls? Sign me up. Barrymore joins Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu for this romp of a reboot of the popular TV show. The long list of supporting players includes Sam Rockwell, Tim Curry, and Bill Murray as Bosley. There’s good action, lots of comedy, and some memorable scenes (Diaz dancing in her Underoos! Lucy Liu dominatrix-ing it up!), too. I hear the sequel is pretty bad, so let’s just stick with this one, eh?


Music and Lyrics (2007)
Barrymore’s up to her usual quirky tricks here, but Hugh Grant shines as a washed-up pop singer looking for a return to the big leagues in this romantic comedy. The plot is pretty straightforward, but Barrymore and Grant have a comfortable chemistry, and it’s well worth watching for the various references and jokes about pop music. Basically, you want to see this movie for the opening credits, but sticking around will be fun, too.


Whip It (2009)
Barrymore’s directorial debut stars Ellen Page as a young woman looking to escape a life of beauty pageants and provinciality who finds herself through roller derby. Barrymore also stars as one of Page’s team members. Whip It is based upon a book written by a derby skater, and although it’s a bit sensationalized at times, I think it captures the fun spirit and camaraderie of the sport (derby friends are welcome to disagree with me). Pretty standard coming-of-age stuff, but there are nice performances throughout, and once again, it’s really all about girl power. The soundtrack’s also pretty sweet.


I want to have a Drew Barrymore marathon right now. How about you? I realize that I haven’t seen some of her bigger movies (Scream springs to mind), so what favorites of yours did I leave off?

Review: Les Miserables (2012)

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Translating a stage musical (let alone a wildly popular one) into a screen musical can’t be an easy task. There are all the issues of how faithful an adaptation one wants to make, and the use of Hollywood actors versus stage actors, and a myriad other questions that ultimately won’t matter because half of your audience is going to think you ruined the show, regardless of how hard you work at it or how well the other half thinks you’ve done. Tom Hooper took on all those challenges in bringing Les Miserables to the screen. He apparently chose to adhere very faithfully to the original show, albeit with some necessary cuts here and there. He opted for mostly known actors. And, to up the ante, he decided to film the singing live, as opposed to working with a pre-recorded soundtrack, in an effort to bring a new level of introspection and personality to the characters. Predictably, it’s proving to be a polarizing film in many ways.

Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a released French convict who breaks parole in order to start a new life for himself. He’s become the well-respected mayor of a small town, but he finds his steps dogged nonetheless by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), whose single-minded purpose is to bring Valjean to justice. When another man is captured in his place, Valjean comes forward, and must flee from Javert, even while he attempts to fulfill a promise to a dying fallen woman. Fantine (Anne Hathaway) has lost everything in attempting to care for her daughter Cosette, and Valjean promises to retrieve the girl and raise her as his own. To do this he must not only dodge Javert, but also deal with the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), crooked innkeepers who have been looking after Cosette. Valjean manages to settle down quietly with his new charge for many years, but on the eve of the 1832 Paris Uprising, everything comes to a head. Javert is back on Valjean’s scent, and to complicate matters, Cosette, now a young woman (Amanda Seyfried), has fallen in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young revolutionary. The second act deals with the failed revolution and its aftermath, in which many will die, and some few will find a happy ending.

Les Mis is an intense experience. It’s almost entirely sung, and well, the title translates to “the miserable.” It’s not a happy story for the most part. The music, however, is transcendent and makes the whole thing utterly worthwhile. To take that music and attach it to a big-screen film is a heady experience. The film, while not always beautiful, is visually stunning and sticks close to all of the iconic images that fans of the musical expect. There are, of course, technical complaints about the camerawork, particularly with regard to the practice of extreme close-ups during big solo numbers. I myself didn’t take issue with this, but I can see where it could be annoying to others. My main interest in a dramatic film is typically the acting, and since the camerawork was designed to heighten the performances, it worked for me. More problematic in my opinion was the heavy use of green-screen. It’s an epic show, and a few huge set-pieces and sweeping panoramas are not out of scope. I only wish they’d been slightly more realistic. However. Let’s get back to the performances.

