We’ve only one more week left in my course at Facets Film School on Gene Kelly and the evolution of cine-dance. Next Tuesday, we’ll finish with It’s Always Fair Weather (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1955).
Often underrated, It’s Always Fair Weather is a rather melancholy film not only because of its content, but also because it signals the decline of the major MGM studio musical. What’s more, some would argue that it, along with Brigadoon (1954) and virtually anything that follows Singin’ in the Rain (1952) for that matter, constitutes the “downward slope” of Gene Kelly’s career. Here are Morley and Leon on the matter:
Singin’ in the Rain also represents the end of Kelly’s golden years. At the age of 40, after only a decade in Hollywood, with 43 years yet to live and 24 films still to make, the Kelly career was starting on its downward slope. Singin’ in the Rain was an obituary for himself as well as silent Hollywood.
As I conveyed to my Facets students this week, the phrase an obituary for himself is a bit of an overstatement. By 1955, neither Kelly nor his career was dead. It just…shifted.
Making the Move to TV, Opera, and Non-Traditional Films
Like many stars of the flailing studio system, Kelly successfully (though somewhat reluctantly, it seems*) relocated his talents to television and then later, to the theatre stage. Regarding his turn in TV, have you seen Pontiac Star Parade (1959)? If not, after you download the handouts below, head over to YouTube and search “Ballin’ the Jack”—or you can check out this site, which has nicely compiled several of the numbers from the show. You won’t regret it; I promise. While displayed on much smaller screens, these numbers aren’t the result of someone’s whose career was at a standstill.
Gene Kelly not only found success on television, however. In 1960, the Paris Opera House commissioned him to choose his own material and create a modern ballet for the company. The result was Pas De Dieux, “the first jazz ballet ever staged by the stately old Paris Opera” and “set to George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F“ (Newsweek, 1960). Kelly’s biographer, Clive Hirschhorn sums up the (apparently wild) reception:
[Kelly's Pas Di Dieux] was received with a fifteen-minute ovation and twenty-seven curtain calls. Gene was called out of the audience and onto the stage and responded to the cries of ‘auteur’ with tears and smiles. A few days later he was made a Knight of the Legion D’Honneur by Monsieur A.M. Julien, the Director-General of the Opera.
Not too shabby for someone who’s career is supposedly dead, eh? (For more images representing this event, see LIFE‘s “Rare Photos of a Song and Dance Legend.”)
Finally, yes, while Kelly’s later ventures on the silver screen were not as financially successful as An American in Paris (1951) or Singin’ in the Rain, he continued to make motion pictures in the 1950s, 1960, and 1970s, some of which garnered great reviews. There were experimental films like Invitation to the Dance (1956), non-singing/dancing ones like Inherit the Wind (1960), and foreign ones like The Young Girls from Rochefort (1967). (We’ll leave Viva Knieval!  and Xanadu  for another discussion…)
Ah, but I digress… My primary purpose here was to fulfill a promise I made in my earlier post on Anchors Aweigh: to upload more handouts from the Gene Kelly course. So without further ado, here are our handouts on The Pirate (1948) and On the Town (1949). Again, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
*In a 1959 interview, Gene Kelly comments on filming dance for the TV: “It isn’t easy, even with the use of tape. Television really isn’t a dancer’s medium. The limitation in the size of the screen is obvious. The viewer doesn’t want to see a close-up of the ballerina’s face: he wants to see the movement of her whole body, and her relationship to other dancers.”