(director: Vincente Minnelli; screenwriters: from the play by S.N. Behrman/Frances Goodrich/Albert Hackett; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: Blanche Sewell; cast: Judy Garland (Manuela), Gene Kelly (Serafin), Walter Slezak (Don Pedro Vargas), the Nicholas Brothers (Dancers), Gladys Cooper (Aunt Inez), George Zucco (The Viceroy), Lester Allen (Uncle Capucho), Reginald Owen (The Advocate); Runtime: 102; MGM; 1948)
“All told it’s an enjoyable work.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Vincente Minnelli directs this “Golden Age” musical, a sweeping West Indian cod-swashbuckler. It’s in glorious Technicolor, resplendent with such Cole Porter tunes as “Be a Clown,” “Mack the Black,” and “Love of my Life.” It’s a star driven film, featuring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. The irrepressible Judy Garland is the demure Manuela (she was married to Minnelli at the time), who is an orphan. Her marriage is being arranged by her Aunt Inez (Gladys Cooper) to the town’s richest man, the elderly mayor of their little village, Don Pedro Vargas (Slezak). The other star, Gene Kelly, is Serafin the Great, an energetic clown in a traveling vaudeville troupe.
Manuela dreams of being swept off her feet by the acclaimed pirate Macoco, but instead she is disillusioned that she soon is to be married to her boring fiancé, Don Pedro. She meets an actor called Serafin when she goes to the next town to pick up her wedding trousseau, and the flirtatious actor invites her to his show. At the show he hypnotizes her and gets her to tell of a secret love she has for the notorious pirate, as she mentions that she hopes the pirate would swoop down like a chicken hawk and take her away to the sea with him. She also gets to sing a hot number before coming out of her trance. When she awakens, she rushes back home with her aunt saying she despises the actor for tricking her with his revolving mirror.
When Serafin comes courting Manuela in the bedroom of her home, by swinging from a rope to gain entry, her aunt gets Don Pedro to remove the actor from her room. But Serafin recognizes the mayor to be the infamous pirate Macoco, someone whom the actor once escaped from. He is now trying to hide his past, afraid that the authorities want to hang him for all the murders, kidnappings, and piracy he has done. Serafin says he wouldn’t tell who he is, if he lets him live in his mansion and allows him to put on a show. When Don Pedro agrees, Serafin tells everyone that he’s Macoco. He will then intimidate the village and tell them that if Manuela isn’t brought to him for marriage, he will destroy the village and kill all the men in it. As a result the town leaders beg Manuela to go to Macoco and save them by marrying him, and that they will be grateful to her forever. Meanwhile, Don Pedro rushes to the next town to get the viceroy (Zucco) and the militia.
There are several surprises in the works and an outstanding dance number by the Nicholas Brothers. This highly entertaining film overcomes its stagy plot with some lively Cole Porter tunes, gorgeous costumes and scenery design, and a lot of energy from the musically talented cast. All told it’s an enjoyable work, albeit one of the director’s minor films.
REVIEWED ON 4/5/2000 GRADE: C+