. . . someone no longer alive?
“I got started dancing because I knew it was one way to meet girls”
The other night I was flipping channels and landed on An American in Paris. It has never been one of my favorite Gene Kelly movies. At least I have always told myself that, much preferring Singin’ in the Rain. On the Town is always fun, too. But I stuck with it, just past this part or that number that I remembered that I really loved-Embraceable You (just how Kelly holds his shoulders in that dance with Leslie Caron is amazing), Stairway to Paradise, etc. The cap to, and truly, excuse for the entire movie is the spectacular end piece by Gershwin. The concept, costumes and set design wonderfully bring to life paintings by Dufy, Rousseau and Van Gogh, but my favorite section of that extended number would have to be the part set in Toulouse Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge. Not only has Kelly never looked sexier (except maybe in that fantasy scene from The Pirate), but the lighting and make-up of the extras in the scene are spot-on. Someone did their homework to create art from art. S’Wonderful.
No offense to his pal Sinatra, but I would have loved to see Gene Kelly in the movie version of Pal Joey, the role he originated on Broadway. Apparently MGM prevented him from appearing in the film due to contractual blah-blah-blah, so we wuz robbed.
“I wanted to invent some kind of American dance that was danced to the music that I grew up on: Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart and Irving Berlin. So I evolved a style that certainly didn’t catch on right away-but I had some good mentors in New York who encouraged me.”
There is always something a little dark to Kelly-a quality, besides his fantastic physical form and athleticism, which contributes to his sexiness. The character of Joey Evans in Pal Joey is basically a jerk. In American in Paris Jerry Mulligan is on his way to becoming a kept man, but finally chooses love over fame to run off to an uncertain future with (underage?) Leslie Caron just in the last few moments of the film. In one of my favorite Kelly movies, It’s Always Fair Weather, his character defines cynicism-but also manages to tap dance spectacularly on roller-skates. He was the Bogie of movie musicals. Or, according to Kelly:
“If Fred Astaire is the Cary Grant of dance, I’m the Marlon Brando.”
Movie musicals are an idealization of the world. There is something indefinable, some joy, that brings a smile to one’s face when watching someone sing and dance and express the big emotions with vivid color, costumes, and back-up dancers. Kelly could do it all with style, muscularity and intelligence-and he could speak French! Sigh. At least we can still enjoy all that life and energy and dark emotion on film.
“I never wanted to be a dancer. It’s true! I wanted to be a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
Apparently Kelly was also a big New York Yankees fan. Could he have been more perfect?