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