Seldom Scene
Movie reviews by Gerald Panio

Close this search box.

The Pirate (1948)

Serafin (Gene Kelly): Aren’t you interested in love?

Manuela (Judy Garland): No! I told you I was going to be married.

Before going into detail about this month’s movie (which has become a bit of a cult film among fans of 1940’s Technicolor musicals), I’d like to make a couple of recommendations to anyone who might be looking for hints on finding older films worth watching. I’ve kept two invaluable reference books on my bathroom reading shelf for the past couple of years. The first is Produced and Abandoned: The Best Films You’ve Never Seen, edited by Michael Sragow and published by Mercury House, Incorporated. This anthology contains about a hundred reviews by members of The National Society of Film Critics. Reviews range from a page and a half in length to Pauline Kael’s masterly 8-page review of Jonathan Demme’s Melvin and Howard. Films are grouped in fourteen broad categories (The Horror! The Horror!, Love in the Dark, Shades of Noir, etc.). With thirty of the best American critics writing about obscure films they love, one could hardly expect to be disappointed by either the reviews or the films chosen.

My second indispensable tome is The Entertainment Weekly Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made, published by Warner Books. No eight-page reviews here, but a thousand pithy, witty commentaries on a 100 notable films in each of 10 categories. Sure, the usual picks are here—Citizen Kane, This is Spinal Tap, Psycho, E.T., West Side Story, etc.—but with almost fifty different reviewers picking their favorites one winds up with a surprising number of lesser-known gems. Examples? In the Drama category, Glory. a powerful story of black soldiers in the Civil War, Lillian Gish in The Wind, Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind, and Humphrey Bogart as a paranoid screenwriter in In a Lonely Place. Although short, the individual reviews manage to be just that—individual. The Entertainment Weekly Guide makes for compulsive reading. It might be dangerous in the hands of bathroom readers with no sense of time.

The section of the Guide that surprised me most was that devoted to musicals. I hardly ever seem to watch them, but as I read through the description of the dozens of starring vehicles for Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Mickey Rooney, Lena Horne, Jane Russell, etc., etc., I got to feeling that the next time I grabbed an armload of films there might be more swinging and less sub-titling. To test the waters, I picked up a copy of a 1948 musical I’d never heard of: The Pirate. Entertainment Weekly put it at number 24 in the Top 100. They got my attention when they mentioned that the film had the Nicholas Brothers “at their sharpest.”

The Nicholas Brothers at their dullest could blow your socks off.

I wrote about them a very long time ago, in a review of the all-black musical Stormy Weather (1943). To this day I don’t believe I’ve seen a more dazzling dance routine than the one Fayard and Harold Nicholas laid down at the end of that film. There’s some of that magic in the one number the brothers share with Gene Kelly in The Pirate, but I wish they’d had a whole lot more screen time.

There’s a simple reason they didn’t get it, however. In the racially charged atmosphere of the times, The Pirate is possibly the only movie where the Nicholas Brothers danced with a white performer. The usual routine was either to have all-black films like Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky (also 1943), or to keep black musical performers in separate “specialty” numbers that could easily be censored out for audiences in the Southern States. As it was, not even the presence of Gene Kelly could keep the Nicholas Brothers segment from “disappearing” when The Pirate was released in the South.

It’s said that Gene Kelly–who was responsible for getting the Nicholas Brothers into The Pirate in the first place–once complained that Harold was slacking off on a scene because he hadn’t been working on learnimg his routine. Harold responded by solo-dancing the entire scene flawlessly. That’s the kind of awesome talent that flashes through many of the old musicals (and some more modern ones) like diamonds.

