Belatedly, I come to an event that has been presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center since July 12th - a glorious tribute to that dancing representative of the American Work Ethos, Gene Kelly - accessible leading man, choreographer extraordinaire, creative genius, occasional director and, arguably, Hollywood's most affable showoff.
They're all Gene Kelly.
”Invitation to the Dance: Gene Kelly @ 100," as the 23-film salute is called, plays until Thursday, July 26th, the venue being New York's Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street). A glaring omission in the tribute is the one Kelly title that you'd expect to be the usual suspect - the iconic "Singin' in the Rain" from 1952. It's missing largely because it's been touring the country in a spanking-new 35mm restoration print in celebration of its 60th anniversary.
On the other hand, the Society was wise enough to include Kelly's lesser-known work behind the camera, strictly as director. The one directorial title that has me reeling is Kelly's simplistic, deceptively disarming "Gigot," from 20th Century-Fox in 1962. It's a film that seemingly cannot be seen any place these days, not even on the slipshod Fox Movie Channel or on home entertainment in any format. "Gigot" will play Wednesday, July 25th @ 6:15 p.m.
I say the film is "deceptively disarming" because it's near-silent and was shot modestly on location in Paris by the estimable French cinematographer, Jean Bourgoin. Complicating matters, Bourgoin photographed the film in wide-screen and Fox opened it at the cavernous Radio City Music Hall.
Yes, a small, yet large, film, so to speak.
Two incredible talents joined forces for the occasion - star Jackie Gleason, who provided the idea for John Patrick's screenplay, and Kelly.
Gleason plays a mute Parisian hobo named Gigot who becomes involved with a little street gamine, named Nicole (the charming Diane Gardner), the daughter of a prostitute (Katherine Kath). The entire supporting cast is French. Nicole is the one denizen of Paris who doesn't mistreat Gigot. The shots of the tiny Gardner scampering around the massive Gleason, hugging his legs, and of Gigot attending his own funeral make for a series of indelible, sentimental images.
It would be easy to classify "Gigot" as Chaplin-esque, but it is actually a hybrid of Jacques Tati and Gleason's own Poor Soul creation.
Gleason also composed the film's music score, which is given a distinct, tinkly French reading by orchestrator Michel Magne.
BTW, Kelly's filmography as a film director is scant but eclectic and fascinating. He, of course, is best known for having co-directed the aforementioned "Singin' in the Rain," along with "On the Town" (1949) and its pseudo-sequel, "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955), all with Stanley Donen (both have already been screened by the Society), and Streisand's "Hello, Dolly" (1969, July 22nd).
But he also helmed a handful of songless films.
These include the France-based "The Happy Road"/" La Route joyeuse" (1957), in which he also starred but which is not included in the tribute; "Tunnel of Love" (1958, also not included), with Doris Day and Richard Widmark; the Walter Matthau-Robert Morse farce, "A Guide for the Married Man" (1967, playing July 25th) and "The Cheyenne Social Club" (1970, again not included), a comic Western starring Henry Fonda, James Stewart and Shirley Jones.
Kelly also took to the stage to direct the original 1958 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Flower Drum Song," recruiting Carol Haney to do the choreography and her husband, Larry Blyden, to star (as Sammy Fong).
The 1961 film version, however, was directed by Henry Koster and choreographed by Hermès Pan.
This is your chance to see Kelly dance with everyone from Shirley MacLaine in J. Lee Thompson's "What a Way to Go!" (1964, penciled in for July 23rd) and Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac in Jacques Demy's "The Young Girls of Rochefort"/"Les demoiselles de Rochefort" (1967, playing July 22nd and July 26th). "Invitation to the Dance" will also include Kelly as star in his straight-dramatic roles, among them Stanley Kramer's "Inherit the Wind" (1960, screening July 26th) and Irving Rapper's "Marjorie Morningstar" (1958, July 23rd).