Take it from someone who has tried it: dancing is difficult. As someone who has two left feet, I envy those who can make any choreography seem simple. And yet, even mediocre dancers can manage to do that. What truly impresses me is the talent that existed in the golden age of the Hollywood musical. Actors like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Ginger Rogers put everyone else’s dancing acts to shame. Of course, it helped that they had such brilliant songwriters and composers on which to build their dances, but in order to truly meld song and step still takes talent on the part of the dancer. After all, musicals are fine when people just sing, but when they add dancing, the scenes come alive. This week’s two films look at some great dancing by two of the greatest talents Hollywood has ever seen.
An American in Paris
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours
One of the best dancers of the 20th Century, if not ever, was Gene Kelly. Not to be confused with actress Grace Kelly, Gene is well known for some well-known musical productions, including On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain. Of note is also Anchors Aweigh, which features a rotoscoped sequence of Gene dancing with Jerry, the cartoon mouse from the well-known Tom and Jerry cartoons. Needless to say, Gene Kelly’s dancing was usually paired with Frank Sinatra’s singing (On the Town and Anchors Aweigh being two of the three films in which this occurred) and their strengths usually played well off each other. Of the 50 greatest actors of the last century, the American Film Institute has placed Gene Kelly at #15. Similarly, An American in Paris was placed at #68 on their top 100 list.
While Gene Kelly did not win an Oscar for his performance in An American in Paris, he did win an Honorary Award that year to recognize his years of talent as a dancer (among other talents). However, the film did win Best Picture, as well as five other Oscars including Best Score. Of course, when you’ve got the work of such talents as Ira and George Gershwin as a foundation, it’s not difficult to see why it won. And yet, the piece de resistance is the fantasy that consumes most of the film’s final act. Gene Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, who has come to the realization that he cannot be with Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). As such, he dreams of a world where he can dance across Paris, showing Lise all the sights and wonders that could be if only she were not already in a relationship with another man.
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours
Just like the pairing of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly mentioned above, another one-two punch of singer and dancer is that of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. While on the dance floor, Fred was often paired with Ginger Rogers, which caused many to remark that while Astaire’s dancing was superb, it took more talent for Ms. Rogers because she had to do the same choreography backwards and in high heels. Two of the best known of the Astaire/Rogers films were Top Hat and Swing Time. And while Holiday Inn has Fred paired with Marjorie Reynolds, he still has many opportunities to shine. If anything, Fred Astaire paved the way for Gene Kelly, since the former dominated the dance floor in the 1930’s and early 1940’s and the latter claimed the territory in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.
Once again, this film won an Oscar for its music, however only for its signature song, “White Christmas”, which was the crown of nearly a dozen other songs written and composed by Irving Berlin (who had the idea for the film in the first place). And even though the song was brought to life by Bing Crosby (who plays Jim Hardy), his character seems to be the odd man out in a stage act that includes Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). When the two decide to take their dancing act further, Jim decides that it’s time to retire and eventually ends up starting a venue that is only open on holidays. Even though Jim has always loved Linda, he lets her go with Ted. And yet, as a venue owner, Jim needs some acts for all the holidays it will be open for, which is why he asks them to come and perform on his stage.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic dancers