WEIRDLAND: February 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pulp Noir Dance: Vera-Ellen and Gene Kelly in "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" (1948)

Vera-Ellen (1921-1981) should have been one of Broadway and Hollywood’s most enduring stars. She was a fine dramatic and light comedic actress, and was considered by a number of authorities to be the greatest all-around dancer of her generation. And for a brief moment in 1950, she was an American household name, as famous as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio or General Douglas MacArthur.

She could do tap, toe dancing, adagio, modern dance (formerly known as dramatic dancing), comic dancing, partnered dancing, prop dancing, Apache dancing and advanced acrobatics.

"Vera-Ellen growing legion of fans was stunned by the Vera they saw in "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue". The number had been originally staged more comedically by George Balanchine for Ray Bolger in the 1936 Rodgers and Hart stage musical "On Your Toes" and it had also been used in the 1939 film of the same name. Now the number, as staged by Gene Kelly, was serious, different from Bolger's slaphappy dance routine.

It has been termed the first dance noir, echoing the popular film noir genre of the '40s. Kelly stated: "I changed the libretto from the comedy which Balanchine had done to a tragic ballet... We rehearsed the number for four weeks and shot it in three days.

The seven and a half minute jazz ballett "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" became her all-time favorite dancing role, completely regenerated her Hollywood career, achieved landmark status in the history of the musical film, and became the single work of art for which she is most remembered today. Vera-Ellen's work ethic was legendary and Kelly was a notoriously severe hard-master, but she could take everything he could dish out". -"Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery" by David Soren, Meredith Banasiak and Bob Johnston (2003)

Vera-Ellen and Gene Kelly in "Words and Music" (1948) directed by Norman Taurog

"She Tried to Be Good" paperback book cover illustration by Rudy Nappi (1951), a dead ringer for Vera-Ellen

"I asked Vera-Ellen what it was like, to dance with the two greatest male hoofers in the world, what were the differences between them. 'The only difference is what you see on the screen', she told me. She did say, however, that Fred Astaire is the more detached of the two".

"I’ll never have a dance I loved more than “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”, I’ll never stop being grateful to Gene Kelly for having given me my chance at doing it with him. They play the music of Slaughter over the air even now. If I hear it while driving I have to stop the car, pull over on the side of the road – and listen to it, hearing that music makes me shiver and quake, I get goose-flesh at the memory, though we rehearsed it for six weeks, it lasted exactly seven minutes on the screen, the greatest seven minutes of my professional life." -"Motion Picture and Television Magazine" (July 1952)


Dick Powell, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly on 22nd March 1943 ("For Me and My Gal" - CBS Radio)

"The first time Gene Kelly appeared on a stage he had to borrow a tie from screen star Dick Powell. It took him eight years to return it". (Pittsburgh Press, May 16, 1943)

Dick Powell and Claire Trevor in "Murder, My Sweet" (1944) directed by Edward Dmytryk, adapted from the novel "Farewell, My Lovely" by Raymond Chandler

Somewhere in the mid-Forties, the private detective was born in "Black Mask" magazine. You can paddle around in the dark waters of Edgar Allan Poe panning for artistic antecedents to film noir, but you needn't venture further back than this rough-edges magazine of "pulp" fiction.

"Black Mask" was created in 1920 by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, as a lowbrow bookend for the pair's witty and urbane Smart Set. At the late age of forty-five, Raymond Chandler took his first pecks at the typewriter keys, following Dashiell Hammett's path through the pages of "Black Mask". -Eddie Muller

Gene Kelly's character of E.K. Hornbeck represented H.L. Mencken (American journalist, magazine editor and satirist) in the film "Inherit the Wind" (1960), directed by Stanley Kramer.

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in a promotional still of "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955) directed by Stanley Donen

Gene Kelly's agility, virility, and Technicolor smile were a virtual refutation of the gloomy fatalism of film noir heroes like Mitchum and Bogart. Thus it's only a short leap from Kelly's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" ballet, danced with Vera-Ellen in "Words and Music".

Vera-Ellen kissing Gene Kelly in "On the Town" (1949) directed by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Vera-Ellen shines displaying her athletic abilities in the scene 'Miss Turnstiles' ("On the Town"), choreographed by Gene Kelly.

Kelly may have been born in Pittsburgh, but it was a Manhattanite's brashness he brought to the Arthur Freed musical unit at MGM -which returned him, at his and Stanley Donen's request, to the streets of New York for their plein air masterpiece "On the Town" in 1949.

Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth in "Cover Girl" (1944) directed by Charles Vidor

In most of his films, he played the hyperathletic sexual initiator of partners like Judy Garland, Vera-Ellen, Debbie Reynolds, or Leslie Caron. That his 'American in Paris' character was essentially priapic is revealed amid the dreamy Impressionist artifice of the Moulin Rouge ballet, in which Kelly dances in a skintight bodysuit before the splayed skirts of the cancan girls.

Only Cyd Charisse could bring the frenetic Kelly to a standstill, as she did from a sitting position with one long imperious leg in "Singin' in the Rain". "MGM didn't know what they had with Cyd, did they?" Kelly said to me when I interviewed him at his Beverly Hills home in March. Source:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscars 2012 Recap: Top Winners and Moments

Christopher Plummer and Melissa Leo
Meryl Streep
Michel Hazanavicius and Bérénice Bejo
Jean Dujardin

ABC World News Now: Oscars 2012 Recap Top Winners and Moments

Jake Gyllenhaal at JANA Hair Class Salon in Berlin (February 18, 2012)

Jake Gyllenhaal attending the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival - Closing Ceremony

Jake Gyllenhaal at JANA Hair Class Salon in Berlin, on 18th February 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Glamourous and Insurrect Icons

Audrey TotterJan SterlingMarilyn MonroeGloria GrahameRita HayworthEleanor ParkerPatricia NealLauren BacallHedy LamarrLana TurnerAva GardnerAnn SheridanGene TierneyLizabeth Scott
Piper Laurie
Cleo Moore

"The most vivid and compelling motion pictures were created under the most severe and narrow-minded censorship." —"Pre-code Hollywood: sex, immorality, and insurrection in American cinema" (1999) by Thomas Patrick Doherty

Bogart & Cagney, Gene Kelly & Fred Astaire

"Bogart had the crucial friendship of John Huston, who wrote and/or directed most of his best movies. And it was Huston’s script for the first great one, “High Sierra”, that established the persona the actor would embody for the rest of his career — the wounded idealist who pretends to be a cynic, the fighter who loves best the battles he can’t win.

“Casablanca” wrote that character large and made Bogart an icon, but it was Huston who first made Bogart “Bogie”. And that is why, whatever their merits as actors, Bogart remains the more mythical figure. Scrappy, up-from-the-slums Cagney was the emblem of the first half of the American century; weary, wounded, cynical Bogart became the symbol of a post-war nation that had seen its own blind confidence shaken. And so, when the nostalgia craze first hit college campuses in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the recently deceased actor seemed more current than ever.

By then, it was increasingly hard to truly identify with Cagney’s cocky, whaddaya-hear-whaddaya-say optimist; Bogie’s existentialist loner seemed absolutely made to order. And he remains so. Combine them, though, and you have a picture of the country’s 20th-century entire — as well as deft, different performers and perhaps two dozen classic films.

Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney in "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938) directed by Michael Curtiz

James Cagney & Humphrey Bogart in "The Roaring Twenties" (1939) directed by Raoul Walsh

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, rivals and co-stars in "What happened to Baby Jane" (1962) directed by Robert Aldrich

Bogart vs. Cagney? It’s as endless — and unnecessary — a quarrel as Davis vs. Crawford, or Astaire vs. Kelly.

Who’s best? Luckily for real film lovers, we don’t have to choose. We can have both, forever — striding down those mean, rain-washed streets, their eyes squinting against the wind, a thin, tight smile on their lips". Source:

Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in "The Band Wagon" (1953) directed by Vincente Minnelli

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955) directed by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

"At 14, I discovered girls. At that time, dancing was the only way you could put your arm around the girl. Dancing was courtship. Only later did I discover that you dance joy. You dance love. You dance dreams." -Gene Kelly

Marilyn Monroe dancing with Gene Kelly on the set of "Let's Make Love" (1960) directed by George Cukor

“Kelly’s appearance in the film was due entirely to producer-director Stanley Kramer, who cast the picture with precisely the actors he wanted: “I’ve always thought Gene Kelly was a wonderfully sensitive actor. He had a sharply satirical quality in ‘Pal Joey’ on the stage and he seemed a natural choice for a character based on H.L. Mencken in ‘Inherit the Wind’.” -Director Stanley Kramer about Gene Kelly in "The Films of Gene Kelly" by T. Thomas (1976)

Gene Kelly in "An American in Paris" (1951) directed by Vincente Minnelli (ballet sequence). Minnelli decreed: "It has to be something to do with emotions, the time in his mind, the way he feels just having lost his girl, and a whole thing about Paris".