Thoughts on Gene Kelly: Invitation To The Dance (1956)

When people hear the name Gene Kelly, many think of the guy in the wool suit hanging from a lamppost, dancing with an umbrella and singing the title song in Singin' in the Rain (1952).

Or they think of An American In Paris (1951) with that showstopping ballet near the end where he and lithe Leslie Caron make famous French paintings come to life as they dance.

Here's another Kelly musical to store up in your memory banks: Invitation To The Dance (1956).

This is an all-dance movie with no dialogue and no one singing from the Gershwin portfolio.

It was filmed in 1952 but released in 1956 because MGM didn't think it would sell well. Once it was finally released it was a dud at the box office. You would think they would have released it immediately after it was completed in order to allow the previous Gene Kelly mega hits to cushion it should it fail.

By 1956 the movie musical was waning. Invitation was released to probably the most unsympathetic audience it could have: one that wasn't in the heyday of musicals, and one that wasn't yet in a musical retrospective mood.

Nevertheless, it has since become a favorite for Gene Kelly movie completists to watch.

The movie is a collection of three separate dance numbers: (1) "Circus," involving the love triangle of a clown, a ballerina and an aerialist. (2) "Ring Around The Rosy," which follows a bracelet as it makes its way into the hands of various people (3) "Sinbad, The Sailor," an animated/live action sequence involving daggers and sailors and a princess.

When my parents first bought this movie for my sister and me so long ago (because we begged and pleaded for every MGM musical ever made when the family went shopping) I was stunned and disappointed that there was no dialogue.

But soon the movie grew on me, especially "Ring Around The Rosy."

Because the sequence follows the bracelet as it goes from Husband to Wife to her Artist Friend to his Ballerina/Model, to her Flashy Boyfriend, etc., we get to see different lifestyles and atmospheres and the dance changes accordingly. If you don't care for one dance, it is shortly replaced with another of a different tone, all while telling this elaborate story of greed and duplicity.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Tommy "the most virile and beautiful Pontipee brother ever, except for Gideon, of course" Rall as the Boyfriend who flips, twirls, etc. as he waits for the Ballerina to come out of the stage door. We see him later holding the bracelet-bedecked wrist of a very slinky woman (played by Belita) with a Veronica Lake 'do at a night club.

She's knocked out the competition. How small is that waist? Can she breathe? Tommy 's elbow is on the table in the background.

I love Gene Kelly, but Tommy Rall made this movie great in my childhood, because he always has that not-so-innocent, boyish gleam in his eye that makes you wonder what he's going to do next.

Or perhaps he was just cute. Who knows?

Tommy looking wistful. What a good-looking guy. I'm totally shallow, just so you know.

When I was a kid, Gene Kelly sometimes seemed overly introspective and adult. I wanted leaps and flips and boundless enthusiasm unmarred by overly maudlin sentiments. Tommy delivered.

Tommy could show you a character in excruciating emotional pain without the darkness that often accompanies other dancers. But that's for another post.

If you have a spare afternoon, take a look at Invitation To The Dance (1956).


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