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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