Minnelli’s 1948 musical with wife Judy Garland was a notorious flop. There were reasons for this but there are also real pleasures to be found here.
Manuela (Garland) is a sheltered lass living in a quiet village. Her aunt (Gladys Cooper) has arranged her marriage to the much-older town mayor (Walter Slezak) but Manuela dreams of being swept of her feet by the notorious pirate “Black Mack” Macoco. She talks her aunt into letting her go on one last trip to a nearby port city. There she spots actor Serafin (Gene Kelly). Initially she mistakes him for Macoco. When she finds out his true identity, she wants nothing to do with him. She sneaks into see his show anyway and he takes advantage of the opportunity to hypnotize her into revealing her true feelings. They are for Macoco, not him. In a trance, Manuela breaks into song to the wild applause of the audience Now Serafin needs her as the headliner for his show.
Serafin follows Manuela back to her village. He pretends to be Macoco and threatens to burn down the place unless Manuela is given to him unmarried. Her fiance objects but it turns out Serafin is possession of a secret that allows him to carry on the charade. For the time being … With George Zucco as the viceroy.
The characters of Kelly and Garland are comically overacting for most of the film. This was not what 1948 audiences wanted to see no matter how clever some of the dialogue might be. The film also bogs down in places and the Cole Porter tunes, with one exception, are not his catchiest. The movie is worth seeing, however, just for the number in which Gene Kelly dances with the Nicholas Brothers to “Be a Clown” and the song’s reprise with Garland.
The DVD includes an interesting commentary by a film historian outlining the film’s troubled and protracted production history. Garland was about ready to implode at this time. Honestly, none of it shows up on the screen.
Lennie Hayton was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.
Clip – “Be a Clown” – Cole Porter was sure a good sport when Freed ripped this off for “Make ‘Em Laugh’ in Singin’ in the Rain