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With his masculine confidence, athleticism and ebullient personality, Gene Kelly could easily have enjoyed an alternate career as a swashbuckler in the tradition of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn - a point well-proved by his dashing performances in The Pirate, The Three Musketeers (1948) and "The Dueling Cavalier," the film-within-a-film in Singin' in the Rain (1952). In The Pirate, directed with characteristic verve and color by Vincente Minnelli, Kelly plays Serafin, an itinerant performer who poses as the legendary pirate Macoco to impress a beautiful young woman (Judy Garland).
The MGM movie's delightful Cole Porter score allows some of Kelly's most spectacular displays of musical derring-do. In the first version of "Be a Clown" (later reprised by Kelly and Garland in clown makeup), Kelly creates an acrobatic trio with the gravity-defying Nicholas Brothers. In the rumba-propelled production number "Nina," Kelly turns the set representing a West Indies town into his own personal playground - scaling balconies, hanging from windows, gliding down to earth and, all the while, flirting with every female in sight.
The highlight of Kelly's irrepressible performance, the stylized, boldly erotic "Mack the Black" ballet, is described by Stephen Harvey in his 1989 book Directed by Vincente Minnelli: "With a Douglas Fairbanks rope trick, Serafin-as-Macoco plummets down to earth from the mast of his ship; as the blood-and-charcoal backdrop lights up with rhythmic blasts of flame, he careens about his ravaged domain, wielding a large pole to daunt burly rivals and feminine conquests alike."
The Pirate, based on a non-musical stage success written by S.N. Behrman and performed on Broadway by Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, proved a troubled production from the outset, due largely to Garland's illnesses and insecurities. The film's budget soared to a total of almost $4 million. Critical notices at the time were unenthusiastic, and The Pirate, recouping only about half of its cost, became the only one of Garland's MGM films to lose money. It is now generally considered that this sophisticated musical fantasy was years ahead of its time; it represents some of the finest work of all the talent involved and has developed an ardent cult following.
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, from play by S.N. Behrman
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith
Costume Design: Karinsky, Tom Keogh
Cinematography: Harry Stradling Sr.
Editing: Blanche Sewell
Original Music: Cole Porter, Roger Edens, Conrad Salinger, Lenniey Hayton (uncredited)
Musical Direction: Lennie Hayton
Choreography: Robert Alton
Principal Cast: Judy Garland (Manuela), Gene Kelly (Serafin), Walter Slezak (Don Pedro Vargas/Black Macoco), Gladys Cooper (Aunt Inez), Reginald Owen (The Advocate), George Zucco (The Viceroy), Fayard and Harold Nicholas (as the Nicholas Brothers).
C-102m. Close captioning.
by Roger Fristoe