This essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to The Gene Kelly Centennial Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic Movie Blog Association in honor of the 100th birthday of one of the silver screen’s most talented and innovative practitioners of dance. For a list of the blogs participating and the movies and subjects covered, click here.
After triumphs in such Broadway plays as The Time of Your Life and Pal Joey, Eugene Curran “Gene” Kelly signed a Hollywood contract with independent überproducer David O. Selznick in October of 1941—who then proceeded to sell half of that contract to M-G-M, which allowed Kelly to make his impressive debut (alongside Judy Garland) in the musical Me and My Gal. Buoyed by the success of that film, M-G-M unit producer Arthur Freed bought the other half of Gene’s contract—despite reservations from the studio—and began to cast the young talent in musicals such as Du Barry Was a Lady and Thousands Cheer. With Kelly on the cusp of movie stardom, the studio also tried him out in dramatic roles in non-musical pictures like Pilot #5 and The Cross of
Cover Girl (which co-starred Rita Hayworth and Phil Silvers), the musical that inarguably put him on the musicals map (Kelly devised the innovative sequence that allowed him to dance to his own reflection), and then to Universal to play a dramatic role opposite one of that studio’s big moneymakers, Deanna Durbin. Durbin had rescued Universal in the late 1930s from bankruptcy with a string of successful musical comedies that featured her as the winsome girl-next-door who usually had to settle a crisis within the span of each film’s running time. Durbin was anxious, however, to break out and do something different—so she convinced Universal to let her exercise her dramatic chops with a film loosely based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. The result: Christmas
Black Hand. Again, the innate charm of Kelly comes to the fore in the scenes where he and Durbin’s Abigail are just getting acquainted…and it’s not that difficult to believe that Abigail never stops loving her husband even after she learns that he’s a killer and is on a one-way trip to the Big House.
|In Holiday, the Deanna Durbin character describes how happy the first six months of her marriage were with "Robert, Mother and me." What's wrong with that picture?|