Royal Wedding (1951)

royalwedding1The Wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip was a once in a lifetime experience. They’re still together to this day and yet when they got married she was not even queen yet. It’s hard to believe. It’s only fitting that a momentous occasion like that would get a film, and Stanley Donen‘s musical is a bouncy little dance fest that uses the wedding as its backdrop, hence the title.

The story follows the brother-sister dance team extraordinaire of Tom (Fred Astaire) and Ellen Bowden (Jane Powell), who after a smashing opening weekend of their show Every Night on Sunday, get a call to perform in London in the wake of the big occasion. So they get aboard the first ocean liner available and head abroad. Tom is more interested in work than love, and Ellen leaves behind a string of beaus behind, but none of them meant much to her. She finds a budding romance with Lord Brindale (Peter Lawford), and it looks like it might actually amount to something. Quite by chance, Tom finds out a woman he meets on the street happens to be part of their production, the dancer Anne Ashmond (none other than Winston Churchill’s daughter Sarah). So of course, we have these two budding romances forming as the show gets into high gear and siblings must balance their obligations with love. It’s not always easy or without heartache, but it ends up just as glorious as the Royal Wedding.

Fred Astaire is an ageless wonder looking as spry as he ever did, and his individual numbers are probably the film’s best. His coat rack dance in the gym seemingly pays homage to his friend Gene Kelly and shows his brilliance at breathing life and vitality into inanimate objects. They become his partners in the dance. His inspiration for expression.

royalwedding2Furthermore, his dance on the ceiling looks as remarkable now and feels just as magical as it probably was back then. It’s a marvel because we look for any sign of a trick, but everything looks so fluid. Thus, it’s so easy to quickly forget the technical aspect and simply be blown away by the inventiveness of Astaire.

Jane Powell is a wonderfully bright young beauty and a lovely co-star for Astaire in both song and dance. It was refreshing not to have them playing romantic leads opposite one another and the brother-sister dynamic fittingly mirrored Astaire’s own longtime real-life partnership with his sister Adele. All in all, it’s a light and elegant bit of fun that’s an exuberant delight. It does what it sets out to do and that’s about all you can ask for.

3.5/5 Stars

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Seven_brides_seven_brothersThe title gives a clear indication of what this Stanley Donen musical will be about, but it does not tell us how we will arrive at that conclusion. It all begins when a woodsman named Adam (Howard Keel) comes to town intent on finding himself a cute and handy bride. That he does in Milly (Jane Powell) and soon enough, in a whirlwind, they are married and heading back to his home. There she is greatly surprised to meet his rambunctious and rough-edged younger brothers. Six to be exact, but you already guessed that.

Once she accepts her new life, it becomes Milly’s mission to straighten them out and find them girls to court. It isn’t easy but soon they learn table manners and proper etiquette before the big barn raising takes place. There the boys make quite the impression and the audience is given quite the show complete with bright colors and inventive-foot-tapping choreography. It’s an understatement to say that the Pontipee brothers are not popular with the locals, and not only is there a barn-raising but some hell-raising as well.

Adam is proud of their showing, but the rest of the lads are lovesick as the long cold winter begins, separating them indefinitely from their girls. With Adam’s encouragement, they decide to do as the Romans and kidnap their sweets, but they fail to think about the consequences. The town’s in an uproar, the girls are frightened, and a man-made avalanche means there is no contact with the outside world for at least 5 months!

Milly is appalled by their actions, especially Adam’s part, and the lads are made to sleep in the barn as she dotes over the scared group of girls. Not liking what he’s seeing, Adam heads off on his own for a while. Spring brings a fresh start as young love flourishes and the boys are forgiven. Milly gives birth to a baby girl, and Adam finally returns home with a new perspective. But what about the town folk you ask? They do come after the  Pontipees, and they don’t like what they see when they ride in. Needless to say, it is a happy ending with each boy getting his girl, thanks to a few shotguns.

With catchy songs, beautiful color cinematography, lively dance numbers, and an amusing premise, this is a very strong MGM musical, even if it is not the best of the lot. That is not saying much because the studio could hardly go wrong with such previous titles as On the Town, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon. Seven Brides is a nice addition although I will say it vaguely reminded me of Oklahoma. However, it is different enough to be well worth it. The only question left to ask is, “Are Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, “Frank,” and Gideon natural red-heads? I’m not sure I know the answer but I could wager a guess.

4/5 Stars

The Best Films of Stanley Donen

“I think of myself as a meat-and-potatoes kind of director.”

  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Charade
  • On the Town
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • Two for the Road
  • Funny Face
  • Royal Wedding
  • Indiscreet
  • Arabesque
  • Bedazzled
  • It’s Always Fair Weather
  • The Grass is Greener

Well-known Collaborations: Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire in musicals

Indiscreet (1958)

020ac-indiscreetThis is a solid romantic comedy which pairs the legendary Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman one last time. Bergman is a well-known actress who has success, but has never experienced true love. Then she meets Philip Adams, a man who literally walks up to her door since he is a friend of her brother-in-law. They become acquainted and they turn into fast friends. Bergman finally feels she has found the one and their love grows. However, the only problem is that he is married and estranged from his wife. Little does she know what is really going on and yet when she does it throws their whole relationship into jeopardy.  She has one final plan to get back at Grant and it really backfires, but in the end the two lovers get back together.

In this film it was nice to see two more middle aged stars paired. I enjoy Cary Grant with Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly, but I think Ingrid Bergman is more his contemporary. Some of the best sequences had to be during the ball. Here Grant shows he still has the physical comedy ability because at this time he had fell almost completely into the debonair gentleman persona. This is not a great romantic comedy but still a respectable piece from Stanley Donen.