With an oft-performed show like Les Miserables, it is to be expected that every single production will be different. Every actor has his or her own interpretation of the role, and every actor brings his or her own set of limitations. I found the performances across the board to be excellent. Much has been made of the performances of Jackman and Hathaway, and for the most part, the praise is deserved. Hathaway in particular maximizes her time on-screen and puts everything she has into the tragic role of Fantine. Because she has a smaller role, she is more able to find the right balance of melodrama and subtlety required. Similarly, the roles of Marius and Cosette and the Thenardiers don’t require a great deal of range, and as such Seyfried, Redmayne, Cohen, and Carter do a fine job. Samantha Barks (the lone stage actor) as Eponine, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche are also worthy of mention, and provide some of the best singing.

Because of the size of their roles, Jackman and Crowe seem to have a much more difficult task in bringing the characters of Valjean and Javert to the screen. Jackman, of course, is an accomplished stage performer and was the only suitable option for the role of Valjean; I would argue that the same is true of Crowe. They seem to have chosen two different approaches to their roles here, with varying success. Jackman sinks his teeth into his musical numbers and nails them, but I found his acting to be a little too melodramatic and unnatural at times. It’s as though you can see the work he’s putting in. Crowe, on the other hand, gives a much more subtle performance. He does not have as robust a singing voice as might be wanted, and so his interpretation of the character of Javert is much quieter and introspective. Although it is a slightly different take on the character, I found it to be no less enjoyable or effective. It was an appropriate decision given his vocal abilities, and his acting is such that he carries it off well, if a bit too understated for the musical genre. His is the most natural and nuanced performance of the film.

While there are things that could be criticized (the afore-mentioned cinematography, a certain awkwardness of transition sequences, a few slow moments here and there), the overall effect is exactly what a fan of the musical would hope for. The decision to sing live, I think, paid off for the film as a whole, and for most of the cast (Crowe perhaps being the exception). It’s a much less polished sound that one would expect, but it fits so well with the story and its themes. Les Mis is a strange entry into the genre: the story (based on the novel by Victor Hugo) is highly dramatic and character-driven; characteristics that do not necessarily lend themselves well to the bombast and spectacle of a stage musical. What Hooper and his actors have tried to do here is bring the focus back around to the individuals and their lives. It makes the film somewhat uneven overall, but ultimately extremely satisfying.

Halloween for cowards: Six favorite not-so-scary movies

I’m pretty positive I’m mentioned it here before, but I’m a chicken. I don’t like horror movies with lots of gore, and serious suspense just leaves me jumpy for days. Despite all that, there are some Halloween-related movies that I truly love, a few of which I regularly watch around October 31st. I thought I’d share my favorites with you, in case you’re on the lookout for something fun to watch this Halloween. There are even a couple that qualify as kind of scary, so don’t make too much fun of me.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Duh. This is one of my favorite movies ever. I know a lot of people who choose to watch it around Christmas time, but in my opinion, why limit yourself? It’s kind of spooky and dark and most of the characters are denizens of Halloweentown, so it totally qualifies. The story (written by Tim Burton, natch) is great, the voice talent is excellent, and the songs and score are some of Danny Elfman’s best work. I’m assuming most people reading this blog have already seen Nightmare multiple times, but just in case you’ve missed out, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. Go! Right now!

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Go ahead and scoff, but I love this one, too. Hocus Pocus definitely falls into the “silly” movie category, but I just think the performances of Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker (c’mon, who doesn’t toss out “amok amok amok!” from time to time?) remain enjoyable year after year. Bonus little tiny Thora Birch!

Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968)

Ok, so Blackbeard’s Ghost is kind of obscure. It’s a funny Disney movie about the ghost of Blackbeard the Pirate, who is forced to perform a kind deed or else his spirit will never be able to rest. It stars Peter Ustinov (the voice of Disney’s Prince John), chewing the scenery for all he’s worth, and it is hilarious. It also stars Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette, and is very Disney 60s-ish (think The Love Bug and That Darn Cat), but seriously, Peter Ustinov is worth every second.

