Friday, 21 June 2013


MGM once said that they had more stars on their books than stars in the heavens, the reverse is definitely true now, although a good many stars in the heavens are previous MGM stars if you catch my drift.

Having spent rather a lot of the week watching the 'Begin the Beguine' number from 'Broadway Melody of 1940' I thought of taking a look at the different MGM pictures made by Ginger and Fred separately and indeed for one glorious film together

Fred's first movie for MGM was also his first step into motion pictures, he'd signed for RKO with the imminent start of 'Flying Down to Rio' expected, they weren't ready so they lent Fred to MGM for 'Dancing Lady' starring 'Clark Gable' and 'Joan Crawford' far too similar to what was being done at Warner Bros by Busby Berkley it's main claim to fame (at least as far as i can see as that's how its marketed on the UK dvd!) is it was Fred's first screen appearance! He appeared as himself in the movie, in his autobiograhy he said
'To have Clark Gable call me out by my own name and to play a scene with him and Joan Crawford was, I thought, a great way to be presented to the vast movie public - to many who had never seen or heard of me in spite of all my years on the stage.'

Fred's first non RKO movie in 7 years was his second movie for MGM 'Broadway Melody of 1940'paired with Eleanor Powell, just about the best female tap dancer in the movie business, it's interesting to see them dance together. Begin the Beguine towards the end of the movie is one of the best tap numbers ever captured on film, if you haven't seen it, its worth a look, its on youtube if you don't fancy watching the whole movie!
Fred, Eleanor and George Murphy (joint co-star)

Begin the Beguine - Fred and Eleanor
In 1945 came Ginger's first MGM film with 'Week-end at the Waldorf' a remake of 'Grand Hotel' 1932, Ginger played a movie star who mistakes a war correspondent for a jewel thief played by Walter Pigeon
If anything this movie made me yearn for a stay at The Waldorf-Astoria (i can dream right?!)

Fred made two films for MGM in 1945 (although Zeigfeld Follies started filming in 1944) both however were released in 1946 with Yolanda and the Thief with Lucille Braemer released first

Despite this being a b&w photo the movie was released in technicolor, if your a fan of Fred its worth watching once

Zeigfeld Follies (1945) had a much delayed release in mid 46, its a combination of some ok revues and some better, the one's Fred featured in were definitely some of the better (although the majority aren't bad)

It was also the first film (and only if you don't count the That's Entertainment movies) where Fred and Gene Kelly danced together, they reprised 'The Babbit and the Bromide' that Fred and his sister Adele first performed in 'Funny Face' (1927, Broadway and West End) the lyrics are edited but the dance number is fabulous and its a shame their only other number together came in 1974

Fred and Gene - The Babbit and The Bromide
Fred's next MGM movie (after his 'retirement') was Easter Parade with Judy Garland, everyone knows (i presume) that Fred came out of retirement (he retired after Blue Skies, 1946) as a favor to Gene Kelly who'd broken his ankle either playing football or volleyball (depending on which source you read) this film Fred and Judy hoped would lead to more collaborations together and indeed 'You Made Me Love You' was planned while Easter Parade was still in production. The film also starred Ann Miller (who played the partner who leaves Astaire for better work) and Peter Lawford (and a very complicated love square - until of course people realise their mistakes)

As Tramps in the 'Couple of Swells' Number

On the Avenue, 5th Avenue
Sadly for Judy although somewhat of a dream for a lot of other people 'You Made Me Love You' became 'The Barkleys of Broadway' the final movie Ginger and Fred would make together, the only one they made in Technicolor and the only one they made together for MGM

filming Swingtrot

I love 'Barkleys' true it has a different charm to it to the 9 RKO movies but boy am i glad they made one last movie and in style

The Barkleys of Broadway was also Ginger's 2nd and last film for MGM, Fred however carried on (for some of the best musicals of the 1950s)

Three Little Words (1950) starred Fred and Red Skelton as Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. A losely based biography its still one of the better film biographies that MGM were so fond of making at the time
With Vera Ellen and Arlene Dahl as the female leads, if you  can stand seeing Gale Robbins again its well worth seeing (to be fair i quite like the number she sings)

Royal Wedding (or Wedding Bells in the UK) was released in 1950, loosely based on Fred and Adele Astaire's late Broadway/West End career, it starred Fred with Jane Powell (playing his part's sister), Peter Lawford as the English Lord she marries and Sarah Churchill as Fred's love interest. As this was set around the Royal Wedding (between the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip) the film was retitled for UK release so people wouldn't confuse it as a documentary for the 'real' Royal Wedding
This movie contains the amazing 'Your All the World To Me' where Fred appears to dance on the ceiling, i've heard countless times how this was achieved but I still can't work it out when I watch the movie, it really is awesome to see!!!
It also contains the number with the longest song title ever in a Hollywood movie 'How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You, When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life' its an amusing number, but heck try saying that one in a hurry, makes a great tongue twister ;)

The Belle of New York was the reason Fred retired in 1946, MGM tied him to that if he came out of retirement eventually he'd have to make the film, I'd say its a shame but i really liked it especially the classic 'I Wanna Be A Dancin Man' the original was filmed with Fred wearing his waiter's uniform, MGM decided they needed something more formal so they put him in a suit, when the vaults were opened the original saw the light of day again, they can be viewed in split screen together on 'That's Entertainment Part3' Its a real tribute to how much Fred rehearsed as apart from the outfits the numbers are virtually identical despite being filmed weeks apart. Its all very Guys and Dolls although the film was based on a stage musical which predates Guys and Dolls! I'm not a fan of the film version of Guys and Dolls (although i loved the stage versions i've seen) and enjoyed seeing Vera Ellen with Fred for a second time

Gonna Leave My Footsteps On The Sands of Time
The Band Wagon (1953) was the first of two movies that Fred made with Cyd Charisse, this was vaugely biographical and had vague references to Fred's own career at that moment in time, it is a fabulous movie, with some great numbers including 'By Myself', 'Dancing in the Dark' and 'That's Entertainment' most of the songs from the movie came from the Broadway show 'The Bandwagon' the last show that Fred and Adele starred in together, the plot however is completely different and reflected the changing times (22 years had passed afterall) with Jack Buchanan as the broadway producer who wants to star, direct and produce all at the same time and Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray providing the comedy (oh and they 'wrote' the show that Astaire's character performs in)

The Englishman and the American

As they say 'That's Entertainment'
Silk Stockings was one of the last great MGM musicals to be made by the Arthur Freed Unit at MGM, a film version of the Broadway show which had been based on 'Ninotchka' (1939) this was the second and last film to star Fred and Cyd Charisse, after 3 Soviet Commisiars fail to bring back the composer that Astaire's character wants to write the music for his new musical Ninotchka (Charisse) turns up in town to find out just why they have all but defected. Brilliant film, the comedy provided by Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, Joseph Buloff and possibly unintentionally (from her character's perspective at any rate) Janis Paige

1 comment:

  1. Very thorough and well done. (You spelled Judy, July, up there somewhere). What a career Fred had. I hadn't realized Ginger only made 2 MGM films. I enjoyed reading what you wrote.