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October 2 - October 31

Debonair: The Films of Stanley Donen

In an extraordinary career spanning over forty years, legendary director Stanley Donen (b. 1924) has remained a key figure in the transformation of the postwar American cinema, producing iconic films- On the Town, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Charade- that inimitably captured the contemporary zeitgeist and injected a new energy, poise and wit into popular film genres. During the heyday of the classical Hollywood studio system, Donen- whose first studio contract was with MGM’s celebrated Freed Unit– helped reinvent the musical, bringing the genre to new artistic heights in the 1940s and 1950s with such pivotal films as Singin’ in theRain and Funny Face. With the rise of international co-productions in the 1960s, and following the collapse of the studio hierarchy, Donen brought a European verve and sophistication to American audiences in classic works such as Arabesque and Two for the Road.

Donen began in show business as a dancer, joining the Broadway production of Pal Joey at the tender age of sixteen, dancing alongside the show’s star, Gene Kelly – an artist with whom Donen would famously collaborate on several masterworks of musical cinema including Singin’ in the Rain and It’s Always Fair Weather. Soon after his Broadway debut, Donen struck out for Hollywood, working first as a choreographer on films such as Cover Girl and Anchors Aweigh before establishing himself as a gifted and intuitive director of musicals whose ability to capture the exuberant energy and sheer  joy of dancing – and of movement in general – with an elegantly fluid camera made him one of the most sought after Hollywood directors. With the decline of the musical in the late 1950s Donen moved in to the second and equally rich phase in his prolific career, as a free agent based in London  turning out sophisticated and witty films which alternated from his classic comedy of mid-life crisis, Bedazzled and his exuberant homage to Tinseltown magic in Movie, Movie to the his bittersweet and remarkably adult explorations of romantic- both hetero- and homosexual- relationships  in Two for the Road and the underappreciated Staircase.

The Harvard Film Archive is pleased to welcome Stanley Donen to Boston to present and discuss two of his most beloved films, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Two for the Road.

This program is co-sponsored by the Constellation Center. Special thanks: Glenn A. KnicKrehm, the Constellation Center; Paul Schrader; The Academy Archive; Caitlin Robertson and Schawn Belston, Fox.

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Friday October 2 at 7pm

Singin' in the Rain

Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.
With Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor
US 1952, 35mm, color, 103 min.
Print courtesy of the ConstellationCenter Collection at the Academy Film Archive.

Neither a critical nor box office success upon its release, Singin’ in the Rain has since become one of the most beloved of all Hollywood musicals. An affectionate send-up of Hollywood during its transition from silent to “talking pictures,” the film’s reputation and loyal following is well deserved – a perfect synthesis of picture book fantasy, backstage drama, stirring music and dance, Singin’ in the Rain showcases Donen’s uniquely choreographic approach to camera movement. His ability to communicate joy through dance is exemplified by the magical title number, when Kelly, brimming with love for Reynolds’ ingénue, cavorts in a sudden downpour through the soundstage streets of Los Angeles with childlike glee.

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Friday October 2 at 9pm

On the Town

Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.
With Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett
US 1949, 35mm, color, 98 min.
Print from Warner Bros.

Under contract at MGM and assigned to the studio’s famed Freed Unit, the twenty-five-year old Stanley Donen, in his first film as director – a credit he shares with Gene Kelly – captures the exuberantly youthful energy of three sailors on a one-day pass in New York City. The film’s famous opening, shot on iconic locations at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Rockefeller Center, immediately distinguishes the film from previous Hollywood musicals through its dynamic emphasis on movement – both of the camera and of the actors within the frame – and through the use of musical numbers that emerge directly from the story, qualities which would become Donen trademarks.

