In the Caribbean of the 1800s, Manuela (Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz) prepares to marry the town’s mayor, Don Pedro (Walter Slezak, Sinbad The Sailor). She, however, dreams of meeting a legendary pirate named “Macocco.” When a travelling actor, Serafin (Gene Kelly, Singin’ in the Rain), finds out about Manuela’s obsession with Macocco, he pretends to be the pirate in order to impress her.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Underneath that prim exterior there are depths of emotion.”
The Pirate remains one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s less celebrated musicals. It seems like the kind of movie that you either love or hate. I tried to re-watch it with that in mind, and I still don’t understand what’s not to like about this wonderful musical. Is it possible that many viewers find the film’s artificiality hard to digest? I don’t know. Frankly, I’ve always loved The Pirate — it’s a terrific piece of entertainment.
The movie has an interesting background story. MGM producer Arthur Freed (An American in Paris) asked composer and lyricist Cole Porter (Kiss Me, Kate) to help him turn S. N. Behrman’s 1942 Broadway play into a musical. Freed instructed Porter to the write songs specifically for actors Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.
The Pirate was directed by Garland’s then husband Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis and The Bad and the Beautiful). Legendary art-director Cedric Gibbons (The Wizard of Oz and My Fair Lady) created the fantastic sets. Harry Stradling (The Picture of Dorian Gray and A Streetcar Named Desire) shot the film in gorgeous Technicolor. All that talent and postwar audiences stayed away.
Even today there are plenty of naysayers. I simply don’t get it. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have enough musical numbers. I counted only five — Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade (1948), Garland’s second musical of the year, has fourteen songs — so there are very long stretches with no music or dances.
Garland, who was really a monument of talent, keeps the non-singing segments alive with a truly fantastic comedic performance. We all agree that she can sing, dance and do drama, but I feel she hasn’t gotten enough recognition for her funny bones — she’s simply hilarious! Anyhow, Garland performs the best number, “Mack the Black,” a real showstopper. It’s one of her finest moments on the silver screen. Garland also sings the beautiful romantic ballad “You Can Do No Wrong.”
Kelly really stepped up his game with a series of amazing dance numbers (he and Robert Alton choreographed the dances). Kelly’s “Niña” is just sublime. There is also a striking dream sequence full of ballet and acrobatics. “Be a Clown,” with the Nicholas Brothers, is still one of the best things Kelly ever did. The song was later reworked into the iconic musical number “Make ‘Em Laugh” (from Singin’ in the Rain).
I also liked how Walter Slezak plays the heavy as if he was in a serious drama — he’s a superb antagonist. Gladys Cooper (The Song of Bernadette) is funny as Garland’s materialistic but well-intentioned aunt. The cast also includes Reginald Owen (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) as The Advocate and Lester Allen (The Dark Mirror) as Uncle Capucho. George Zucco (The Mad Ghoul) plays The Viceroy.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
From start to finish The Pirate is a lot of fun. Despite losing money for its studio, the movie compares favorably with MGM’s best movie musicals — it’s clearly the best of the three musicals Judy Garland and Gene Kelly made together (For Me and My Gal and Summer Stock are the other two). Color, 102 minutes, Not Rated.