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The Cinematic Voyage of THE PIRATE

Kelly, Garland, and Minnelli at Work

Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar

Publication Year: 2014

During Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s glory days, the studio’s famous Arthur Freed Unit made an extraordinary string of dazzling musicals. One of its very best was The Pirate. Based on a successful 1942 Broadway production, the film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and starred Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. It showcased some of the brightest work of these three gifted moviemakers and entranced many critics and viewers with exotic set décor and costumes, brilliant Technicolor application, stunning dance routines, and a clever plot about an actor who pretends to be a famous pirate to win the love of a fanciful island girl.

The Cinematic Voyage of The Pirate: Kelly, Garland, and Minnelli at Work follows the model of Hess and Dabholkar’s previous study of Singin’ in the Rain. Drawing on exhaustive research in archives, memoirs, interviews, and newspaper coverage, it takes the reader from the original conception of the story in the mind of a German playwright named Ludwig Fulda, through S. N. Behrman’s Broadway production starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, to the arduous task of crafting a suitable screenplay at MGM. Behind-the-scenes issues such as Garland’s personal problems during the making of the film and the shaping of the film by Minnelli and Kelly are among the many subjects detailed here.

While the initial reception of The Pirate reinforced hopes for its success, many audiences did not understand the film’s tongue-in-cheek aspect, and some critical reviews were mixed. This shaded the perception of the film and its significance. As this careful study shows, The Pirate was a commercial and critical success despite some early misperceptions. The movie made a small profit for MGM, and the film grew in public appeal over time.

The Pirate has been studied by film historians, gender studies scholars, and film studies professionals since it was released in 1948. The Cinematic Voyage of The Pirate contributes to a growing literature asserting the importance of single-film production history and the significance of the film musical in the golden age of Hollywood.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

Among the many products of the Arthur Freed Unit at M-G-M, The Pirate has garnered a great deal of attention from viewers and critics alike as one of the most interesting film musicals of all time. Although not as universally acclaimed as Singin’ in the Rain, The Pirate is an important film musical to study for a number of reasons. It...

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pp. xix-xx

Finding all the wonderful sources that serve as the foundation of this history of The Pirate was made easier by the hearty cooperation of the staff at all the libraries and archives we visited. We especially wish to thank Ned Comstock at the University of Southern California, Ryan Hendrickson at Boston University, and the staff at the...

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1. The Pirate on Stage

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pp. 1-24

The plot, themes, and characters of M-G-M’s classic film musical The Pirate originated in the mind of a German playwright and social critic thirty-seven years before the movie was released in 1948. Ludwig Fulda conceived The Pirate as a sardonic commentary on deception, love, and the unreliability of human nature. His play, Der Seerauber, was...

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2. Creating the Perfect Screenplay

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pp. 25-50

Behrman’s play was in its fifteenth week on Broadway when M-G-M purchased the rights to it for a reported $225,026 in March 1943. The studio wanted to make a sound recording of the play during one of its performances “to gauge its laugh quotient,” a process it had already used for The Philadelphia Story (1940). But Lunt and Fontanne...

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3. Major Players and Preproduction

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pp. 51-86

After the script for M-G-M’s The Pirate had undergone several revisions from 1943 to 1946, director Vincente Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed were still not pleased with it, and for good reason as detailed in Chapter 2. Nevertheless, even before they assigned Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett in July 1946 to revise the script...

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4. Filming Challenges

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pp. 87-124

Filming of The Pirate began on February 17, 1947, with the opening scenes of Manuela, her friends, and Aunt Inez on the patio of Manuela’s home. Minnelli continued shooting those scenes the next day, in addition to scenes that took place in Manuela’s bedroom. The first daily rushes were shot beautifully by Harry Stradling, the cinematographer...

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5. Postproduction and Reactions to the Film

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pp. 125-146

With the end of filming, The Pirate entered several months of post-production work before it was ready for general release. Many people tackled a range of technical and artistic issues and developed a strategy for advertising and marketing before expectant audiences were able to feast their eyes on the product. Much of what the public...

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6. Legacy of The Pirate

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pp. 147-186

More than sixty-five years after its release, The Pirate has garnered a great deal of attention from fans, critics, and film scholars who have rediscovered its treasures. Or, in some cases, they have held it up to a critical light, much as the critics of 1948 had done. As a result, The Pirate has a mixed legacy that tends to mirror the mostly enthusiastic...

Appendix A. Discarded Screenplays for The Pirate

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pp. 187-196

Appendix B. Behrman’s Lines in the Goodrich-Hackett Screenplay and the Film

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pp. 197-204

Appendix C. Cast and Crew List with Mini-Biographies

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pp. 205-224


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pp. 225-244


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pp. 245-252


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pp. 253-258

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About the Authors

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p. 259-259

Earl J. Hess is Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University. Pratibha A. Dabholkar is Retired Associate Professor of Business from the University of Tennessee. The authors are married to each other and live in the southeastern U.S. Although Dr. Hess’s principal area of research is the Civil War and Dr. Dabholkar’s...

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273185
E-ISBN-10: 0826273181
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220226
Print-ISBN-10: 0826220223

Page Count: 279
Illustrations: 46 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014