For me, a real revelation of The Pirate was Gene Kelly’s performance as a dancing cross between Douglas Fairbanks and Groucho Marx. It takes chutzpah to be ham enough to live up to an intro like “The Glorious Adventures of Mack—The Black Macoco, Macoco the Dazzling, Macoco the Fabulous, the Hawk of the Sea, the Prince of Pirates, whose Spirit and Legend will live on through the Ages; a story staggering to the imagination and ravishing to the sensibilities—gold and silver beyond dreams of avarice, villages destroyed, cities decimated for a whim or a caress….” Well, you get the point. Needless to say, no cities are decimated and few imaginations are staggered. Kelly plays the role of Serafin the Great, a lovable rogue of an actor in a traveling vaudeville show who ends up being mistaken for the legendary “Mack the Black.” The Pirate isn’t Singin’ in the Rain (1952), but Gene Kelly is wonderful as a skirt-chasing scalawag who meets his match in Judy Garland’s Caribbean coquette. Kelly’s obviously having a lot of fun with his lines (“You’ll always need a bodyguard—even in the lonely wastes of the Sahara Desert the sands would rise up and follow you….”,”Fair Juliet of the Caribbean, have I walked the tightrope all the way to heaven?”), the Cole Porter songs (“Since I seen ya, Niña, Niña/I’ll be having neurasthenia/Till I make you mine”), and the choreography (surprisingly robust, set against Technicolor sets & costumes that could have been the joint creation of Lucille Ball, Bugsy Siegel and Salvador Dali). Kelly’s energy was boundless. In this same year that he was spoofing Douglas Fairbanks in a musical, he also swashbuckled as D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers.

Judy Garland, too, is a joy in The Pirate, as she was in so many of her pictures. Made just as her addiction to diet and other pills was beginning to destroy her career, there’s no hint of the tragedies to come as Garland’s Manuela is naïve, sexy, meek, spunky, compliant and cheeky. My favorite scene is the one where she discovers Serafin’s deception (he’d led her to believe he was the dazzling Macoco of her dreams) and turns the tables on him by lamenting the fact that she could ever have mistaken him for anything as “unspeakably drab” as a common actor. Then she really rubs it in: “I should have known the first time I saw you that you knew absolutely nothing about acting!” Ouch.

Garland and Kelly have a genuine chemistry. Gene Kelly’s first film role had been in an earlier Judy Garland film, For Me and My Gal, made in 1942. Ironically, while Garland had been on stage all her life, Kelly began his career in the movies at the surprisingly late age of thirty. The director of The Pirate was Judy Garland’s second husband, the director Vincente Minnelli (father of Liza), with whom she’d also collaborated in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Clock (1945), and Ziegfeld Follies (1946).

Rascals like Serafin (“base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knaves” Shakespeare called them) never wear out their welcome. It’s fitting that the musical climax of The Pirate be the Kelly-Garland duet on “Be a Clown.” It’s advice the whole movie follows.


Looking Back & Second Thoughts

For the life of me, I can’t recall why I originally chose to write about this movie. Honestly, it’s a bit of a cat’s breakfast. Ham acting, outrageous costuming, and set decoration that looks like it was randomly pillaged from several MGM warehouses. Musicians in the background scenes play everything from bagpipes to flutes to Arabian drums. If there were a leprechaun or two running around in the background, I wouldn’t be surprised. The setting is allegedly somewhere in the Caribbean, but a Caribbean dreamed up by Lewis Carroll. Even the phenomenal Nicholas Brothers get swallowed up in the madness. The Pirate is an outrageous confection, a giant demented wedding cake. No wonder that audiences couldn’t make heads nor tails of it when it was released, and that critics still can’t make their minds up if The Pirate is an embarrassment or, well, something else. Maybe Vincente Minnelli channeling Baz Luhrmann? This was supposed to be Cole Porter’s comeback film, but even with Garland and Kelly singing the heck out of “Be a Clown,” a love song that manages to find rhymes for “neurasthenia” and “schizophrenia,” and Gene Kelly’s virtuoso choreography for “Niña,” no one paid much attention at the time. Porter would make his real comeback later the same year with Kiss Me, Kate.

Upon reflection, I think was just struck by Judy Garland’s beauty and Gene Kelly’s effortless grace.

