[Marxism] Cyd Charisse, star dancer in "Singin' In the Rain" and "Band Wagon"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Jun 19 13:23:15 MDT 2008

Astaire said she was his favorite dancing partner: "When you danced with
her, you stayed danced with."
Fred Feldman

New York
June 19, 2008
An Appraisal
Sylph or Siren, the Legs Have It 
Some stars shine, others flicker, lingering in your consciousness and dreams
in flashes, favorite scenes and frozen moments. Cyd Charisse, the
long-legged beauty who in the 1950s gave Fred Astaire some midcareer oomph
and Gene Kelly his match in pure animal vitality, wasn't a Hollywood
immortal. She never transcended the movies in which she appeared - her
breakout musical, "Singin' in the Rain," could certainly have been produced
without her. But it surely would not have been as magnificent without the
erotic jolt she gives Kelly.

Ms. Charisse, who was thought to be 86 when she died on Tuesday, liked to
say that her favorite musical number was "Dancing in the Dark," from
Vincente Minnelli's "Band Wagon." For this ethereally lovely duet set in a
back lot Central Park drenched in moonlight, she and Fred Astaire enter the
park as colleagues and leave it as lovers. In between they wordlessly,
almost wistfully, drift through an outdoor dance pavilion until they arrive
in a private little corner of the park and begin their romance in earnest.
She's dressed in a white shirtdress with the kind of floaty, wide skirt that
costume designers liked to put her in - when she pirouettes, the dress fans
out like a spinning plate, baring her legs. She bends in his arms with
supple tenderness. 

As pretty as that number is, I prefer the film's "Girl Hunt Ballet," a spoof
of a Mickey Spillane pulp in which Astaire plays a detective who partners
with a willowy blonde and a smokin' brunette, both danced by Ms. Charisse.
The blonde has her allure, but not the brunette's sex appeal - or her dress,
a red-hot number with tassels hanging from each torpedolike breast. "She
came at me in sections," the detective says of the brunette, with "more
curves than a scenic railway." Choreographed by Michael Kidd, the athletic
number makes the most of her legs, which thrust through the front slit of
her dress like a boxer's jabs. The number isn't sexy even when she executes
a split in Astaire's arms, but she's dynamite. 

She reteamed with Astaire for "Silk Stockings," a vulgar musical redo of
Ernst Lubitsch's 1939 romantic comedy, "Ninotchka," in which she plays the
humorless Soviet bureaucrat - a role originated by Greta Garbo - who
succumbs to the West during a trip to Paris. Garbo laughs in the original,
but Ms. Charisse dances in the remake, filling out the stockings of the
musical's title. Its dance highlight is a gorgeous pantomime during which
her character, Ninotchka, elegantly trades her party uniform, including
black stockings and granny slip, for the gossamer lingerie and froufrou she
has hidden around her hotel suite. The number, which opens with her turning
a framed photograph of Lenin face down, encapsulates the character's
transformation, less from communism to capitalism than from a desirable
woman to one who desires. 

There were other notable numbers and a handful more fine films, Nicholas
Ray's 1958 noir "Party Girl" included. She bowed out of the movies
gracefully, leaving the factory before it shuttered for good. It's
impossible to imagine the Hollywood musical without her. Like the greatest
American movie dancers, she showed how appearing on screen isn't just a
matter of mouthing words, but also moving through and holding space. And she
was a stunning physical specimen, at once lean and beautifully curved, with
a wasp waist that seems to have been naturally designed for a man's hand to
rest gently in its slope. She didn't do all that much with her face, though
on occasion she let loose a deliciously evocative leer.

Her legs could send viewers into raptures, and after watching "Singin' in
the Rain" again, it's easy to see why. She's on screen less than 10 minutes
- simply called the Dancer - but she dominates the windup of this American
classic. The number, "Broadway Melody Ballet," occurs in a film within a
film that takes flight with Kelly as an eager hoofer looking for his
Broadway break, singing "Gotta Dance!" He slides on his knees toward the
camera, abruptly stopping before his hat, which has somehow become perched
on a foot attached to a long, long leg. He gapes (as do we) as that leg then
rises straight in the air with phallic suggestiveness, a prelude to a carnal
encounter that was as close to on-screen sex as was possible in the 1950s
and wholly sublime.

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