Thursday, July 11, 2002


I think my desire to watch this movie was a perverse one: I don't like Gene Kelly very much in non-musical roles, I'm generally not crazy about 50's movies (especially soap operas), and a couple of people I know (including my own mother) warned me away from this one. Nevertheless, I watched it and was pleasantly surprised. I agree with some of the bad press the movie's gotten over the years, but it held my attention for two hours and I think the first half is really pretty good. I hung out with theater people in college, and much of the atmosphere of the first hour rang very true to me. Natalie Wood is a Jewish college girl and an aspiring actress. During a stint as a summer camp counselor, she falls in love with Gene Kelly, the entertainment director who is known as a Lothario and who is attempting to write and stage a Broadway musical. Her parents aren't happy about Kelly's age or his lack of achievement, but the two begin a relationship that gets derailed when Kelly's hopes for a bright theater career are dashed.

Though his performance is not one of Kelly's career highlights, I think he's better in this than in his other films of the same general era, INHERIT THE WIND (a good movie he was bad in) and LES GIRLS (a total stinker). Kelly is supposed to be 33, although he was in his mid-40's at the time and pretty much looks it, but I do think he looks good enough that it's credible that an 18-year-old could fall for him. He is charming when he's supposed to be and a bit of a creep when he's supposed to be. I don't think Kelly and Wood had great chemistry--I never really understood why Wood would be any different from his other summer flings, why he would get serious about her.

Martin Milner was surprisingly good as the geeky friend, although I have to say that he almost comes off, at least in the first half, as cute and hunky with his crew-cut, tight t-shirt, and big arms! Carolyn Jones is good, too, in a sort of Joan Blondell-type role as Wood's best friend. Claire Trevor is nastily good as Wood's conniving mother and Everett Sloane is fine as her father. Ed Wynn has a fairly serious part as Wood's uncle, who gets to do a little vaudeville number at the resort, although why his character is in the movie at all is a mystery. Even Wood, of whom I'm not normally a big fan, is OK, though maybe a little bit out of her depth at that point in her career. I do think it odd that both Maltin and the Halliwell guide say the movie ends with Wood giving up her dreams to be a suburban housewife. That may be what happens in the book, but it's not a spoiler to say that it's certainly not what happens in the film. The movie's ending is left quite up the air, with no imminent sense of either suburbia or (necessarily) housewifery, or even marriage, for that matter. A surprisingly compelling guilty pleasure.

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