Garland is sexy here, and Kelly is the perfect, irresistible rogue. The first take of their “voodoo” dance number was so provocative that Louis B. Mayer ordered the negatives destroyed and the entire scene was redone. Even in a bowdlerized version, though, that scene still got some fire to it. This 26-year-old woman isn’t the Judy Garland of The Wizard of Oz. Good for her. Garland was going through some hard times when she made this picture. Her attendance on set was erratic, and her marriage to Minnelli was in its death throes. To her credit, none of this backstage drama shows through in her performances. I think she must have enjoyed working with as consummate a performer as Kelly. His talent was a match for hers, and sparks flew. Their one passionate kiss has its own YouTube video.

Whatever its flaws or failed ambitions, I still recommend The Pirate. There’s nothing quite like it.

They definitely don’t make them like this anymore.

Critic Pauline Kael described The Pirate as “flamboyant in an innocent and lively way. Though it doesn’t quite work, and it’s all a bit broad, it doesn’t sour in the memory.” Victoria Large, at the Bright Lights Film Journal, called the movie “loopy, knowingly campy, brightly colored, ambitious, and absolutely unique…a risky piece of work perfect for those who prefer the strange and daring over the formulaic.” More from Ms. Large’s short essay on The Pirate:

Along with the amusing, Pepe Le Pew-like solo number “Nina,” Kelly is afforded the sort of fantasy sequence that both he and Minnelli gravitated towards throughout their time at MGM. In this case it’s the gravity-defying “Pirate Ballet,” which features Serafin surrounded by an absurdly over-the-top amount of fire and smoke (the scene would be parodied later in Minnelli’s classic The Band Wagon). Best of all, Kelly performs an acrobatic dance routine with Harold and Fayard Nicholas when first introducing “Be a Clown.” The Nicholas Brothers were a great African American tap-dancing duo relegated to being a ” specialty act” in most all of their movies, their numbers strategically positioned so that they might be deleted from prints shipped to the American South without disrupting a given film’s continuity. The duo’s greatest cinematic triumph may be their heart-stopping contribution to the finale of Twentieth Century-Fox’s all-black musical Stormy Weather, but their desegregated appearance in The Pirate — a climactic moment not designed for excision — is a different kind of triumph. Kelly reportedly requested the Nicholas Brothers for the film and battled with the studio to get them cast. That he dared to speak out in favor of the duo is admirable. That he dared to dance with them without fear of being shown up is awfully gutsy.

Garland, meanwhile, is given a rare opportunity with Manuela. She gets to play a woman who ultimately bucks tradition and repression to assert her own desires. One her best moments in this film, and in any film period, is the lusty number “Mack the Black,” in which a hypnotized Manuela sings about her love for the dread Macoco. As Garland belts out the song, she is whirled about the set by a bevy of males, her long red hair trailing behind her like wildfire. Porter’s lyrics here are a riot: “Throughout the Caribbean and vicinity/Macoco leaves a flaming trail of masculinity,” Manuela informs us. It’s a great bit of unleashed ardor that might have freed Garland from playing the good girl once and for all, had anyone actually seen it. Unlike Meet Me in St. Louis or The Wizard of Oz, which found Garland playing a chaste girl innocently seeking happiness in her own backyard, The Pirate allows her to seize passion and adulthood. Manuela will never be content staying home.

Critic Fernando F. Croce wrote that “the brash saltimbanque (Gene Kelly) sweeps into town like a fusion of Fairbanks and Nijinsky, blithely wooing every belle in sight. (Kelly in curly pompadour and brown tights is out of Toulouse-Lautrec, with a Rousseau stage in a pavilion amid poles striped scarlet and white.)” Derek Winnert noted that “The troubled Garland, smoking four packs of cigarettes a day during filming, missed 99 of the 135 shooting days due to illness. Her struggles with prescription drug addiction led to several angry confrontations with husband/director Minnelli. Sadly, after all the hard work, it lost $2,290,000.”

