We’re almost halfway through the month of August, and while summer is winding down, the stars on Turner Classic Movies are shining brighter than ever! For those of you who didn’t get the chance to read my picks for Esther Williams’ birthday, my top five for Hedy Lamarr’s tribute, or if you’re unfamiliar with Turner Classic Movies, Summer Under the Stars honors a different classic film star during each day in August by showing a twenty-four hour marathon of their films. To be quite honest, I would not consider Cyd Charisse as one of my favorite actresses of all time like I would Hedy or Esther, but I truly believe that her filmography is vastly underrated and she’s an incredible woman in her own right. I knew that she had to be the last of the three ladies that I chose to write about! So, without further ado, keep reading for my top five recommended films that TCM is showing today in honor of Cyd Charisse!
5. It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) On TCM at 10:00pm EST
Though she isn’t exactly the main attraction, Cyd sparkles in this film about three soldiers who agree to meet up in New York City ten years after their service, only to find out that they have nothing in common. Of course the film focuses more on star Gene Kelly than anyone else, but I find this picture to be well worth your time just for its fantastic musical numbers like the now iconic “I Like Myself”, in which Kelly shows his absolute prowess in the art of dancing by hoofing it on roller skates. Kelly later mentioned that he had bought the ordinary pair of skates used in the film just a block from his house, and they were not altered in any way or adhered to his shoes. Despite the hard efforts of this incredible cast, which includes Kelly, Charisse, Dan Dailey, and Dolores Gray, this big budget musical was actually a financial flop, and many film historians attribute the decline of the extravagant Technicolor musicals of the fifties to the failure of this particular picture. Admittedly Charisse is not nearly as present in the film, but just her unique character and her perfect rhythm in the “Baby, You Knock Me Out” number is worth giving this late night treat a go.
4. The Band Wagon (1953) On TCM at 8:00pm EST
This musical comedy is often ranked as one of MGM’s best of all time, and it’s no wonder that many Cyd Charisse fans cite The Band Wagon (1953) as their favorite picture of hers as well. In one of her starring roles, Cyd plays young ballerina Gabrielle “Gaby” Gerard, who is starring in a show that aging musical star Tony Hunter (played by none other than Fred Astaire) has lined up for his comeback. Gaby finds herself intimidated by Tony’s musical experience, and unbenknowst to her, Tony is just as intimidated as she is by the ballerina’s youth and beauty. The two work out their differences, of course, and soon fall in love. Cyd shows in this film that she could truly pull off a leading role in memorable numbers like the finale “Girl Hunt Ballet” and “Dancing in the Dark”, in which she wears a flowing white dress that was actually copied from a dress worn by the film’s costume designer Mary Ann Nyberg. The designer’s dress was off-the-rack and cost about twenty-five dollars, but after searching for a replica to no avail the costume department ended up creating the look from scratch for one thousand dollars. Of course Cyd looks lovelier than ever in it, as she does in the rest of this perfect primetime picture directed by the great Vincente Minnelli.
3. Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) On TCM at 8:00am EST
Cyd stars as Maria Corvier, yet another ballerina in this 1956 musical that takes place in The Sands Hotel, one of the many glimmering attractions of the Las Vegas Strip. Costar Dan Dailey plays slick yet womanizing cowboy Chuck Rodwell, who has arrived to gamble and lose all of the money that he has brought to Sin City. Of course when he expects to lose, just the opposite happens when he holds Maria’s hand, and he instantly follows his lucky charm everywhere she goes hoping to strike it rich. The film includes many adorable cameos, including one from Charisse’s husband (singer Tony Martin) as one of her many suitors who is inevitably out of luck. Even more cameos come from Debbie Reynolds, Peter Lorre, Vic Damone, and two members of The Rat Pack, including Frank Sinatra as a man who wins the jackpot, and Sammy Davis Jr., singing the showstopping number “Frankie and Johnny”. In my opinion, this is easily Cyd’s best number of all time, and she absolutely shines in the stort story of two ill-fated lovers told through dance and song. I would certainly recommend that you see this charming picture for “Frankie and Johnny” alone, if nothing else, as the infectious tune and captivating story make all of her other numbers pale in comparison.
2. Silk Stockings (1957) On TCM at 6:00pm EST
In this musical remake of the classic film Ninotchka (1939), Cyd stars as the title character, a Russian envoy sent to complete a mission that three of her comrades had already bungled: to retrieve straying composer Peter Illyich Boroff (Wim Sonneveld) from Paris. Fred Astaire costars as American film producer Steve Canfield, who corrupts the composer and his comrades with all of Europe’s luxuries, including women, alcohol, and night life. Eventually he even captivates the ever-stoic Ninotchka, and the two fall in love. Aside from the fact that it’s a remake of such an iconic picture, Silk Stockings (1957) is possibly best known for the striptease that Charisse performs over the title number, which definitely turned the heads of both filmgoers and film censors, who demanded that a mirror, chair, and sheer petticoat be included in the scene to conceal Cyd’s shapely figure. Of course the three objects don’t exactly succeed in leaving much to the imagination, but in spite of such a scandalous number the film ended up tanking in the box office as well. Nonetheless, this is without a doubt the film that I’m looking forward to the most yet haven’t seen, and I strongly urge you all to discover this gem with me.
1. Brigadoon (1954) On TCM at 4:00pm EST
In what could possibly be considered the most Scottish musical of all time, Cyd stars as Fiona Campbell, a demure citizen of the mideval village of Brigadoon. Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly, by far my favorite costar of Cyd’s) and Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson), who are in Scotland on a hunting trip, discover the town after getting lost and soon discover its fascinating secret: Brigadoon is a blessed village that appears from the mist for only one day every hundred years, so that it will remain unmarred by modern civilization. Anyone who remains in Brigadoon must remain there forever, for if they leave, the town and all of its inhabitants disappear permanently. While there, Tommy and Jeff grow to love the village, and Tommy begins to fall for Fiona, but is one day enough to make Tommy want to remain in Brigadoon for eternity? This lavish picture is filled to the brim with catchy songs, magnificent costumes, and romantic dance sequences, and I consider it one of the most overlooked musicals that MGM has ever produced. Charisse, Kelly, and many of the supporting cast members give heartwarming performances that make you believe in miracles, and despite the overbearing Scottish motifs, I find this film to be a worthwhile classic that song and dance fans of all ages can appreciate.
Once more, I’d like to thank Journeys in Classic Film from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to participate in this blogathon one third and final time. I can see that you worked very hard to make this blogathon possible, and I hope the rest of the month is a big success!