Friday, December 30, 2011

"The Pirate" - A film review of a Christmas present by Robert Steven Mack

I just want to say a few things about The Pirate...

During the 1940's and 50's Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was known as the most glamorous studio in Hollywood. This was mostly because of their track-record in showmanship of musical comedy romances, in addition to the stars, directors, writers, and producers such as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mario Lanza, Kathryn Grayson, Cyd Charrise, Vincent Minnelli, Arthur Freed, et cetera... The original idea of a film based on a 1942 play by S. N. Behrman went back to when MGM bought the rights to The Pirate in the early 40's.

The studio had high hopes for the prospect of doing a film version of The Pirate. Despite this, the film had a difficult production and went through several drafts from different writers before Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett came aboard. Like the play, the film would be about a travelling entertainer pretending to be a pirate. In one of the early drafts, however, the writer changed the concept completely and had a pirate pretending to be a travelling entertainer. It’s an interesting concept when you think about it, but not quite what they had it mind.

Arthur Freed, a renowned producer of Hollywood's biggest musicals of the time, (Singing in the Rain, On the Town, etc.) was set to produce with Vincent Minnelli as director. Minnelli's wife at the time, Judy Garland, was envisioned to be star in it along with Gene Kelly. This was not the first time the two were to be together on screen as they were the leads in Kelly's first movie, For Me and My Gal in 1942. Minnelli wanted the film to be as stylized as possible; something the movie would be criticized for later. In addition to Freed, Kelly, Minnelli, and Judy, we have a good supporting cast that includes Walter Slezack, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, and George Zucco and songs by Cole Porter including the legendary "Be a Clown." As I said, production did have quite a bit of trouble. Both Kelly and Judy were taking drugs, but it was Judy who would really suffer from it. In addition to the other turmoil, Judy Garland's marriage to director Vincent Minnelli was falling apart leave a cold atmosphere to enter the set from time to time. As I have already related to you, The Pirate is about a travelling entertainer pretending to be Judy Garland's childhood hero, the legendary pirate "Macoco".I received this film in the "Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory" collection (along with Words and Music, The Belle of New York and so on) as a Christmas present and watched this movie in early morning hours, awaiting a film I had long heard about in documentaries and such. And frankly, I was stunned!

The Pirate is a story of cunning, romance, adventure, and screwball comedy. Each number, though they weren't as many as in many other musicals, were special and memorable: Numbers like the exciting "Mac the Black," the haunting "Love of My Life," a mesmerizing "You Can Do No Wrong," as well "Nina", and the classic and stunning "Be a Clown". Cole Porter's score and songs are memorable, exiting, and a treat for any film goer who loves a and appritaites dancing, music, and so on. For those who really appreciate dancing, Kelly (and Garland, too) is amazing in several numbers of such magnificent proportions, yet each with a different feel, telling parts of the story. Kelly and Garland really shine in this one! Garland's singing is wonderful and Kelly's dance is terrific. They are great together and their acting is also very good a joy to watch in this stylish, big musical extravaganza of romance, wit, and adventure.

Unfortunately, the film was not a success upon release, being too "stylish" or "ahead of its time" - which is a shame because it really is a wonderful musical and is perhaps not appreciated enough. Along with a fine supporting cast, the superb Nicholas Brothers, terrific tunes by Cole Porter, stylish dance routines and direction by Vincent Minnelli, and of course Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, this one is a real winner!

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

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