The Crow

Ah ha! I included one that’s not for kids! While it’s not scary, necessarily, The Crow is dark and violent, but it’s also kind of beautiful. It’s such a cultural touchstone for Generation X (I think), and for me personally. Starring Brandon Lee, who died during filming, and the brilliant Michael Wincott, The Crow is, above all, a love story. I admit I haven’t seen it in a long while, but I think I might pull it off the shelf this year to see how it holds up. Note: the sequels are best avoided. Stick with the original.

Watcher in the Woods (1980)

More Disney, but this one is actually kind of scary! A young woman and her sister have strange experiences upon moving into a creepy old mansion which seem to be tied to the tragic disappearance of a girl who lived in the house many years before. Bette Davis plays the old woman who owns the house. This movie was very late in her career, and it was the first thing I’d ever seen her in, and she is super-spooky. I have watched this one recently, and it remains creepy and suspenseful. My husband even said so, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t just humoring me.

Bell Book and Candle (1958)

You know I’ve got to sneak a classic in somewhere. Bell Book and Candle stars Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart as a modern-day witch and the man she falls in love with. It actually takes place around Christmas, but it’s about witches, so it totally counts. The supporting cast includes Elsa Lanchester, Hermione Gingold, and a young and adorable Jack Lemmon. It’s really an odd little movie, but it’s very entertaining, if not particularly scary. It’s beautifully shot and has great costumes (at least Novak does). Upon first viewing it is a teenager, I thought it was weird and a little slow at point, but as an adult it’s come to be a favorite of mine. I’ll just leave you with this scene from the movie. It’s not a musical but a few scenes take place at a club, and this number is part of the entertainment. It’s apparently called “The Bored Assassin.”

Happy Halloween!

Small Roles, Big Performances: Gladiator


FlixChatter has invited movie bloggers to “shine a spotlight on the ‘unsung heroes’ if you will, the overlooked performers who add so much richness & entertainment value to the film no matter how brief their appearance is, but yet they don’t get the credit they so deserve.” Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re looking at the title up there, and you’re thinking “Gladiator? Unsung?? This is just another excuse for you to talk about Russell Crowe, isn’t it?” I will grant you that I’m breaking a little bit with the spirit of this blogathon, but when I started thinking about “small roles, big performances,” Gladiator sprang quickly to mind. In part, perhaps, because I’ve seen it a number of times, but also because I think it is a movie full of really great moments, and those moments are created by really talented actors who, despite the movie winning Best Picture, were perhaps not noticed individually as much as they might’ve been. I want to talk about two of the actors featured in Gladiator particularly. Both gave fine performances that added greatly to the film overall, and both were actors from an older generation, here shown late in their careers. Neither was a complete unknown, but nor were they ever true household names. In my opinion, part of what makes their roles in Gladiator so important is the fact that this is a film for which they will both be remembered, and perhaps it will serve as an introduction for modern audiences to their earlier work.

Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius

Before he strode onscreen as Albus Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter film, Richard Harris made a big impression with new audiences as Rome’s “last good emperor,” the philosopher king, Marcus Aurelius. Harris fills the screen with his quiet dignity and whispered wisdom. Through his eyes, we see Crowe’s Maximus as more than just a good soldier; we see him as a loving and loyal man. Aurelius helps to shape the character of Maximus, and Harris imbues him with paternal pride, love, and the certain knowledge that those he loves are hopelessly flawed. Aurelius must make the difficult decision of either naming his son his successor, or choosing what is best for Rome, and returning her rule to a governmental body. In essence, he must choose between being an emperor and being a father, and Harris shows so clearly the heartbreak that Aurelius goes through in making that decision. Here we see him change between those two roles effortlessly; from the commanding emperor to a father at the end of his life, asking for forgiveness from the son he has disappointed.

Gladiator may have been the first film in which I saw Richard Harris, but his performance, brief yet lasting, has certainly assured that it will not be the last.