French critic Erick Maurel had high praise for the film:

Après Lame de fond, un ratage total (le réalisateur n’ayant que trop peu d’affinités avec le film noir), Vincente Minnelli revient à la comédie musicale et nous livre un nouveau sommet du genre, une sorte de pendant survitaminé à son délicat Yolanda and the Thief qui aborde une fois encore le sujet des faux semblants, des jeux de dupes et de la dualité entre rêve et réalité. Avec d’énormes moyens (peut-être le plus gros budget de sa carrière), il prend d’énormes risques avec un tournage exclusivement en studio sans aucun plan d’extérieur réel – à l’exception d’un seul qui semble ainsi paradoxalement irréel et fantasmé – et un ton tout à fait nouveau pour le genre. En effet, nous sommes ici plus dans la comedia dell’arte avec sa joyeuse frénésie, son cabotinage excessif et son exubérance constante que jamais auparavant dans le musical hollywoodien, sans que cela ne soit pénible un seul instant puisque le sujet s’y prête admirablement, les protagonistes étant des saltimbanques ou de grands rêveurs romantiques qui cherchent à se duper chacun leur tour, non pour de viles raisons financières ou mercantiles mais par amour.
Déjà remarqué dans le poignant
For Me and My Gal, le couple formé par Judy Garland et Gene Kelly fonctionne à merveille et tous deux rivalisent ici de talent dans le cabotinage pour notre plus grand plaisir. Judy Garland chante divinement et laisse exploser toute sa féminité et sa sensualité dans le morceau Mack the Black. Mais c’est à Gene Kelly que reviennent les séquences musicales les plus spectaculaires : le sublime Nina et ses plans séquences hallucinants de virtuosité et de fluidité ainsi que The Pirate Ballet pour lequel Minnelli nous offre un véritable feu d’artifice visuel. Au niveau musical encore (la musique signée Cole Porter ne doit pas excéder 10 % du film pour ceux qui seraient réfractaires au genre) : les touchants You Can Do No Wrong et Love of My Life chantées par Judy Garland, et le célèbre numéro final Be A Clown qui termine le film par un éclat de rire communicatif et surtout émouvant tellement il semble venu naturellement. On n’oubliera pas un excellent second rôle en la personne de Walter Slezak, qui nous ferait presque avoir pitié de son personnage lorsque Minnelli filme son visage démonté en gros plans lors de la séquence du procès, ainsi que la perfection du travail fourni par les équipes techniques et artistiques de la MGM – avec une mention spéciale aux décorateurs et aux costumiers. Comédie musicale originale, novatrice et ô combien culottée, Le Pirate réussit à combler de bout en bout de ces 100 minutes ceux qui accepteront de rentrer dans ce spectacle théâtral, bruyant, dynamique, surjoué et survolté.

Movie Information

Genre: Musical | Comedy
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Actors: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Walter Slezak, Gladys Cooper, Fayard & Harold Nicholas
Year: 1948
Original Review: June 2003


My Year of Dicks is Really Beautiful, Actually

I’m including this article from because it contains a link to Pamela Ribon and Sara Gunnarsdottir’s Academy Award-nominated short film. Definitely R-rated, but an honest and ultimately romantic approach to adolescent angst about early sexual experiences. Includes the worst parental sex-talk ever.

The Flying Sailor

Another Academy Award-nominated short, this time from Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Based on the true story of Charlie Meyers, a sailor who, in the Halifax explosion of 1917, flew over two kilometers and lived to tell about it. The 77th NFB production nominated for an Academy Award.

10 of Canada’s biggest Academy Award wins (that you may never have heard about)

From Peter Knegt at CBC Arts, a look at some of the lesser-known Oscar wins by Canadians, with links. From the article:

“While most attention tends to be paid to the acting categories, the vast majority of Canada’s wins have come elsewhere. In fact, of the 84 Oscars ever won by Canadians, only 7 have come for acting….

There is no category at the Academy Awards where Canadians have excelled more than best animated short film. 60 short films made by Canadians have been nominated over the years, winning a total of 13 Oscars. And while there are many recent notable examples (Domee Shi winning for Bao in 2018 and Alan Barillaro for Piper in 2016), the unquestionable Canadian animated short king is the late Stephen Bosustow. Born in Victoria in 1911, Bosustow would produce nearly 600 short films, 13 of which would get Oscar nominations. He won 3 times: in 1950 for Gerald McBoing-Boing (which you can watch above), in 1954 for When Magoo Flew and in 1956 for Magoo’s Puddle Jumper. Even more wild is that in 1956, he produced every single film nominated in the category, guaranteeing him the win (for Puddle Jumper) and making him the only person in history who received all the Oscar nominations in one category.

