“Star Of The Month (March 2021)” Featuring Gene Kelly in… Invitation To The Dance (1956)

We’re back for yet another one of Gene Kelly’s films (since he is the Star Of The Month), and this time it’s his 1956 all-dancing film Invitation To The Dance! As always, we have a theatrical short to get through first, but, due to the nature of the movie itself, we’ll do things just a little different this time!

Table Of Contents

Coming Up Shorts! with… Pink Pistons (1966)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 1 (1964-1966) from Kino Lorber)

(Length: 6 minutes, 2 seconds)

The Pink Panther buys a compact car (with a mind of its own) and ends up in a drag race. Most of the fun in this cartoon is with the drag race against an older lady, which, as we quickly find out, is Granny Flash, the senior citizens drag race champion. And, for that reason, I would say this cartoon is a little uneven (if not too short). The exposition of buying the car (and seeing some of its gadgets) goes on too long, and the drag race is over so quickly you’re left wanting more. Had the opening been shortened and/or the race been extended, this one would have been a lot better.

And Now For The Main Feature…

Gene Kelly had long wanted to do an all-dance film, but it wasn’t until 1952 that he was able to convince the MGM studio executives to let him do it. Part of the movie was filmed in England, as MGM had some of their money frozen there, and this allowed them to actually use it for something. With all the European dancers who were cast, filming took a while to be completed, as they all had schedules of their own. It had originally been Gene Kelly’s vision that he would only appear in one segment, but, as he was the only big-name movie star in the film, the MGM executives insisted that he be in all of them. There were plans to have a fourth segment, “Dance Me A Song,” which would have utilized popular music (and it would have been the segment that Gene Kelly had hoped to make his lone appearance in). Supposedly, that segment was filmed, but it ended up being cut. Even though filming did end in 1953 (and production in 1954), it took a few years before MGM decided to even try releasing the movie. The delay was the result of uncertainty on the part of the MGM executives over the film’s marketability (especially at a time when the rise of television was causing a decline in ticket sales). When they did finally release it, it was to art house theatres (where it flopped).

“Circus”

(Music by Jacques Ibert)

For part of the show at a circus, the Clown (Gene Kelly) pretends to be in love with a lady (or, as the cast list shows, the Loved, as portrayed by Claire Sombert), but she is in love with the Lover (Igor Youskevitch). However, life imitates art, as the Clown has feelings for her offstage, too. But, just like onstage, she only has feelings for the Lover, who is also a tightrope walker. As the Clown watches her worry while her Lover does his aerial acrobatics, he is depressed and jealous. He watches as they meet that night, and then go off alone. He finds her cape, and pretends it is her, but she finds him with it and learns of his feelings for her. Her Lover comes back, finds the two of them together, and storms off. While she cries, the Clown decides to walk the tightrope himself, much to her fear as she calls out for everybody from the circus. Tragically, the Clown is not as adept on the tightrope, and he falls to his death (but pushes her and her Lover to come back together before he dies).

For me, this segment falls into the middle, as to which one I prefer. While I understand the whole idea of having Gene Kelly in all the segments, this one feels like the one he was needed for the least. I mean, he spends the entire segment underneath that clown makeup, which obscures him enough that, if you didn’t know that was him, it would be otherwise hard to tell. The two parts of this dance story that are the most enjoyable for me are his dance with all the other clowns while he is wearing all the jangling bells, and the duet between Claire Sombert and Igor Youskevitch. Now, I’ve been watching this movie as a whole off and on for most of the last decade, but it was only on this last viewing that I realized this seemed like the dance version of the classic Charlie Chaplin film The Circus (which I only finally saw in 2020). After all, we’ve got a clown falling for a gal in the circus, but she is interested in a tightrope walker (obviously, it’s shortened quite a bit for this half hour segment). Honestly, I would say I prefer to watch the far better Chaplin film, but this isn’t too bad.

