The Pirate (1948)

The Pirate is a musical made the same year as Easter Parade and featuring Judy Garland as well. The male star of The Pirate is Gene Kelly instead of Easter Parade’s Fred Astaire. These are two different musicals legends who had different ideas on how a musical should be. A comparison of the two looking at only 1948 would probably see Astaire as the victor, because The Pirate is a bad movie.

The film opens with Garland reading from a picture book about Mack the Black, a pirate who raids villages and steals women. Of course, the strong female character that she is, Garland wishes for a time when she, too, could be kidnapped and taken away by a man who would undoubtedly beat her while killing people and stealing things. Instead, Garland is set to be wed to a porcine mayor who is ready to settle down and not travel. Luckily for her, Gene Kelly is a traveling actor who may lack enough sense to get involved.

Kelly always plays individuals who are super-masculine and quite brash, but The Pirate takes it to a whole new level. Kelly claims that there are too many beautiful women with too many names, so he calls them all Niña – resulting in one of the most uninventive and obnoxious songs I’ve heard in a musical, whose only saving grace is its wordless dancing near the end. Kelly’s character lies and deceits to get close to Garland, and when she finds out she hurls objects at his head repeatedly. Yet, a moment later, she is at his side, singing “You Can Do No Wrong” to him. This flip-flop that comes out of nowhere is only one of the eyeroll-inducing moments of this movie that prevent you from writing off its stupidity as being a product of the times.

The two aforementioned songs are quite unenjoyable. Another, “Be a Clown”, is all right and actually features a great dance from Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers, two black dancers whose scenes were cut when the film aired in some Southern states. But “Be a Clown” will already be familiar to those who have seen “Singin’ in the Rain” – although it’s true that “Singin'” came later and practically stole The Pirate’s song, its familiarity still brings it down a notch. The only song left that I enjoyed is “Mack the Black”; it’s a pretty catchy tune, and features Garland at the most sensuous I’ve ever seen her.

I’d like to take this opportunity to confess that I think Judy Garland is a bad actress. Which is not to say I don’t like her – I think she’s cute and endearing. I still would never trust her with any dramatic material, and I don’t think she has a good range of emotions to display.

The film has long takes of well-choreographed dancing, and that’s about the only thing I can truly compliment. The dances aren’t the most exciting or original, but they are high-energy.

The rest of the film is cheap and thoughtless. You can see the strings behind the production at least twice, once when Garland’s hat is “blown” off, and again when Kelly walks a “tightrope” to her window. There’s also a very strange sequence in which Garland imagines herself as a donkey that Kelly is dancing around… I can’t even being to analyze that, and it just served to further irritate me.

I can’t recommend this movie to anyone except the most die-hard fans of musicals, Gene Kelly, or Judy Garland. It might have been an entertaining flick back in the days, but its triteness and overt sexism doesn’t stand up today.

Final Rating: 3/10

–James A. Janisse


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