American Masters: Season 16, Episode 8

Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer (1 Mar. 2002)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary, Biography, History
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A documentary on Gene Kelly.

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Episode credited cast:
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Himself (archive footage)
Jeanine Basinger ...
Betty Comden ...
Himself (archive footage)
Stanley Donen ...
Himself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Herself (archive footage)
Beth Genne ...
Herself (archive footage)


A look at the life, the work, and the contributions of Gene Kelly to movies and movie making. The film celebrates Kelly's putting story-telling into dance and discovering, along with Martha Graham and Jerome Robbins, an American style. It examines his partnership with Stanley Dolan, his bringing of tap and ballet into musicals, his marriages and personal competitiveness, his political views, and his work on stage as well as in film. This production details his contributions as a dancer, choreographer, and director. The narration and talking heads also discuss his muscular style, his low center of gravity, and his masculine appeal. Written by <>

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1 March 2002 (USA)  »

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Kelly's brilliant career given a complete overview...
5 March 2007 | by (U.S.A.) – See all my reviews

GENE KELLY was one of a kind and this documentary celebrates his faults as well as his virtues, refreshing because it's not just a gushing fan tribute to a great actor/dancer who made dancing look as macho as it did when he embraced it with his physical athleticism, the embodiment of the blue collar guy rather than the aristocratic finesse of the other screen great, FRED ASTAIRE. Different styles, different personalities.

And while it has some highly laudatory comments from his co-workers and co-stars, as well as some incisive comments from his longtime ex-wife Betsy Blair, it does reveal the man's flaws rooted in his quest for perfectionism. It also reveals that the longtime collaboration with director/choreographer Stanley Donen became a bitter one by the time they did IT'S ONLY FAIR WEATHER, after which the two never spoke again.

Stanley Donen has been interviewed several times on TV, never discussing his professional relationship with Kelly in much detail, but revealing a condescending attitude toward another MGM star of that period--ESTHER WILLIAMS--whom neither Kelly nor he wanted for TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME and both of them deriding her as not up to their standard of what they expected in a co-star. As it turns out, Esther gave them a charming performance in the film, but she herself related some stories about how unkind their on set behavior could be.

Sorry for digressing, but it gives you a hint of what both Kelly and Donen could be like in this documentary. DEBBIE REYNOLDS tells how she was in tears much of the time on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN because Kelly insisted on hours and hours of rehearsals for the dance numbers and she was a novice in that department--but then says she learned an awful lot from Kelly's sense of discipline. CYD CHARISSE says her husband could always tell whether she'd been dancing on a film with either Kelly or Astaire--if she had bruises, it was with Gene. Things like that give you an idea of his working style, but you have to connect the dots.

As for the documentary, it's brilliant. All the highlights you'd want to see from Kelly's most famous hits are there: including his fabulous dance number with Garland for FOR ME AND MY GAL, COVER GIRL (with Rita Hayworth including the alter ego dance routine), ANCHORS AWEIGH (with the cartoon mouse Jerry), ON THE TOWN, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, AN American IN Paris and IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, as well as other minor clips from his other works.

Among the most interesting clips: amateur movies shot in color of Gene's breakthrough performance on Broadway in PAL JOEY, showing the style and energy that would turn him into an immediate overnight star once he set foot onto the MGM lot.

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