“Ring Around The Rosy”

(Music by André Previn)

This story follows a bracelet as it makes its way around. It is bought by the Husband (David Paltenghi) for his Wife (Daphne Dale) as an anniversary present. He gives it to her at a party, but he storms off when he sees her flirting with an Artist (Igor Youskevitch). Later, the Artist (now in possession of the bracelet) is infatuated with his Model (Claude Bessy), and gives it to her. After a performance, she comes out to see her boyfriend, the Sharpie (Tommy Rall). He notices the bracelet, and soon ends up with it himself. At a nightclub, he presents it to a Femme Fatale (Belita), but watches as she goes off with a Crooner (Irving Davies). Now, he has it, but he gives it to the Hatcheck Girl (Diana Adams). Coming back to her apartment, she unexpectedly runs into her boyfriend, the Marine (Gene Kelly). When he spies the bracelet on her wrist, he takes off with the bracelet and goes away, to her sadness. After going to a bar, he meets the Girl On The Stairs (Tamara Toumanova) and flirts with her. Afterwards, he gives the bracelet to her. While she is walking by a hotel, she spies the Husband, who notices the familiar bracelet. He buys it from her, and returns home to reconcile with his Wife.

In between all the various dancers and the story, this segment has the greatest variety. However, I do feel it is the weakest of the three. I don’t mind the story revolving around the bracelet, as that makes it interesting. What I’m not as thrilled by is the fact that, in spite of the sheer size of the cast, not everybody actually does any dancing. Some sections are more fun than others though. I do enjoy the balletic duet between the artist and the model, especially since her character seems to be hungry, and is eating and drinking while she is doing her dancing. Besides Gene Kelly, this segment also includes another familiar face, Tommy Rall (Frank from Seven Brides For Seven Brothers), who does some tap dancing and some of his flips during his section. still, even with all the different styles of dance incorporated here, this is the one I struggle to get through the most. It’s not terrible, as I do enjoy it, but it’s still the weak link of the entire film for me.

“Sinbad The Sailor”

(Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov)

We begin here with Scheherazade (Carol Haney), as she tells a story about a lamp. Her story starts in a marketplace, where Sinbad (Gene Kelly) winds up buying a bunch of souvenirs, which include that lamp and a book. When he rubs the lamp, the Genie (David Kasday) pops out. At first, Sinbad doesn’t believe he is a genie, until he uses his magical flute to chase away a snake. Thrilled, he wishes to go into the world of the book that he had bought. There, he finds himself in a valley of jewels. The two of them encounter a guard dragon, but the Genie’s flute again helps them out. However, a pair of guards show up and take Sinbad to a palace, where a sultan orders his execution. However, the Genie’s flute softens the guards, and Sinbad encounters one of the harem girls, for whom he quickly falls in love with. However, the guards still refuse to let him leave, and he has to outwit them before he, the Genie and the harem girl can get away.

Ah, this is the fun one. This segment was filmed in the U.S., with the animation being done under William Hanna, Joseph Barbera and Fred Quimby. The story works quite well, and the special effects are great here, too! While you won’t find Gene dancing with any famous cartoon characters here (like when he danced with Jerry the mouse in Anchors Aweigh), the animation is still fantastic! Whether he’s dancing with the dragon, the two guards, or the harem girl, everything works quite well! It’s worth seeing this movie just for this segment alone!

My Overall Impression

In some respects, this was the first “silent” movie I ever watched. I’ll admit, the lack of dialogue and singing/musical numbers originally put me off, and left me with no desire to see the movie. But, I’m glad I did see it, as it’s been fun to watch every now and then! The music itself isn’t particularly memorable, and, as you can tell from my comments on the individual segments, the quality (and my opinion) varies. But, there is some enjoyment to be found here, especially with all the great animation! I’ve mainly been watching the available DVD from Warner Archive Collection during that time, and this is one that I do wish could be given a full restoration (especially to enjoy the “Sinbad” segment looking more vibrant). But, I also understand it has a limited appeal, and seems unlikely to get that restoration any time soon (but I’ll be glad to be proven wrong if and when that happens). So, I would definitely recommend giving this one a try if you think you can handle an all-dancing movie! The overall film is one hour, thirty-three minutes in length, with all the segments clocking in at about half an hour each.

Film Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Deep In My Heart (1954)Gene KellyLes Girls (1957)

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