Oliver Reed as Proximo

Gladiator is, in fact, Reed’s final performance; he died before he had finished shooting all of his scenes in the movie. Special effects were used for those final appearances so that he wouldn’t be replaced. It is, in my opinion, the perfect tribute. Proximo, the slave owner who essentially kidnaps Maximus and transforms him into “The Spaniard,” is also a father figure, but one cut from an extremely different cloth than Aurelius. His business is the purchase and disposal of human beings, and most of his demeanor is accordingly blunt and disaffected. Still, in his later scenes with Maximus, we see the same paternal pride and even a measure of respect. He also conveys a great deal of intelligence and hard-fought wisdom. I like to think that this final role embodies much of what made Oliver Reed a great actor. He was rough-hewn but intelligent, full of bluster and heart. Like Harris’ Aurelius, Proximo adds layers of depth to the character of Maximus, and both Reed and Crowe portrayed their bond extremely well. Here, Proximo speaks to Maximus as an equal, showing his respect and pride.

In Maximus, Proximo finds someone to confide in; in a way, I think he also sees the younger man as someone who might succeed him. In the end, he chooses to embrace Maximus’ (and Aurelius’) dream of Rome’s restoration. Like Harris, Reed makes a transformation of sorts, from hard-bitten slave driver to a man willing to die for others’ freedom.

Gladiator was the biggest movie of the year. It won many, many awards, but neither Harris nor Reed were particularly recognized for their efforts (Reed was nominated for a BAFTA). And yet, without them, I don’t believe that Gladiator would be the film that it is. It is a testament to the abilities of all three men that we are able to see the extent to which both Aurelius and Proximo shape the character of Maximus and move him through his journey. In that way, I believe they truly exemplify the idea of “small roles, big performances.”

A Gene Kelly Retrospective

In the last few weeks, as the one hundredth anniversary of Gene Kelly’s birthday approached, I thought about how I wanted to commemorate. In looking at his screen credits, I realized that I had actually seen most of the “big name” movies that he is known for, and so I turned my attention to some lesser-known fare. What we discovered is that Mr. Kelly doesn’t seem to make a lot of particularly bad movies. Some are better than others, obviously, but what they all have in common is his signature brand of professionalism, humor, and charisma. I’ve assembled here a brief review of all of Kelly’s movies that I’ve seen to date. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them, and maybe find something new to watch! They’re ordered chronologically; I thought about doing a kind of a rating system, but honestly, the spread just wouldn’t be that wide. Consider everything in the three-to-five-star range, and you’ll have it just about right. Here we go…

For Me and My Gal (1942)
Co-stars: Judy Garland, George Murphy
Director: Busy Berkeley

In this, Kelly’s screen debut, he and Garland star as vaudevillian performers. Kelly’s character deliberately injures himself to avoid being drafted, but ultimately serves his country in heroic fashion AND gets the girl. While his trademark polish isn’t fully developed here, Kelly holds his own against big star Garland, and definitely proves himself as one to watch. For Me and My Gal is the first of three partnerships for Kelly and Garland, and in my opinion, it’s the best one.

Cover Girl (1944)
Co-stars: Rita Hayworth, Lee Bowman, Phil Silvers
Director: Charles Vidor

Danny McGuire (Kelly) and Rusty Parker (Hayworth) have a great partnership: he’s a dancer and club owner, she’s his star attraction. But, when she wins a contest and heads for fame and fortune, their relationship will be tested. Kelly and Hayworth are young and gorgeous, and have good chemistry together, plus there are some really fun musical numbers. Even this early in his career, Kelly had a great deal of creative control over this picture, best exemplified by the ground-breaking “Alter Ego” number in which he uses fancy camerawork to dance a duet with…himself. What could be better than two Gene Kellys dancing together??