… While James Cameron may have won three Oscars in one night, he doesn’t hold the record for the Canadian with the most trophies overall. That would be a tie between two folks who were winning Oscars well before Cameron was even born. The first is Victoria-born production designer Richard Day, who from 1930 to 1970 was nominated for a staggering 20 Academy Awards, winning 7 times, including for his work on the likes of How Green Was My Valley (1941), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On The Waterfront (1954). He is part of a bountiful legacy Canadians have in the category, where we’ve won 12 times….

… In 1983, iconic Cree musician Buffy Sainte-Marie became the first Indigenous person (from any country) to receive an Academy Award when she won for co-writing the song “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman…Sainte-Marie was also the first person born in Canada to even be nominated in the best original song category, though she’d soon be joined by David Foster, Bryan Adams and Neil Young (though unlike Sainte-Marie, none of them won).

… Drum roll for who is tied with Richard Day for the Canadian with the most competitive Oscars… that would be Westmount, QC.-born sound designer and recording director Douglas Shearer. Between 1930 and 1951, Shearer was nominated for 21 Oscars in two different categories (best sound and best visual effects), winning 7 times. He also won an additional 7 honorary Oscars at the separate Academy Scientific and Technical Awards, so if there’s a need to break the tie, Shearer takes it. As well, he holds an additional place in the history of Canadians at the Oscars: his younger sister, Norma Shearer, won best actress in 1930 for The Divorcee and was the first actor of any gender or nationality to receive 5 nominations. Canada’s OG Oscar power family!

Least Wanted–Film Noir’s Character Actors: Wallace Ford

From Imogen Sara Smith’s article:

Take Wallace Ford, who by the late 1940s was a tubby, rumpled little man with a nasal voice and an anxious, friendly face in which a large cigar was a permanent feature. Becoming a regular in film noir, Ford taught Humphrey Bogart to crack a safe in Dead Reckoning (1947), put a stewed Dan Duryea to bed in Black Angel (1946), patched up a bloodied Robert Ryan in The Set-Up (1949), fired a shot at John Garfield in He Ran All the Way (1951), and died at the hands of Charles McGraw—cruelly broiled in a steam room—in T-Men (1947).

Ford’s early life was as tough and sad as anything he ever acted on-screen. Born Samuel Jones in Lancashire, England, he wound up in a London orphanage and was shipped to Canada, where he passed through seventeen foster homes, some of them farms where he was treated as slave labor. At twelve he ran away and joined a vaudeville troupe called the Winnipeg Kiddies, and as a teenager hoboed around the United States with another road kid called Wallace Ford. Young Sam took his friend’s name to honor his memory after watching him fall to his death under the wheels of a fast freight. “The train didn’t stop,” he told a reporter in 1938, “and I was too cold to cry.”

Least Wanted–Film Noir’s Character Actors: Thelma Ritter

Another fine article from Imogen Sara Smith. An extract:

There is a short scene in Out of the Past (1947) where Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) checks a package in a hotel lobby. This is a tiny but pivotal plot point: the parcel contains important documents, and Jeff’s life hangs on keeping them out of the hands of the gangsters who want them. He slips a twenty to the heavyset, badly aging man behind the counter and suggests—in his characteristically cryptic, zen-hipster fashion—that the guy should keep quiet about the whole transaction: “Sometimes a bad memory is like what they call an ill wind, it can blow somebody luck.” The porter, with the beaten-down face of someone for whom life is a daily defeat, replies with perhaps the film’s saddest line: “I always say everyone’s right.”