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Saturday October 3 at 7pm

Funny Face

Directed by Stanley Donen.
With Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson
US 1957, 35mm, color, 103 min.
Print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

Photographer Richard Avedon was both a visual consultant on Funny Face and the inspiration for Astaire’s debonair character in Donen’s charming Pygmalion tale of an intellectually-minded shop girl transformed into a glamorous fashion model by Astaire and a Diana Vreeland-esque magazine editor – played by the irrepressible Kay Thompson, who gleefully steals her every scene. The purest expression of Donen’s inimitable musical style, Funny Face is simultaneously joyful and elegant, sentimental and funny, lavish and restrained. The film’s expressive color palette, stunning widescreen compositions and wonderfully evocative set design culminate in a giddy montage sequence of the transformed Hepburn modeling Givenchy’s latest styles across a dream-like Paris.

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Saturday October 3 at 9pm

Arabesque

Directed by Stanley Donen.
With Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren, Alan Badel
US 1966, 35mm, color, 105 min.
Print from Universal Pictures

A follow-up and close cousin to the wildly successful Charade, Arabesque stars Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in the Grant/Hepburn roles as an Oxford professor and a potentially untrustworthy femme fatale embroiled in a dizzying plot to assassinate a Middle Eastern politician. The first of three Donen films shot by cinematographer Christopher Challis, the film is awash in 1960s style, from the op-art camera effects to the chic moderne décor. Substituting a glamorous London for Paris, Arabesque ratchets the tension one step further than Charade’s often tongue in cheek suspense mystery  with a series of visually thrilling action sequences - at Ascot, high atop a London bridge and, memorably, at the zoo - that never let up their exhilarating breakneck speed.

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Sunday October 4 at 7pm

Charade

Directed by Stanley Donen.
With Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walther Matthau
US 1963, 35mm, color, 113 min.
Print from Universal Pictures

Donen’s charming comedic thriller stars two of Hollywood’s most elegant stars at the very top of their game and visibly enjoying themselves – and each other – as they sleuth through the photogenic Paris streets. When Hepburn’s widow is hunted by an unlikely trio of American thieves who believe she has a jinxed treasure stolen from them by her husband, she turns to Grant for comfort – but can he be trusted? It was apparently Grant who, worried by the age difference between them, suggested Hepburn be the pursuer in their relationship, resulting in their own cat and mouse game, and her memorable pick-up line, “You know what’s wrong with you? Nothing.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Friday October 9 at 7pm

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Directed by Stanley Donen, Appearing in Person
With Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Russ Tamblyn
US 1954, 35mm, color, 102 min.
Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive

Although Cinemascope was imposed on him by MGM, Donen used the then-brand new format to his advantage, arranging the brothers and their brides in endlessly inventive compositions that exploit the wide screen maintain the film’s propulsive energy. Nowhere is Donen’s dexterity with the camera more evident than in the film’s show-stopping centerpiece – the Michael Kidd choreographed Barn Raising sequence, where the boys ride into town to compete for the affections of the local girls with a series of increasingly awe-inspiring and thrilling stunts, from logrolling on top of a well to back flips while balancing on a two-by-four.

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Saturday October 10 at 7pm

Two for the Road

Directed by Stanley Donen, Appearing in Person
With Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney
UK 1967, 35mm, color, 112 min.
Print from Fox

For her third and final Donen film, Hepburn delivers perhaps her most delicate screen performance as the better half of a couple followed through five stages of their relationship, each centered around separate road trips through the French countryside. Albert Finney’s resolutely uncharming performance as the husband counterbalances Hepburn’s vulnerability, creating the realistic battle of the wills at the frequently bruised but never quite broken heart of this bittersweet comedic drama. The screenplay, by Frederic Raphael, fractures the timeline, intercutting each trip to contrast or complement emotional or visual moments in the couple’s life. The result is quite simply one of the cinema’s most complete and complex examinations of married life, and a high point of Donen’s post-musical career.