Anchors Aweigh (1945)
Co-stars: Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson
Director: George Sidney

The first of three pictures together, Anchors Aweigh stars Kelly and Sinatra as two sailors on leave in Los Angeles. Our heroes, one worldly (Joe, played by Kelly) and one naive (Clarence, Sinatra), meet and fall in love with an aspiring singer, played by Grayson. Joe offers to set her up with an audition, a promise he isn’t actually capable of keeping. Hilarity ensues, of course. Once again, great musical numbers, including Kelly’s duet with Jerry the Mouse, another innovative piece of work. Although Anchors Aweigh was hugely successful at the time and garnered Kelly his one acting nomination from the Academy, it doesn’t hold up well when compared with the far superior On the Town, which also features Kelly and Sinatra as military men loose in a big city.

The Pirate (1948)
Co-stars: Judy Garland, Walter Slezak
Director: Vincente Minelli

The Pirate is an example of what happens when you let some extremely talented people loose, and they get a little carried away. It’s the story of a young woman (Garland) obsessed with a local legend, the pirate Macoco. She’s engaged to a businessman but is looking for a little bit more excitement in life. Along comes a traveling musician (Kelly) who poses as her pirate ideal in order to win her heart. Garland has some stunning numbers, and the signature Kelly ballet sequence is incredible, but other than that, the movie’s rather ungainly and slow. Not the best example of work by Kelly, Garland, or Minelli, but worthwhile for fans of any of the three.

The Three Musketeers (1948)
Co-stars: Lana Turner, June Allyson, Vincent Price
Director: George Sidney

Kelly stars as D’Artagnan in this straightforward adaptation of Dumas’ classic novel. The cinematography is lovely and the choreography is swashbuckle-tastic. The acting runs the gamut from overly comical to downright dramatic, and Kelly’s counterparts in Musketeerdom, Van Heflin, Gig Young, and Robert Coote, acquit themselves well, as do Vincent Price and Lana Turner as villains, and June Allyson as Kelly’s love interest. The best thing about this one, though, is watching Kelly display his incredible physicality without dancing a single step.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949)
Co-stars: Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Esther Williams
Director: Busby Berkeley

Take Me Out to the Ballgame reunites Sinatra and Kelly, this time as members of a baseball team that finds itself acquired by a woman. Their characters are somewhat similar to those in Anchors Aweigh, and the plot seems to follow similar lines as well. Take Me Out to the Ballgame has some more enjoyable musical numbers, however, most notably “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg” (baseball nerds will recognize this as a reference to the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon“). The inclusion of Esther Williams, the famous “aqua musical” actress, is a little odd in a film about baseball, but Berkeley still manages to get her into a pool, so that’s an added treat, plus we get Betty Garrett hamming it up as a love interest for Sinatra.

On the Town (1949)
Co-stars: Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Betty Garrett
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

On the Town is not only the superior Kelly/Sinatra collaboration, it’s also one of the finest musicals Kelly ever made. Three sailors are on leave in New York. Their agenda is simple: to have a great time, and pick up some ladies. Betty Garrett, Vera-Ellen, and the fabulous Ann Miller fit the bill nicely, and so our heroes have themselves a fine adventure in the Big Apple. All of the musical numbers here are fabulous, and the only weak point would be Kelly’s usual third-act ballet, which in this instance has to replace four of the film’s leads (everyone except Kelly and Vera-Ellen), who had no ballet training. Famously filmed on location, On the Town marks the first product of Donen and Kelly’s collaboration, and is an absolute must-see if you’re a fan of anyone involved, or just of musicals in general.

Summer Stock (1950)
Co-stars: Judy Garland, Eddie Bracken
Director: Charles Walters

By the time Summer Stock was made, Kelly’s star was on the rise, and Garland’s was waning due to her myriad problems. This would be her last MGM musical. As a result, this enjoyable film is a little uneven, but it includes some absolute show-stoppers. Garland’s Jane is a no-nonsense girl who finds her family farm overrun by a troupe of theatricals when her flighty sister offers them the spot for their summer home. It’s up to the leader of the group, Joe (Kelly) to convince Jane to let them put on a show in her barn. Naturally, sparks fly, and eventually Jane gets into the act herself. Garland’s electrifying “Get Happy” number is here, as is Kelly’s mesmerizing “Newspaper Dance,” one of his more inventive creations. Less ambitious than The Pirate, this final pairing succeeds in its simplicity, and in the incredible talents of its two leads.