I would argue that this porter (played by an uncredited actor named Philip Morris, very few of whose roles merited names) is an essential noir character, perhaps even more essential than the romantically doomed private eye in his trench-coat, or the slick, pin-striped gangsters who are after him. The true citizens of noir are not femmes fatales as slinky and sharp-clawed as panthers, nor their victims—big, handsome tough guys nursing their drinks and their wounds. They are the people no one wants, scavengers living on the threadbare margins and hanging on by their broken fingernails. They are night clerks in fleabag hotels, tippling landladies in crummy rooming houses, worn-out barflies and seen-it-all bartenders, stool pigeons and cringing patsies, cheap hoods and grifters scrabbling for survival in an unforgiving world. These roles are filled by a rogues’ gallery of character actors whose mere presence on screen summons a world of troubles.

Films Worth Talking About:

The Naked City, Anna Karenina, The Woman Hater, Les Dernières vacances (The Last Vacation), Nosotros los pobres, Key Largo, The Barkleys of Broadway, Red River, The Three Musketeers, L’Amore (Women, aka Ways of Love), The Boy with Green Hair, The Lady from Shanghai, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, [Germany, Year Zero], The Search, Hamlet, Rope, The Red Shoes, The Bicycle Thief, The Snake Pit, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, The Fallen Idol, D’Homme à hommes (Man to Men), La Terra Trema, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Road House, Johnny Belinda, Arch of Triumph, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Give My Regards to Broadway, The Paleface

The Bigger Picture


Music: anything by Cole Porter


The Word on the Street

Gene Kelly and Judy Garland stepped into some mighty big shoes when they accepted the lead roles in The Pirate. On Broadway, The Pirate ran in the 1942-43 season for 177 performances and the shoes that Kelly and Garland were filling belonged to Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne. True it’s probably one of the lighter vehicles that Lunt and Fontanne ever did, still it might have been interesting to compare what they did with the snappy dialog of S.N. Behrmann.
Cole Porter signed on to write the score for this musical adaption of The Pirate. Porter had been in a creative dry spell for a few years, most notoriously he was associated with a flop musical based on Around The World In 80 Days, a couple of years back. Believe it or not, he was having trouble getting work in Hollywood and on Broadway when he signed with MGM for The Pirate.
According to the George Eells biography of Porter, it was Gene Kelly who asked Porter to write a clown number for him and Judy Garland. Porter responded with Be A Clown which turned out to be the hit of the film. The rest of the score is not top drawer Porter, but mediocre Cole Porter is better than most songwriters can come up with…his next writing assignment would stop all talk of his going into decline. The following year Kiss Me Kate debuted on Broadway which was Porter’s biggest critical and commercial success. No one ever said that score wasn’t up to his usual standard. [bkoganbing]

…a village of Salmon and off white stucco walls, and black filagreed wrought iron against a cerulean sky, and bevys of extras dressed in a fortune worth of rainbow colored moire, velvet and brocade flounces, furbellows, snoods, and gauntlets. The shaded interiors are replete with empire furniture, carved ebony, and bamboo blinds and palmettos.
The effect is dreamlike in an operetta sort of way and deliberately so. A storybook come to life but one which successfully combines the conventions of 19th century aristocratic propriety, (in which young women of quality do not walk out without their duennas) against 20th century show biz colloquialisms to great effect….

[Judy Garland] has never been seen to such pictorial advantage in the post war period as she is here, gowned by Tom Keogh and Madame Karinska in one of the most arresting (and beaded!) wardrobes she ever wore on screen, and just as importantly, effectively coiffed throughout, (most particularly in the “Love of My Life” sequence where she is adorned with a coral diadem and matching earrings.)
Similarly, her close-ups are meltingly lovely….[BrentCarleton]

Vincente Minnelli was by now established as a unique and highly effective director of musicals. He had a method of giving character and dynamics to every number, making the camera and the colours part of the choreography. A great example is the song Nina, which is shot entirely in two or three continuous takes. Minnelli leads us into the song tracking over to the “Nina” in the boldest colours, then alights on one “Nina” after another, delicately framing each in a painterly composition. He holds our interest throughout this long routine, with the camera in close to establish the premise of the number then moving out to show off Kelly’s athletics, moving in again for the cigarette-kiss trick, before moving out again for the final group dance. It’s just a shame that The Pirate has too few songs, and not nearly enough dance.