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Sunday October 11 at 7pm

It's Always Fair Weather

Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.
With Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse
US 1955, 35mm, color, 101 min.
Print from Warner Brothers

Originally conceived as a loose sequel to On the Town, It’s Always Fair Weather serves as the other bookend to the Donen-Kelly partnership and a bittersweet elegy to the fading glory days of the Hollywood musical and the legendary Freed Unit. In spite of Donen’s trademark joyous dance numbers, which include Kelly tap dancing on roller skates and a dazzling Cyd Charisse sparring with a room full of boxers, a distinctly cynical undercurrent runs throughout the film’s brisk satire of Madison Avenue, television and Fifties American values in general and the corrosive effects of time and distance on even the most heartfelt of friendships. Donen’s last film at MGM, It’s Always Fair Weather is a fittingly nostalgic farewell to the studio that gave him his start.

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Friday October 30 at 7pm

Movie Movie

Directed by Stanley Donen.
With George C. Scott, Harry Hamlin, Barry Bostwick
US 1978, 35mm, b/w and color, 105 min.
Print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

Ingeniously structured as a double feature, Movie Movie gleefully satirizes two 1930s genre mainstays – Busby Berkeley style kinetic  musicals and heart-wrenching hard luck weepies. Written by Larry Gelbart, the two films – along with the faux Wings trailer that separates them – simultaneously celebrate and subvert the classical Hollywood movie clichés, from the tough but loving coach to the hardboiled dialogue delivered in period slang, that have operated as shorthand for savvy movie audiences since the Depression. With the delightful Baxter’s Beauties of 1932, Donen returns to the backstage musical format he parodied so successfully in Singin’ in the Rain, with equally entertaining results.

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Friday October 30 at 9pm

Staircase

Directed by Stanley Donen.
With Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Cathleen Nesbitt
US/UK 1969, 35mm, color, 96 min.
Print from Fox

Adapted from Charles Dyer’s stage play about an aging gay couple, Staircase was lambasted at the time of its release for the perceived camp treatment of homosexuality, with frequent targets made of its two leads in particular, Rex Harrison and Richard Burton – two of the more notorious heterosexuals of the era. Ignored by the critics of the film was Donen’s talent and sophistication as a choreographer of emotions. Working again with cinematographer Christopher Challis, Donen’s use of lighting, color and staging, along with the film’s mordant wit – tempered by an underlying warmth –  achieve a sense of realism and nuance not attempted in any of his previous films.

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Saturday October 31 at 7pm

Bedazzled

Directed by Stanley Donen.
With Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Eleanor Bron
UK 1967, 35mm, color, 107 min.
Print from Fox

Donen’s second take on Faust is set in swinging Sixties London and pits a meek short order cook against the Devil, who grants him seven catch-filled wishes to further his awkward attempts at winning the affections of an uninterested waitress. The film’s episodic structure affords Donen a platform to launch a ruthless satire of Christianity, including personal appearances by each of the seven deadly sins with Lust, appropriately, played by Raquel Welch. The hapless hash-slinger and the Devil are played by the comedy duo of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, whose razor-sharp comedic style brings out a far darker and more farcical comedic strain than in any of Donen’s previous work.


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Saturday October 31 at 9pm

Damn Yankees

Directed by Stanley Donen and George Abbott.
With Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon, Ray Walston
US 1958, 35mm, color, 110 min.
Print courtesty of the Academy Film Archive

Reteaming most of the creative forces behind the previous year’s success story, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees once again pairs Donen with his former Broadway mentor, George Abbott. Joining them was much of the original Broadway cast – with the addition of teen heartthrob Tab Hunter in the lead as a baseball fanatic who makes a Faustian deal with the Devil to become the star hitter for his beloved Washington Senators. As the Devil’s handmaiden, Gwen Verdon steals the show with her Bob Fosse choreographed number “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” while Ray Walston is delightfully sly: the Devil as dealmaker. Donen’s last musical until he returned to the form with The Little Prince in 1974, Damn Yankees showcases a director at the top of his game.

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