The Enchanting Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon (1954)

Gill over at Realweedgiemidget Reviews is hosting The No True Scotsman Blogathon which asks us to bring to light thespians playing Scots who are not Scottish themselves. For this unique look at the movies, I’m turning my sights to the Scottish Highlands of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, Brigadoon (1954), and more specifically Cyd Charisse as the film’s heroine, Fiona Campbell.

In our story, New Yorkers Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson) take a hunting trip to Scotland where they stumble upon a quaint, mysterious village. Tommy is unsatisfied with his life back in New York and finds what he’s looking for in Brigadoon, including love with Fiona Campbell (Cyd Charisse); however, if he’s to keep what he’s found, he will need to turn his back on all he’s ever known.

Vincente Minnelli and Gene Kelly

Unfortunately for MGM, their production of the Broadway hit Brigadoon was not as idyllic as the village it portrays. Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli were excited by the idea of providing audiences with a film that was shot on location in Scotland. This realism had been denied Broadway theatregoers who flocked to see Brigadoon and the creative team was itching to see it come to fruition; however, their hopes were dashed by the prospect of unseemly weather and extensive cuts to the budget.

In addition to being confined to the sound stages, Minnelli was tasked with shooting the film in Cinemascope (which he disliked) as well as the standard widescreen format. With all of these drawbacks Kelly and Minnelli felt stifled, but still managed to give us a film to appreciate.

The stars of Brigadoon (1954) with producer Arthur Freed

Originally, Kathryn Grayson was chosen for the part of Fiona; but by the time production began Grayson was no longer under contract to the studio. The next choice – Moira Shearer (a Scot) – was unavailable, giving former Ballet Russe dancer Cyd Charisse her second leading role in a musical.

Cyd was American as apple pie, but this didn’t seem to hinder her performance. Cyd’s Scottish accent in the film is light and charming, although I’m pretty sure it’s not entirely accurate. On top of her refined speaking voice, she added a slight lilt and rolling of her “r’s.” Under all this, one would never guess that she was born in Texas and lived there till her teenage years. Lest ye think Cyd sprang some vocal chords overnight, she was dubbed by Carol Richards who carried the accent through as well.

Cyd Charisse’s star had risen by dancing with Gene Kelly in Singin in the Rain (1952) and Fred Astaire in The Bandwagon (1953), but in Brigadoon her graceful beauty shines through like never before. Cyd plays Fiona with passion and dignity. A brave woman who knows her heart and is honest with herself and others. Her ladylike bearing and poise is perfectly attuned to the character of Fiona. Just like Tommy, we, the audience, fall for her on sight.

The chemistry between Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly is palpable and is never more apparent than in “The Heather On the Hill.” Kelly’s choreography reaches the peak of romance as the two playfully run across the hills gathering heather and break into dance with some of the most beautiful lifts I’ve ever seen on screen.

The reprise is equally stirring as the passion between the lovers has fully bloomed and Tommy must make his decision.

For some reason I’ve always thought of this film as Tommy’s story. Upon further examination, I’ve realized that Fiona deserves more than I was giving her credit for. After all, when she falls for Tommy she is fully aware of the village’s secret and what she could lose if she puts her heart on the line, yet she does so anyway. Tommy hasn’t a clue what he’s getting into when he falls for the Scottish lass, but he does know what they have is real and true.

Brigadoon might go down in history as the MGM film that should have been shot on location, but to me the hand painted backdrops and studio sets add to the film’s magical quality (not unlike The Wizard of Oz, 1939). Also, as much as I love Moira Shearer, I can’t picture anyone else in the part of Fiona. In my book, Gene Kelly plus Cyd Charisse equals dynamite.

Fun bit of trivia: According to Imdb, Cyd Charisse said that of the several films she made with Gene Kelly, Brigadoon was her favorite.

This post is my contribution to The No True Scotsman Blogathon hosted by Gill at Realweedgiemidget Reviews. Thanks for letting me participate, Gill! Grab yer’ kilt head over to her blog for Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.

