Wednesday, May 7, 2014

James Cagney and other cool cats

I promised you gifs, and here they are. It's a treat to watch Cagney dance like a cat, in a sinuous manner that is nevertheless always intensely masculine. Nobody else had a style even remotely like his, lending itself naturally to alley-cat leaps and predatory slinks. I see traces of his carnivorous style in Gene Kelly, who purposely seemed to take a step away from the elegance of Fred Astaire. Instead of whirling his gorgeously-gowned girl in the air, he'd lift her up by the inner thigh and let her slide down his body. (Gifs to follow. I promise.)

Ruby Keeler was always the star of these extravaganzas. It's strange, because she isn't nearly as beautiful as some of the other dancers - she's more sweet or cute than beautiful, like the girl you'd take to the drive-in (if they had them back then). She couldn't act, and her singing voice was pretty awful. But she could dance. And there was something about the way she inhabited her body, some indefinable quality. (Or maybe Busby was banging her, who knows.)

I love the choreography in the early musicals - it's about as hokey as it gets. How I wish I still had my YouTube video of Broadway Melody, the first big all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza of 1929. There was a luscious number in it called Wedding of the Painted Doll, and if I had it now I'd gif it to death.

Meow-meow-meow, chow-chow-chow. . . 

Classic Busby Berkeley. Imagine smiling like that for 17 takes.

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