April 2013, arsenal cinema

Cyd Charisse – Hollywoods Dancing Queen of the 50s

PARTY GIRL, 1958

She was the most exciting and elegant dancer of 1950s Hollywood musicals. According to legend, MGM had insured her legs for five million dollars. She often played the main role for the most important directors of the genre - Vincente Minelli and Stanley Donen - and she was the preferred partner of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire who called her "Beautiful Dynamite", aptly describing her singular dancing style, which combined elegance and dynamism, femininity and force. She was not only different from other performers in musicals because of her outstanding talent, her virtuosity and her fluid style of moving; Cyd Charisse was neither a well-behaved girl-next-door who aroused the male protective instinct nor a potential partner in crime. Her sex appeal, presence, self-confidence and size – she was sometimes taller than her dance partners – sometimes had a very intimidating effect on men. In prudish 1950s Hollywood, Cyd Charisse's dance scenes were as erotic as it got on screen. The censors were always on set. Cyd Charisse was born Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas in 1921. Apart from Leslie Caron, she was the only musical star who was trained in classical dance. She started taking ballet lessons with a former member of the Bolshoi Theater at the age of six. By 14, she was dancing for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (using a Russian pseudonym). She made it to the screen at the beginning of the 1940s and soon became the prima ballerina of musical films. She signed a seven-year contract with MGM after Ziegfeld Follies (1945) and was also given speaking roles. Pregnancy prevented her from playing the main role in An American in Paris (1951), postponing her international breakthrough by a year. Then, the staged revelation of her attractive legs in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) led to the legendary million-dollar insurance coup. She was given her first lead role alongside Fred Astaire in Vincente Minnelli's THE BAND WAGON (1953). Half a dozen main roles in big Hollywood productions followed over the next five years. However, the end of the golden era of musicals also brought a close to her greatest period. She was reunited with Fred Astaire in her last film musical SILK STOCKINGS (1957). At the end of a dance number that hints at the impending rock 'n' roll era, he throws away his trademark hat symbolically announcing his departure from musicals. After Nicholas Ray's PARTY GIRL (1958), Minnelli's "Two Weeks in Another Town" (1962) and "Something's Got to Give" by George Cukor (1962) that was not finished because of Marilyn Monroe's death, Cyd Charisse gradually turned away from Hollywood. In the 1960s, she started appearing In nightclub and television shows alongside her husband, the crooner Tony Martin. She died in June 2008.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, USA 1952, 2. & 7.4.) Hollywood 1927. While silent movie diva Lina Lamont find the transition to talkies difficult because of her squeaky voice, sound presents the friends Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown with very new career possibilities. Don becomes a popular singer and dancer, whereas Cosmo goes from being a pianist to the head of the music department. The most famous musical film ever, it is also an anthology of the filmed musical, which was born with talkies. The dance numbers pay homage to the landmarks of the genre. Cyd Charisse wrote film history with her silent role and two dance scenes: She Is a 1920s vamp with a Louise Brooks hairstyle in "Broadway Melody Ballet" and is the object of Gene Kelly's secret daydream in "Veil Dance" where she is dressed all in white with a long flowing silk scarf.

THE BAND WAGON (Vincente Minnelli, USA 1953, 1. & 6.4.) The aging star of Hollywood musicals Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) hopes to revive his career with a new Broadway play but falls on the wrong director. The show is a flop. He tries to save the tour with the help of ballet star Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse), whose size and success intimidate him at first, and his friends Lester and Lily, who tailor the show to him. Undoubtedly one of the best musicals ever, THE BAND WAGON gave Cyd Charisse her first big main role. Alongside Fred Astaire, she dances romantically in a white dress in the "Dancing in the Dark" sequence and plays a seductive femme fatale in "The Girl Hunt", a parody of film noir and one of the most spectacularly choreographed dance numbers of film history.

BRIGADOON (Vincente Minnelli, USA 1954, 3. & 6.4.) Two friends (Gene Kelly, Van Johnson) from New York get lost while walking in the Scottish Highlands and stumble upon the village of Brigadoon that they can't find on the map. Since 1754, the mysterious village has only appeared for one day every 100 years - a wish granted by god to a priest who wanted to protect it from being changed by the outside world. However, the charm only works so long as two rules are adhered to: Nobody can leave and strangers can only stay if they fall in love with someone from Brigadoon. The two friends remain in the village in an unforeseen manner because of the attractive villager Fiona Campbell (Cyd Charisse)… Vincente Minnelli staged his allegory of fairytale musicals with imaginative costumes and brightly-colored, radiant sets. Gene Kelly was the choreographer.

IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, USA 1955, 5.4.) After the Second World War, the three army buddies Ted (Gene Kelly), Doug and Angie celebrate their survival in their favorite haunt in New York, Tim's Bar. They agree to meet up at the same place 10 years later. However, on 11. October 1955, they realize that they have nothing in common anymore and try to part ways as soon as possible. But the ambitious TV producer Jackie Leighton (Cyd Charisse), senses an emotional story that would suit her idea for a program. She does her best to get all three to appear in it. This was the third and last Stanley Donen-Gene Kelly joint production and features two famous dance numbers - Gene Kelly's legendary roller skate step dance in "I Like Myself" and Cyd Charisse's impressive boxing scene "Baby, You Knock Me Out".

SILK STOCKINGS(Rouben Mamoulian, USA 1957, 4. & 10.4.) The loyal Soviet functionary Ninotchka Yoschenko (Cyd Charisse) is charged with bringing back the composer Boroff, who is being wooed by Hollywood, back to Moscow. The producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire), who wants Boroff to compose the music for his next film, tries to prevent this and to persuade Yoschenko of the advantages of the Western lifestyle. Rouben Mamoulian's elaborate remake of Lubitsch's "Ninotchka" (1939) marks one of the last highpoints of Hollywood's golden musical era. Cyd Charisse's dance solo to the music of Cole Porter, in which she succumbs to the temptation of silk stockings and changes from her olive-green uniform into French underwear was one of the most erotic scenes to get past the censors of the time.

PARTY GIRL (Nicholas Ray, USA 1958, 9. & 11.4.) Chicago in the 1920s. For years, the disabled lawyer Thomas Farrell (Robert Taylor) has saved the henchmen of gangster boss Rico Angelo from jail with a series of tricks. However, after falling in love with the dancer Vicki Gaye (Cyd Charisse) at one of Rico's parties, he tries to get out of this task. The gangster boss won't accept his notice and threatens to kidnap Vicki. Nicholas Ray plays cleverly with the set elements of melodrama, gangster and dance films using Cinemascope and a fascinating use of color for his allegory about self-realization and violence.