Ah, Gene Kelly. That dancing representative of the American Work Ethos - accessible leading man, choreographer extraordinaire, creative genius, occasional director and, arguably, Hollywood's most affable showoff.
They're all Gene Kelly.
I'm concerned today with Gene Kelly, the occasional director and his lesser-known work behind the camera.
Of the handful of movies that Kelly directed, either in tandem with Stanley Donen or solo, the one title that's always fascinated me is his
simplistic, deceptively disarming "Gigot," from 20th Century-Fox in
1962 - a film that, until just recently, couldnot be seen anywhere.
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. A small, yet large, film, so to speak.
incredible talents joined forces for the occasion - star Jackie
Gleason, who provided the idea for John Patrick's screenplay, and Kelly.
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.
Kelly's filmography as a film director is scant - but also eclectic and
fascinating. He, of course, is best known for having co-directed "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) along with "On the Town" (1949)
and its pseudo-sequel, "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955), all with Donen, and
Barbra Streisand's "Hello, Dolly" (1969) and "Invitation to the Dance" (1956) on his own.
But he also helmed a handful of songless films like "Gigot."
include the France-based "The Happy Road"/"La Route joyeuse" (1957),
in which he also starred;
"Tunnel of Love" (1958), with Doris Day and Richard
Widmark; the Walter Matthau-Robert Morse farce, "A Guide for the Married
Man" (1967) and "The Cheyenne Social Club" (1970), 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. (Ross Hunter's wonderful 1961 film version was directed by Henry Koster and choreographed by Hermès Pan.)
Perhaps, one day, an enterprising young repertory specialist will organize a program exclusively around Gene Kelly, the director.
And "Gigot" would be included.
And how about a double-bill of late-in-his-career cameo performances? I'm thinking of his dances with Shirley MacLaine
in J. Lee Thompson's "What a Way to Go!" (1964) and with Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac in Jacques Demy's "The
Young Girls of Rochefort"/"Les demoiselles de Rochefort" (1967). Or maybe a pair of his straight-dramatic roles in Stanley
Kramer's "Inherit the Wind" (1960) and Irving
Rapper's "Marjorie Morningstar" (1958). Just thinking/suggesting.
Gene Kelly - the everyman who mastered everything.