Monday, January 11, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Pirate (1948) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Judy Garland and Gene Kelly star in director Vincente Minnelli's THE PIRATE (1948), now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

The Warner Archive has been gradually releasing MGM musicals on great-looking Blu-rays; Garland's THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), reviewed here, was released alongside THE PIRATE, and coming soon are GOOD NEWS (1947) and SHOW BOAT (1951). This is all wonderful news for classic film fans in general and those who love MGM musicals in particular.

THE PIRATE is a giddy, lusty comedy about Manuela (Garland), a young maiden in the Caribbean (or Caribbean) tropics.  She's just become engaged to the unattractive older mayor (Walter Slezak) of her town, which will improve the ailing finances of her aunt (Gladys Cooper) and uncle (Lester Allen)...but she secretly dreams of the dashing pirate Macoco.

While picking up her wedding trousseau in a port city, Manuela chances to meet Serafin (Kelly), a traveling player. He hypnotizes Manuela as part of his act and learns of her passion for Macoco, whom she's never seen, and impersonates the pirate in order to woo her. Little does he know that the real Macoco is nearby...

Truth to tell there are numerous MGM musicals I prefer to THE PIRATE, as the plot is not a favorite...but even a "lesser" MGM musical is marvelous entertainment, as testified by the fact my records show I've seen this film at least eight times -- and I suspect the number, going back into my earliest childhood, is actually higher.

It had been a few years since my last viewing, so the movie simultaneously felt familiar and fresh. It's rather fascinating watching it as an adult and realizing the strong sensual undercurrents which went over my head as a child, including a couple moments I'm actually surprised were included. ("The Pirate Ballet" gets pretty far out there...) The movie is partly a sendup of swashbucklers and pirate films, but more significantly, it's deeply focused on the dreams and desires of Manuela, who is quite willing to be "sacrificed" to the pirate to save her town -- and save her from marrying the awful mayor.

Garland was at the height of her powers here: A mature actress and comedienne, a powerhouse singer, and also at the peak of her beauty. She nails every aspect of the role from start to finish, and for my money is the single best thing about the movie.

That's not to short Kelly, who has marvelous dances, including "Nina" and "Be a Clown" along with the previously mentioned "Pirate Ballet." "Be a Clown," a highlight performed with the Nicholas Brothers, is almost exhausting to watch; the physical shape the three men had to be in to perform the moves in that dance blow my mind.

As much as I've always loved Kelly, his often cocky screen persona has admittedly not worn as well over time as I'd like, but he is just right here for the sly, goofy, and very athletic pirate impersonator. One also senses the positive feelings between Garland and Kelly, who had previously costarred in Kelly's first film, FOR ME AND MY GAL (1943).

The gorgeous colors photographed by Harry Stradling (Sr.), ranging from Caribbean (or Caribbean) village pastels to the striking red and black Pirate number, are quite dazzling as seen via Blu-ray.  The movie is a visual treat, and the great "MGM sound," including Conrad Salinger's orchestrations of the Cole Porter score, are also shown off via the excellent soundtrack.

The supporting cast for this 102-minute movie also includes Reginald Owen, George Zucco, and Mary Jo Ellis.

The Blu-ray carries over extensive extras from the film's original DVD release, including a commentary track by John Fricke, audio outtakes, a Pete Smith short, and a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The disc also includes a "making of" featurette.

Musical fans will definitely want to add this lovely Blu-ray to the shelf. Recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

It's been years since I saw this, and I only saw it once, but I'm thinking I need to rewatch it because it WAS a lot of fun. And I'm in a piratical mood these days.

Great review, highlighting the good points of a film that doesn't get a lot of attention (or love) these days!

6:20 PM  
Blogger rcocean said...

I've always enjoyed this one. Kelly could be hard on his co-stars, but he had a soft spot for Garland since she helped him when he first started in movies.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Rachel, if you're in a piratical mood this will fit right in! I appreciated the way it gently sends up those types of films. Thanks for your kind words.

Rcocean, I think you can really feel the camaraderie between Kelly and Garland in this. That good feeling helps take some of the edge off Kelly's cockiness both here and in SUMMER STOCK (1950).

Best wishes,

9:13 AM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

Amazingly the only Judy Garland musical I've ever seen is THE WIZARD OF OZ. And I actually like musicals. I'm going to have give her musicals a go in the near future.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

DforDoom, what great viewing you have ahead of you to enjoy for the first time! MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) with Garland is tied as one of my three all-time favorite films. I hope you love it even a tiny bit as much as I do.

Lots of other good stuff to see including favorites THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) and EASTER PARADE (1948). Do let me know when you catch some of her movies!

Best wishes,

9:15 AM  

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