An American in Paris (1951)
Co-stars: Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant
Director: Vincente Minelli

I’m not entirely sure what to tell you about An American in Paris. It’s simply an incredible achievement. It’s beautiful, the numbers are all flawless, the songs are Gershwin, it’s Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron falling in love and dancing all over Paris, for pete’s sake. It won six Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1952, beating out heavy hitters like A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire. The final act is a 17 minute ballet, which may put some people off (it did me, at first), but I think it’s the finest example of Kelly’s balletic aspirations. It’s simply one of the best musicals you will ever see, and you absolutely should see it.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Co-stars: Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Though less successful than An American in Paris (at least on paper), Singin’ in the Rain is widely considered to be the best movie musical ever made, not to mention one of the greatest movies of all time. It tells the story of a movie star (Kelly) who must make the difficult transition from silent film to “talkies,” which he navigates by virtue of just happening to be quite the good singer and dancer. The titular number is an iconic scene in a film full of iconic scenes, and Kelly, in addition to co-stars O’Connor and Reynolds, appears to be at the top of his game. If you see one musical in your lifetime, please make it this one.

Brigadoon (1954)
Co-stars: Cyd Charisse, Van Johnson
Director: Vincente Minelli

I really love Brigadoon, but I can never quite shake the feeling that it ought to have been better. Tommy Albright (Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Johnson) are hunting on the moors of Scotland when they stumble upon Brigadoon, a magical village that only appears to the outside world once every 100 years. Tommy is immediately smitten with one of the resident lassies, Fiona Campbell (Charisse), despite being engaged to a New York socialite back home. Tragedy strikes, the explorers go home, and Tommy mourns his lost love. If he returns to the site, will true love overcome the spell that keeps Brigadoon hidden? Obviously, the performers here are top-notch. Kelly and Charisse are an excellent pairing, and I adore Van Johnson’s curmudgeonly Jeff. I think the big problem is that Brigadoon encountered some big budget cuts during production, and so it was filmed on a sound stage instead of on location. Minelli can do great things with color and cinematography, but here, his attempts at a dreamy, pastel palate just give the whole movie an amateurish feel. It’s not bad; not even close, but it’s not truly great, either, in my opinion. Still, a really good Gene Kelly movie would be a masterpiece for anyone else, so it’s always totally worthwhile.

It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)
Co-stars: Dan Dailey, Michael Kidd, Cyd Charisse
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Originally conceived as a sequel to On the Town, It’s Always Fair Weather looks at what happens when three men brought together by their experiences in the Army reunite 10 years later. Ted (Kelly), Doug (Dailey), and Angie (Kidd) have gone their separate ways, and when they meet again, they find little left in common. Between a plot hatched by the CEO of Doug’s company and Ted’s trouble with some crooked fight organizers, not to mention the influence of a gorgeous businesswoman (Charisse), the boys eventually come to find out that they are more (and less) like their old selves than they realized. This is an uneven picture, notable only for a few fabulous dance scenes (the “trash can lid” scene and Kelly on roller skates). One can’t help but wish that Jules Munshin and Frank Sinatra had been available to reprise their earlier roles, although Dailey and Kidd both do a fine job. Charisse is almost criminally under-used, here, although she does get a chance to flash those fabulous gams. It’s still a fun picture, but it doesn’t measure up to earlier Kelly/Donen efforts.

