Dreaming of Gene and Barbara
Genies bestowing their magic on us mere mortals marked birthdays yesterday, each gracing a pair of memorable movies in the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray registry. Born 104 years ago, dancer/choreographer/director/Pittsburgh native Gene Kelly (1912-1996) endures as one of the greatest gifts ever to the movie musical genre, whose song and dance innovations remain as fresh and invigorating as ever. On the cusp of movie stardom, he was borrowed by Columbia Pictures from MGM to partner Rita Hayworth in the Technicolor treat Cover Girl (1944) and the result was a whirlwind showcase of buck-and-wing, tap and balletic grace – not to mention edgy romance and goofy comedy – that not only overflow with invention (as in the still daringly inventive Alter Ego number Kelly shares with himself) but also genuinely appealing camaraderie (in his simple, graceful duets with rapturous Rita in the dreamy Long Ago (and Far Away) and the jaunty Put Me to the Test, just two of seven great songs penned for the film by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin). There’s also a bit of a dancer’s cockiness and biting bravado to another role he undertook 18 years later, one for which he was critically shortchanged at the time, but has now come to be regarded as one of its project’s key assets. For Stanley Kramer’s dramatic adaptation of the hit Broadway play Inherit the Wind (1960), Kelly plays E.K. Hornbeck (a riff on the real-life journalist and Scopes Trial chronicler H.L. Mencken), a cynical reporter whose jaded coverage of a 1925 Tennessee court case takes an unexpected turn when the opposing forces on the heated issue of public school teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution (long-time MGM colleague Spencer Tracy and Fredric March) leave their marks on him. As rock-hard religious faith and progressive scientific ideas, look to Kelly for signs of battle scars.
For actual magic in a bottle, beautiful Tucson-born I Dream of Jeannie star Barbara Eden, who turned a venerable but still lovely 85, remains the iconic real deal to generations of fans. Before her blink-of-an-eye mid-1960s period of peak celebrity, she was a Twentieth Century Fox contract player with small roles in such fare as Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, A Private’s Affair and even a lead in the two-season spinoff TV series How to Marry a Millionaire? The year 1960 brought two showy parts, one short and the other substantial. Director Mark Robson, who brought Eden to test for a part in No Down Payment for which she was not ultimately cast but did land her Fox contract, remembered her for the small part of Clemmie Shreve, a Travilla-gowned flirt girl who comes on to ambitious married executive Paul Newman at a glittering party and asks “Are you going to make a pass at me, Alfred?,” to which he replies “You believe in long courtships, don’t you!” in the charged all-star melodrama From the Terrace (1960). Her other role, vacated by another previously but later unsuitably cast Barbara Steele, was that of Roslyn Pierce, the love interest torn between her affection for two half-brothers, the white Clint Burton (Steve Forrest) and the half-breed/part Kiowa Pacer Burton (Elvis Presley) in Don Siegel’s deeply-felt Western family saga Flaming Star (1960). More than just an impressive acting vehicle for the King, here Eden also had a chance to shine as a spirited frontier woman whose gentle decency and genuine empathy for the conflicted Pacer is constantly at odds with the overpowering racial tensions of 1870s Texas that ultimately doom any ongoing romantic involvement. The Kelly guy and the Eden girl are valuable team players who bestow wish-fulfillment magic on their work in the TT titles Cover Girl [available here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/20127/COVER-GIRL-1944/], Flaming Star, From the Terrace and Inherit the Wind.