Anchors Aweigh (1945) – A Man and a Mouse

Anchors Aweigh is a delightful, breezy piece of entertainment released in 1945 by the master of musicals, MGM. The movie features Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as sailors on leave in Hollywood, USA, looking to pick up dates. One is an experienced “sea wolf” (Kelly) and the other is shy and naive (Sinatra). The woman in their lives (Kathryn Grayson) is an extra at MGM trying make it big at the studio as a musical star.

“Screenland, April 1945”

Anchors Aweigh packs quite a punch in the talent department. The film was directed by George Sidney who was just coming into his own with the previous year’s hit, Bathing Beauty. Sidney would go on to direct Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Show Boat (1951), two of the studio’s most successful musicals during the 1950’s. The producer, Joe Pasternak, suggested the pairing of Sinatra and Kelly which turned out to be magical. The two bounce off of each other so well, and you truly believe that they have been friends for years. Sinatra and Kelly would go on to make two other pictures together, but this is my favorite of the three.

Anchors Aweigh marked a turning point in Sinatra’s career. He danced (taught by Gene Kelly), appeared in color, and starred in an MGM musical, all for the first time. Sinatra was already a beloved singer, but his role as Clarence was his first successful venture in movies. He made five other films before Anchors Aweigh, but this one endeared him to his fans and grew his audience.

Gene Kelly is in his prime in this film. He had just hit his stride at Columbia Pictures in Cover Girl with Rita Hayworth (1944). In it he was given creative control of the dances, as Columbia was inexperienced in making musicals. He blew every one away with his work in Cover Girl that by the time he returned to MGM they were ready to hand over the reins for his next musical.

Gene Kelly’s choreography is absolutely delightful in this film, and we get quite a few dances in a variety of styles. The most famous of these routines is “The Worry Song” where Gene Kelly dances with Jerry the Mouse (animated flawlessly by Hanna and Barbera). The desire to do something never done before prompted this dance routine. It was planned out by Gene and his assistant, Stanley Donen.

“Stanley Donen and I sat around for a couple of days trying to think of something and after one long period of silence Stanley suggested, ‘ How about doing a dance with a cartoon?’ This was it…I get all the credit for this, but it would have been impossible for me without Stanley, he worked with the cameraman and called the shots in all these intricate timings and movements. It wasn’t easy for the cameraman-he was being asked to photograph something that wasn’t there.”

gene kelly

The sequence is sheer heaven and a technical tour de force. One can’t help but be amazed by this number, and the pure joy that flows from Gene’s performance is utterly contagious.

Let’s talk about the score for Anchors Aweigh. From “Jealousy,” sung by Grayson, to “If You Knew Susie,” sung by Kelly and Sinatra, to the magnificent rendition of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” performed at the Hollywood Bowl-this movie is a musical treasure chest! The one song I’m not a fan of is “All of a Sudden My Heart Sings,” a solo by Grayson. It never quite gets off the ground and slows the whole movie down. Jule Styne (of Funny Girl fame) and Sammy Cahn wrote six new songs for this movie. One of which, “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” was nominated for an Oscar.

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Did you ever wish you could go back in time and wander through the front gates of MGM? Me too! This film affords us the opportunity to do so! There’s footage of the MGM commissary, the Thalberg building, a recording stage, and the backlot. We get a very rare glimpse of a fleeting time in history, all in glorious Technicolor.

All in all, this movie is a time capsule. It’s for lovers of the MGM musical and the joy of dancing.

Awards & Trivia

  • Anchors Aweigh won the Oscar for Best Musical Score: Georgie Stoll
  • Anchors Aweigh earned Gene Kelly a nomination for Best Actor
  • Anchors Aweigh was nominated for Best Picture and Best (Color) Cinematography
  • Jose Iturbi, the Spanish conductor and pianist, plays himself in this film
  • A cutout of Esther Williams appears in a shop window as the sailors walk the streets of Hollywood. See if you can spot it!
Kelly, Sinatra, and Williams behind the scenes
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