Les Girls (1957)
Co-stars: Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall, Taina Elg
Director: George Cukor

Lady Sybil Wren (Kendall) is being sued for libel. Her former co-star, Angele (Elg), disputes Sybil’s tell-all account of their experiences as part of the dance troupe Les Girls. Most of the trouble seems to center around head man Barry Nichols (Kelly) and his relationship with his trio of dancing beauties, which also includes Joy Henderson (Gaynor). The story is told in flashback sequences from three separate points of view, and it’s great fun. Kelly is charming as ever, and his three leading ladies all put in excellent performances as well. Les Girls combines the fun and shine of Kelly with the quick-paced humor of Cukor (with lyrics by Cole Porter!) to great effect. It’s a little short on big production numbers, but the “Why Am I So Gone” number is worth the price of admission for fans. Watching it, I realized something I’d never bothered to actually articulate about Kelly and his style of dancing: it’s SEXY. If you’ve watched all the usual suspects and are looking to branch out a little more, I’d highly recommend this one.

Inherit the Wind (1960)
Co-stars: Spencer Tracy, Frederic March
Director: Stanley Kramer

Inherit the Wind is based on the Scopes trial of the 1920s, in which a high school science teacher is brought to trial for teaching the theories of Darwin in the classroom. Spencer Tracy and Frederic March play opposing lawyers who are arguing for science (Tracy) and religion (March). Gene Kelly plays E.K. Hornbeck, a sharp-tongued and cynical reporter. This was my first non-musical look at Mr. Kelly, and I have to admit that I was worried about whether or not he would hold up well without any fancy footwork. I shouldn’t have. He’s enjoyably sly here, providing a humorous running dialogue amidst all of Tracy and March’s blustering earnestness. They are both on fire, by the way, and turn in magnificent performances. This is a really great dramatic piece that we found surprisingly resonant and relevant given today’s political climate.

What a Way to Go! (1964)
Co-stars: Shirley MacLaine, Dean Martin
Director: J. Lee Thompson

Let’s be honest: you want to see this movie for the cast. MacLaine stars as Louisa, who finds herself a widow four times over. She has a thing for underachievers, but apparently motivates them to work themselves literally to death. Consequently, she’s filthy rich, but is really only interested in getting rid of her wealth. Who does she marry? Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, and Gene Kelly. For a start. This is a totally zany and fun little movie. As she recounts each relationship, Louisa envisions them as a certain type of movie, which we see in dream sequences. Obviously, the relationship with Kelly is a musical number. He starts out as sad-sack entertainer, but under Louisa’s influence, reaches greater heights. Watching Gene Kelly be a “bad” singer/dancer/performer is a singular experience. The cliche about how one needs to be really good to be convincingly bad holds true here. What a Way to Go! is a lot of fun, mainly due to MacLaine’s brand of wide-eyed charm, and her impressive list of leading men.

The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
Co-stars: Catherine Deneuve, Francoise Dorleac
Director: Jacques Demy

This is a weird little musical. We spent a lot of time trying to decide if it was weird because it was a “French musical,” or if it was just strange. I’m not really sure if there is a specific sub-genre that is “French musicals,” so it remains a mystery. Anyway. Twin sisters Delphine (Deneuve) and Solange (Dorleac) are looking to break out of Rochefort and head to Paris to pursue their dreams. Delphine wants to be a dancer, and Solange wants to be a composer. Both of them are looking for their romantic ideals as well. On their last weekend at home, the arrival of a carnival which brings a couple of traveling salesman types (George Chakiris and Grover Dale) as well as some other new faces, provides a tangle of romantic knots involving not only the sisters, but their mother as well. It’s one of those movies where the right people keep missing one another by a matter of seconds and key information keeps getting left out of conversations, driving the audience crazy. There are some great musical numbers, all very sixties-ish, along with bright colors and costumes. I think that explains the “weirdness” of it: it’s trying to hearken back to the great musicals of the 40s and 50s, but it does so through a very 60s sort of lens. Plus, it’s all very stereotypically French: ennui and cigarettes, romantic ideals and the acceptance of fate. It’s in French with subtitles, which are quite often hilarious. It’s hard to say if this movie is really for everyone or not; I think it’s interesting for Kelly fans to see him opposite a new generation, as it were.

So there you have it. A veritable smorgasbord of Gene Kelly movies in case you’re looking for something to watch this weekend in celebration of his birthday. Or just because you want to watch a good movie, even. Anything strike your fancy? Anything I’m missing out on? Let me know!