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Film

The Pirate

The beautiful contradiction of the film musical—the pitting of idealism against materialism, expressed through the most materialistic means—is visible in lavish abundance in Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate, with a score by Cole Porter. In the small village of Calvados, Manuela (Judy Garland) dreams of a life adventuring, seeing far-off places, desires stirred in her by tales of the ruthless, conquering pirate Macoco “The Black”. She’s to be married to Don Pedro, the town’s mayor, a seemingly plain man, who’s seen what she longs to see, but offers only the prospect of a quiet life. Fortunately for everyone, in strides a troupe of actors, headed by Serafin (Gene Kelly, in all his splendour); not long after docking, he sets to winning her affections through adopting the identity of “The Mack”, and of course this does not go smoothly. In a film layered with differing registers of performance, it’s impossible to overlook the prowess of both Garland and Kelly: she, with her immaculate gestures (her eyebrows are more than once a punchline), attains a fabulous air of possession during a song performed under a trance; he, with his vocation to dazzle, seems to swing through the routines without breaking sweat, his rendition of “Niña” a particular highlight. (Listen as the octaves simply run away from him.) A relative failure for the Freed unit at its time of release, The Pirate is many things, but perhaps chiefly, it’s a tribute, in wonderful Technicolor, to the beauty of its leads.

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