Stanley Donen: Let Him Entertain You

Today is the 90th birthday of Stanley Donen, perhaps the last great living director from the Golden Age of Hollywood movies. Let’s celebrate his career with clips from five of his most entertaining films.

On the Town (1949, co-directed with Gene Kelly) – My favorite part of this classic musical, which has many wonderful numbers that I could have highlighted, is this section of the dream sequence “A Day in the New York,” a ballet that Gene Kelly’s character imagines while wishing he could see Vera-Ellen again. Without any words, using only their bodies (and the shadows of them on the wall), they create a couple of minutes of movie magic.

Royal Wedding (1951) – Fred Astaire’s famous dance on the walls and ceiling, which Lionel Richie later paid homage to in his 1986 music video “Dancing on the Ceiling” (also directed by Donen), originates here. Astaire sings “You’re All the World to Me,” a lovely little tune by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952, co-directed with Gene Kelly) – One of the most memorable segments of this outstanding treasure of a film is the “Gotta Dance” collection of musical vignettes. Here, Cyd Charisse is the ultimate temptress, a femme fatale in green with a Louise Brooks haircut, casting her spell in vibrant Technicolor.

Charade (1963) – This is such a fun movie, combining all the best elements of thriller, comedy and romance in a way that Hitchcock probably wished he could have done. (Hitch, after all, never worked with Audrey Hepburn.) Hepburn and Cary Grant make a splendid couple, here observing an unusual yet entertaining style of showering.

Bedazzled (1967) – This very 60s satire of pop culture is based on a story by its stars, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, adapted into a screenplay by Cook. Cook stars as the devil and Moore plays the hapless young man whose wishes are always Cook’s twisted command. In this clip Cook shows Moore what it’s like to be a modern pop star performing on TV for many adoring female fans, singing the song “Bedazzled” (an original creation by Moore, who was a talented composer and lyricist) in a delightfully flat, unsmiling way. Cook’s delivery underscores the absurd humor of the whole thing, but the way Donen put the scene together is what makes it particularly effective.

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2 thoughts on “Stanley Donen: Let Him Entertain You

    • Morbid curiosity might lead me to watch The Truth About Charlie one day, probably mainly because it’s got so many interesting people in it (Ted Levine! Tim Robbins! Agnès Varda! Anna Karina! Charles Aznavour as himself!). On the other hand… Mark Wahlberg is no Cary Grant.

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