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Invitation to the Dance (1957) was Gene Kelly's project from the first and became one he would later regret. Kelly envisioned a film containing three separate ballets, with pantomime and a cartoon sequence reminiscent of the one used in Anchors Aweigh (1945). He later explained his reasoning, "When I originally set out to do the film, one of my chief reasons was the lack of filmed dance material available to the public, but in the space of four years that situation changed considerably. By 1956 people were seeing quite a lot of elaborate dancing on television variety shows, and there wasn't as much need for the film. And I must admit there were some things in it that didn't come off as well as I had hoped...I also didn't want to appear in the film as much as I did, but this was at MGM's insistence. They were investing a million dollars and wanted some protection for their money. My name was about all they could gamble on. As a producer myself, I could see their point of view. And I tend to agree with those who find the whole thing a bit much - each piece is enjoyable by itself, but three in a row is probably more than most people can take."
MGM decided to make Invitation to the Dance at Elstree Studios in Boreham Wood, fifteen miles from London. This was done because the studio had millions in frozen assets in the United Kingdom and they could not take that money out of the country. By employing British artists and using British studios, they could use those funds. In the summer of 1952, Kelly moved his family and his assistants Jeanne Coyne (later to be his second wife) and Carol Haney (who would play Scheherazade in the "Sinbad the Sailor" sequence of the film) to France where they worked out the choreography.
When the sets were ready they moved to England where the production became mired down in difficulties. The camera crew were unfamiliar with the type of crane Kelly wanted, and he found, to his frustration, that the things that were so easily accomplished in the gigantic factories of the Hollywood studios took much longer in the smaller British studios. It didn't help that Britain was still rebuilding from World War II and there were still shortages. And then there were the dancers. From all over Europe, Kelly had recruited some of the best, Russian dancers Tamara Toumanova, Igor Youskevitch, and French ballerina Claude Bessy among them. Because the dancers had other commitments, Invitation to the Dance had to be shot in bits and pieces to accommodate them. Injuries also occurred, as Youskevitch later said, "There were times, I think, when [Kelly] overdid things. He rehearsed us all so rigidly - and on cement floors! - that it required superhuman energy not to collapse. I remember one day he wanted me to do five double turns in a row and always land exactly on the same spot. He didn't want the camera to move at all, which meant that after each turn I had to remain totally in frame. Well, as any dancer will tell you, it's very hard to land on the same identical spot each time...He worked me for an hour of this until finally I injured my knee and he realized he was wrong. A couple of days later, when I was able to continue working he agreed to move the camera slightly for me to keep me in the frame. Which he did, though in the picture you can hardly notice it."
Kelly had problems with Tamara Toumanova, who had difficulty adjusting to Kelly's type of choreography. Kelly later said, "Tamara was a terrific dancer, but there were certain things she was just not able to do in modern dance. It wasn't her fault. Her orientation was completely different. I worked as hard as I could in the time available, and she was a marvelous sport, anxious to learn. But it was all too new for her. I just couldn't cut together what I'd shot and the result was disappointing. With more time maybe, I could have got it to work."
After filming was complete in England, Kelly returned to the United States, where the "Sinbad the Sailor" segment was completed. The MGM animation department took more than a year to animate the sequence, using nearly forty artists under the supervision of Fred Quimby, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
As Hugh Fordin wrote "For the next three and one-half years the picture was intermittently tampered with: cut and recut, dubbed and redubbed. In October 1954, Tommy Rall was called in to redub his taps. In 1955, Kelly and Coyne redubbed Kelly's taps. And there it sat until 1957. One might pose the question why it took MGM so long to release Invitation to the Dance. Most likely the answer can be found in a number of adverse circumstances. What was the sales potential of the picture? As an art film it would play - at best - to limited audiences...[large theaters seating thousands of viewers] were not feasible for a ballet picture with Gene Kelly as the only big name on the marquee. There was the opportunity of booking into independent chains and theaters, but the distribution division was confronted with a lack of interest. Another negative aspect was the rapidly declining motion-picture attendance, which shook the industry and with it the management of MGM...It was under [Benny] Thau's new regime that Invitation to the Dance was taken off the shelf and premiered at the Plaza, an art theater in New York, on March 1, 1957. By this time the accumulated cost was $1,419,105. It grossed $615,000."
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Gene Kelly
Screenplay: Gene Kelly
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg, Freddie Young
Film Editing: Adrienne Fazan, Raymond Poulton, Robert Watts
Art Direction: Randall Duell, Cedric Gibbons, Alfred Junge
Music: Malcolm Arnold, Roger Edens
Cast: Gene Kelly (Host/Pierrot/The Marine/Sinbad), Claire Sombert (The Loved), Igor Youskevitch (The Lover), Daphne Dale (The Wife), Tommy Rall (Flashy Boyfriend), Tamara Toumanova (The Girl).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The World of Entertainment: Hollywood's Greatest Musicals. The Freed Unit at MGM by Hugh Fordin.
The Films of Gene Kelly by Tony Thomas
Gene Kelly by Clive Hirschhorn
The Internet Movie Database