TCM Spotlight: Dance Numbers
Mondays, 8 p.m. / 24 Movies
Producer-director-choreographer Adam Shankman joins TCM host Dave Karger for a month-long celebration of great dance numbers captured on film throughout the years. Shankman knows a thing or two about the subject, having directed and choreographed the musicals Hairspray (2007) and Rock of Ages (2012), as well as several episodes of the TV musical series Glee. He was also a judge on the competition series So You Think You Can Dance. The films, songs, dancers and choreographers spotlighted range from the earliest days of the genre through its revival in the 1970s and early 80s.
It’s no surprise that the bulk of the programming showcases the lavish MGM musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, when the studio dominated with powerhouse performers under the direction of such masters of the musical form as Stanley Donen and Vincente Minnelli. And then there’s triple threat Gene Kelly, who choreographed, directed and danced on screen in the high-concept piece Invitation to the Dance (1956), telling three different stories only through dance, without dialogue. Kelly’s unique blend of tap, balletic style and athletic feats are also on full display in Summer Stock (1950), opposite Judy Garland in her last film at MGM, and in two of the studios biggest hits, Best Picture Oscar® winner An American in Paris (1951) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), often considered the greatest musical of all time, which he co-directed with Donen.
Dancer-choreographer-turned-director Stanley Donen is also represented by two pictures starring a TCM favorite, the late Jane Powell: Royal Wedding (1951) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Small Town Girl (1953), another movie starring Powell, who passed away recently at the age of 92, fittingly kicks off the month of programming at 8 p.m. on November 1.
Of course, no focus on dance would be complete without Powell’s Royal Wedding co-star (remember that dance on the ceiling?) Fred Astaire, whose stellar career and peerless elegance on the dance floor began with the great art deco musicals of the black-and-white era. A major Broadway star for many years, Astaire made his film debut (as himself) partnering Joan Crawford in MGM’s Dancing Lady (1933), but he soon went to RKO for a popular series with Ginger Rogers. The 10 pictures they made together could constitute a month of programming in themselves, but for this eclectic showcase, TCM has chosen two of the best: The Gay Divorcee (1934) and Swing Time (1936). As legendary as that team is in dance history, we also had to make room for Astaire’s stunning duets at MGM with Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon (1953) and Silk Stockings (1957), a musical remake of Garbo’s Ninotchka (1939). He teamed with Eleanor Powell in Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), and their “Begin the Beguine” number is still considered one of the greatest in Hollywood history. Powell’s spirited talent also lights up two earlier films in that series, Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) and Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937).
Other studios get in on the action, too, most notably Warner Brothers, with Depression-era musicals featuring over-the-top dance staging and direction by Busby Berkeley: Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935) and 42nd Street (1933).
Jumping to the other end of the century, Karger and Shankman look at three musicals that scored big when the genre was revived after a rather dismal period in the late 1960s. Bob Fosse directs two, the landmark musical drama Cabaret (1972) and his autobiographical All That Jazz (1979). The period is also represented by the “backstage” story of young show biz hopefuls, Fame (1980).
This is also your chance to catch two of the most praised musicals of all time. The British-made ballet fantasy-drama The Red Shoes (1948) features an extended climactic dance that took six weeks to shoot. It’s a memorable sequence, heightened by the eye-popping Technicolor cinematography of the legendary Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus, 1947). And on the cusp of Steven Spielberg’s much anticipated remake, TCM’s screening of the original West Side Story (1961) features some of the most exciting dance pieces captured on film, plus a whole lot of singing (most of it dubbed) by its non-singing stars.
Also on view in November: Kiss Me Kate (1953), MGM’s musical farce based on The Taming of the Shrew, and the Broadway adaptation Guys and Dolls (1955), in which Marlon Brando is appealingly entertaining (albeit no Kelly or Astaire) in his only foray into the genre. And coming full circle to Gene Kelly, he narrates a worthy history of dance on film called, appropriately enough, That’s Dancing! (1985).