Aug 23, 2007

Gene Kelly, 1912-1996

In writing of my favorite films and the stars that populate them, I can't help but feel I've covered every aspect of uber-hot hoofer Gene Kelly before: the tough-nosed professional man behind the debonair onscreen romantic, the painstaking perfection he infused into each of his films, the vibrancy with which his colorful MGM spectacles still resonate today (and oh, did I mention that smile?). But as I celebrate what would've been Gene-o's 95th birthday today, I wonder if it isn't so much simpler on some level. Could Gene Kelly really be just a fabulous movie star?

Devastatingly handsome and supremely sensual, Kelly proved adept at playing his non-dancing roles pitch-perfectly: he was, in equal turns, Judy Garland's overzealous and histrionic lover in The Pirate, the despondent film star on the edge of decline in the insurmountably superb Singin' in the Rain, and the hardworn, Hopper-esque journalist in Stanley Kramer's dramatic Inherit the Wind. Watching his films decades after their respective releases, it seems that Kelly understood, even from the outset of his career in 1941, the great beauty of cinema, the legacy of the motion pictures he was creating. And so he worked to raise the medium to a higher standard regarding its inclusion of dance and its depiction of aesthetic beauty, moreso than any of his contemporaries: he often harangued scriptwriters and challenged directors, re-wrote dialogue and cast his own leading ladies in order to fashion the caliber of film he knew that he, and MGM, was capable of. What a legacy that leaves us to revel in.

So Gene, here's to you. Sexy, savvy, graceful and ingenius...Really. Our love is here to stay.

Not familiar with Gene? Check out my film suggestions to get acquainted with Monsieur Kelly here.

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Classic Movie Trivia

What legendary director sometimes referred to himself by the Gaelic version of his birth name, Sean Aloysius Kilmartin O'Feeney?


Aug 20, 2007

Same Script Scrutiny: Debbie vs. Ginger

Oh, how Hillary's Classic Cinema loves to roll its antiquated eyes at the very idea of film re-makes: once a good, bankable movie has been released (or even a brilliant B movie, for that matter), truly, why does the passage of a few years necessitate the re-issuing of a perfectly good film with brand-new stars? Become entrenched in classic cinema and you, too, will begin to see familiar storylines unfold in obscure old movies: character names are recycled, an identical foil in the plot is doled out with measured exactness, even dialogue may match another film's verbatim.

Surprised to find out that films like A Star is Born, His Girl Friday and even The Wizard of Oz are remakes? Don't be - that seems standard fare for classic Hollywood, where the emergence of new technologies allowed for the employment of new approaches to old stories (can you imagine the yellow brick road in sepia tones? Yeccch). In the days of the studio era, film assignments were often handed out with the same discretion and speed as lunch trays in the MGM commissary, and the actors and actresses of cinema's golden age were frequently forced to star in flicks that their predecessors had made famous just years before (unless they, like blonde beauty Betty Grable, tore up their contracts and stormed out of offices to avoid such fates).

It is with much haste, then, that I introduce a new feature here: Same Script Scrutiny, pitting two sinfully similar films against one another for a battle to wit's end. Okay, not really, but maybe you'll discover a new film to love - and that's always my aim in writing about the classic movies I love!

This edition features 1939's Bachelor Mother, remade as its opponent, 1956's Bundle of Joy, with both films telling the story of working girl Polly Parrish. When Polly finds a rollicking infant on the steps of a foundling home, she scoops it up to save it from harm, only to find herself unwittingly thought to be the child's neglectful mother. Extricating herself from the responsibilities that ensue proves mildly delightful, while romantic entanglements and the exasperations of child-rearing wear poor Polly down, and an overzealous grandpa throws his sentiments into the turmoil.

1939 1956

Ginger Rogers played Polly to David Niven's Mr. Merlin in the 1939 version; sparkly Debbie Reynolds and then-real-life-husband Eddie Fisher, lamer than a damp rag, portrayed the pair in the 1956 remake. RKO capitalized on the Fishers' own expectant status when the movie premiered, as their daughter, Carrie Frances, was born just weeks prior to the film's release.

Same Script Scrutiny: Which is the better film? You decide.

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Aug 16, 2007

Photo of the Week

Husband-and-wife team Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, circa 1962

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Aug 15, 2007

Meet Monsieur Kelly

As August here at HCC is not only the mark of what would be legendary dancer, actor, and all-around hotness Gene Kelly's 95th birthday, but also the month in which he is bestowed, posthumously, the petit homage of being our Star of the Month, I am more than happy to familiarize you with King Kelly in a summary of his best, can't-miss films below:

Anchors Aweigh, 1945 - Kelly teamed up with popular crooner Frank Sinatra in three separate films, but Anchors Aweigh has the added heft of operatic wonder Kathryn Grayson (and the inarguable appeal of the absence of google-eyed Broadway boy Jules Munshin, who appears in Kelly and Sinatra's other two films). The pair's onscreen camaraderie is irresistible as they, amorous sailors both, chase dames while on leave in Los Angeles and fall for the same pretty lady.

The Pirate
and The Three Musketeers, both 1948 - The corral of stars at MGM is legendary, ostensibly more populous than even the heavens. So while it may have been simple studio policy to pair Gene with the beautiful likes of Judy Garland (The Pirate), June Allyson and Lana Turner (both, The Three Musketeers), minor romantic history is made in each of these, where Kelly gets a chance to flex his comedic talent as well as his, well, more athletic side. Swarthy and swashbuckling, Gene makes each of these star-studded films a true delight, whether he's running from the law on horseback, slashing sails with his sword or smothering any of his helpless leading ladies with his ever-appealing ardor. Swoon!

Singin in the Rain
, 1952 - Often cited as a hallmark in Kelly's filmography and hailed as one of the best, if not the absolute best, musicals of all time, Singin stars Gene along with newcomer Debbie Reynolds, all of 19 here, Donald O'Connor, Jean Hagen, and the inimitable Cyd Charisse. With an unforgettable score laden with Arthur Freed classics and dazzling Technicolor setting, this flick is a must!

An American in Paris, 1951 - I personally harbor an intense dislike for this movie, as it can be perceived as so cultivated and entrenched in the artistic aspects of its story - particularly Kelly's dance interpretations of classical paintings - as to potentially alienate viewers, not to mention mire the whole semi-credible plot in grating dialogue, forgettable music and seemingly-endless montages of its stars (I think Oscar Levant plays piano in a dream sequence for, honestly, an hour and twenty-seven minutes). If you can ignore Georges Guetary and Levant's screen time and simply revel in the heavenly hoofer that is Gene Kelly, then this one will prove a gem. Don't miss his heart-meltingly romantic rendition of "Our Love Is Here To Stay", either!

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