3.5/5 Stars

Review: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

f7d3a-singin_rain I always seem to get goosebumps during Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” number, because each time I see and hear it, there is still a new magic to it every time. You see when I was young, before I knew all the classics, first and foremost, I knew this gem of a film. It is such a wonderful buildup to that moment with such personal favorites as “Make em’ Laugh” and “Moses Supposes.” Then you have the always popular “Good Morning” with not only Kelly but Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds performing. Great stuff! There’s tireless choreography that goes into many of those sequences but it comes off so effortlessly and it brings us into the moment. There those wonderful, brief instances when you lose yourself in the music, the magic, and so on.

As the story goes, the three friends save the failing “Dueling Cavalier” by losing the simple “talkie” gimmick and making it a musical by dubbing the squeaky-voiced Lena Lamont (Jean Hagen). Cathy (Reynolds) no longer is a bit player, and she gains the acknowledgment that she deserves. Then Don Lockwood (Kelly) gets the girl who burst out of a cake. Cosmo Brown (O’Connor) is along for the ride staying with Don through thick and through thin, even calling him a cab when necessary. He’s a true friend in a million.

Although Kelly had a career with other high points (arguably never as high as this one), I am always slightly saddened that O’Connor and Reynolds never reached another apex like this in their subsequent careers. But they were both so great here, we must simply cherish this film for what it is.

Even to this day, the film holds up, and that is a tribute to the writing of Betty Comden and Adolph Green highlighting the infant Hollywood and the advent of talkies. In the same breath, it’s both a satire of the movie star culture and still a love letter to that same cottage industry. The only film with a similar dissection of Hollywood’s Golden Age is another 50s classic in Sunset Boulevard. The big difference is that Wilder’s film is chock full of drama and darkness. Singin’ in the Rain will always and forever be a light, fun musical with a lot of laughs.  It is constantly quotable whether it is “dignity, always dignity” or “I CAN’T stand it!”

Jean Hagen is always the butt of everyone’s jokes, but she is indeed very funny with the most annoying voice in the history of cinema (She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. Triple threat). You also have other fine performers like Millard Mitchell as studio head R.F., and then appearances by Cyd Charisse and Rita Moreno who made a name for themselves as dancers in the ensuing years. And is it just me or does Donald O’Connor remind others of Danny Kaye? He not only cracks the jokes, but he is a wonderful all-around performer. Although O’Connor was undoubtedly a better dancer.

All in all, this is a timeless classic and it will undoubtedly keep that title for as long as people watch movies. Now I hope it starts pouring buckets of rain so I can go outside and stomp around in the puddles. I will let you know if I come down with pneumonia. But until that happens I’ll enjoy every minute of it. I entreat you to do the same.

5/5 Stars

Singin’ In the Rain (1952)

This movie is a comedy, a romance, and above all a musical. However along with the immortal dance routines there is a plot and characters that are memorable as well. It helps to glorify a very different time in Hollywood and delivers a film that is funny and full of excellent song and dance.

There is something about this film that makes it extremely special. Even after seeing it many times I am still captivated by every joke and every unforgettable song. What can beat the brilliance and antics of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor backed by Debbie Reynolds? There is a touching love story to go along with these great actors and songs. Gene Kelly’s sloshing about in the title song is timeless and O’Connor delivers a hilarious performance in such songs as Make ’em Laugh. There are a few dance sequences that are drawn out but the rest is top notch and keeps the audience enamored the entire time. This truly is a classic movie and musical that is both funny and heartwarming.

5/5 Stars

“Dignity. Always, dignity”
~ Don Lockwood

Two for the Road (1967)

Starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney,this romantic comedy gives a more realistic view of love and marriage. Mark and Joanna have been married about 10 years now and despite their wealth they seem unhappy. The non-linear story relates how they both met each other while vacationing in France. They were young, energetic  and in love. The film also covers their travels across France with Mark’s former girlfriend, her analytic husband, and their spoiled daughter. Then, we learn Mark finally got work as an architect. However  now with a small daughter, the marriage is dragging and they both have their own affairs. Despite the loss of their original passion, the couple realizes they are in love so Mark quits his job so they can start anew in Rome. This film gives off a sunny 60s vibe with a playful score by Henry Mancini, bright colors, French scenery  and of course love. I always enjoy Audrey Hepburn but I also felt Finney did an excellent job playing opposite of her. Most importantly  director Stanley Donen may have made a Hollywood style romance, but he made it more recognizably human than most. It does not simply examine the passion alone because there are many aspects of this big, messy experience called love.

4/5 Stars

Charade (1963)

Starring the romantic pair of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, with Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy, this film is considered the best “Hitchcock film” which the director did not make. While on vacation, Grant and Hepburn first meet briefly and then she returns to her home Paris. Hepburn goes there only to find out her husband, who she wanted to divorce, has been murdered. When meeting with a CIA man (Matthau), she learns that her husband and three buddies stole some money during a war but the three chums never got their shares. Upon meeting Grant again, he agrees to help Regina (Hepburn) and also says he is looking for the money. Through a series of events the three other men are all killed and everything seems to point to Grant. Hepburn runs for her life with Grant close behind and winds up meeting the CIA man. However, everything is not as it seems and after a shoot out Hepburn finally realizes the truth. Along with the thrills this movie has a nice score and a touch of playful comedy (including Grant’s many aliases including Peter Joshua, Alexander Dyle, Adam Canfield, etc.). Cary Grant was hesitant of playing opposite Hepburn since he was quite a bit older, but that is used nicely in the film as a source of even more comedy. Furthermore, Mancini’s score gives the film a 1960s spy vibe or I guess I should say agent… Hope you enjoy Stanley Donen‘s Charade.

4/5 Stars