Minnelli was also a competent director of non-musical action, particularly crowd scenes. His expert use of camera movement provides Kelly with a fantastic entrance. We dolly back through the crowds, focus on a crate with the acting company’s details on it, then pull back and up to reveal Kelly being hoisted aloft…. [Steffi_P]

…in spite of the problems, and this really is no misunderstood masterpiece, the film often soars. With gorgeous Technicolor photography opening the eyes fully, we get a full on energised Kelly performance (his dance with the Nicholas Brothers pumps the blood and taps the feet), Slezak doing a wonderful turn as the shifty Don Pedro who Manuela is being coerced into marrying, and a Pirate Ballet section of the film that is stunning in choreography and eye popping visuals. There’s also some lovely close ups of the two stars, they were a great pairing and it’s a crying shame they would only make three features together, one scene in particular is heart achingly tender. With Minnelli keeping it brisk and mostly keeping it from being too stage bound, the simplicity of plot never hurts the film. Fun, frothy and flawed, indeed. [hitchcockthelegend]

Judy Garland may never have been so funny again (or had such a wonderfully over-the-top script to work with) as in “The Pirate.” Her best scene by far comes toward the end, when she discovers that Gene Kelly is not the dashing pirate he’s pretending to be. At first, she makes a great show of passion toward her “dream lover,” but her temper soon snaps and Kelly is dodging everything from vases to chairs.
Kelly is also marvelous, both in his dancing and his comic delivery, which meshes perfectly with Garland’s. My personal favorite: “Oh senorita, don’t marry that pumpkin.” [wolfie_8]

One comment that I’m surprised to read so much on this site is on the outdated (but well-meaning) casting of white actors as Caribbeans. (Usually when I comment on this kind of thing, someone is always ready to counter with some kind of nasty ‘race card’ accusation and remind me that this was the way in films more than 60 years old, and I should just ‘get over it.’ Sure.) I can accept the premise of the cast for one main reason: Gene Kelly, using his considerable clout with the studio, made a point of racially integrating the background population in PIRATE’s Caribbean exteriors (note all the people of color in the ‘Port Sebastian’ sequence just working for a living), and to specifically include the Nicholas Brothers in the film’s athletic climax, “Be A Clown.” (Whenever this film is shown in theaters, this number always gets spontaneous applause from the audience.) [movibuf1962]

Kelly teamed with the African American Nicholas Brothers: who specialized in gymnastic dancing and stunts. They were incorporated into several musicals in the ’40s, but never before in an act that included a Caucasian. Although their version was cut out in copies sent to The South, many people found that combination unacceptable. Hence, they relocated to Europe until the Civil Rights revolution brought them back. [weezeralfalfa]

Mack the Black is the musical highlight of the film and an interesting change of pace seeing Judy Garland doing a more racy number. Mack the Black was the replacement for a number titled Voodoo of which the negatives were burned at Louis B Mayer’s instance over the number’s reportedly scandalous content. Would it be considered shocking by today’s standards, was it even that shocking to begin with? – One can only imagine. As the audio still survives, the song itself is one of the darker, more eerie songs in the MGM library but doesn’t strike me particularly memorable. Perhaps going with Mack the Black was the right decision after all. [mmallon4]

Fans of movie musicals will detect an uncanny similarity between Porter’s music for Be a Clown and the Nacio Herb Brown music for Make ‘Em Laugh, which Brown came up with specifically for Singin’ in the Rain. In fact, the similarity is almost note for note. The story goes that when the similarity was pointed out to producer (and the writer of the lyric for Make ‘Em Laugh) Arthur Freed, he contacted Porter and asked what he should do. Porter is supposed to have just laughed and told him not to worry about it. [Terrell-4]

[Gene Kelly] possibly manages more costume changes than Garland, one get-up in what look like black hot-pants with matching ankle-boots popping the eyes more than most. [Lejink]