Happy 89th birthday to one of my favorite directors and choreographers of the classic era, Stanley Donen! The following are a few of my favorites from his filmography, listed chronologically because I love them all equally.
On the Town
I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that On the Town is my favorite musical of all time. Few films of any genre have packed so much fun and lovability into 98 minutes. It may not be Donen’s most innovative film, but it is one of his most delightful.
Released: December 30, 1949
Cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen
Trivia: Gene Kelly reportedly described the film as “the apex of our talent” in a BBC interview and regarded the film fondly later in his career.
Singin’ in the Rain
There isn’t much that can be said about this film that hasn’t already been gushed over by a million other fans. It is the classic Hollywood musical. The partnership between Donen and Gene Kelly was a rocky one, but they created damn good films together. I had the chance to see this film on the big screen last year when my local library had a screening in their auditorium, and I’ve since developed a whole new appreciation for it.
Released: April 11, 1952
Cast: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen
Trivia: The footage shown as The Royal Rascal is actually desaturated footage taken from Gene’s film The Three Musketeers. Footage of Jean Hagen was shot to replace Lana Turner’s shots in the sequence, but Turner can still be seen at least once.
This is one of my top five Audrey Hepburn films and one of my favorite musicals in general. The darkroom scene alone, where Donen so beautifully highlights the differences between Jo in photographs with the real Jo, is reason enough for the film to appear in my favorites.
Released: February 13, 1957
Cast: Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire
Trivia: Fred Astaire also appeared in a stage version of Funny Face in the 1920s. The stage production had an entirely different plot than the film, but used many of the same songs.
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman on screen together once again! I love those two together, and between their wonderful performances and Donen’s phenomenal use of Technicolor London as the backdrop of all of the film’s action, there’s a lot to love here. Without those two fantastic actors and Donen’s direction, this film would quite standard romantic fare, but the trio’s magic brings a special something to the entire production.
Released: May 20, 1958
Cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Cecil Parker
Trivia: This film is based on a stage production called “Kind Sir,” in which all of the action took place in a single apartment rather than around the entire city.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there’s a second Cary Grant film on this list. This is actually, at the moment, tied with Topper for the coveted title of my favorite Cary Grant film. Blending comedy, mystery and romance, Charade has a little bit of everything and the mixture works incredibly well. This film has sometimes been heralded as “the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made,” and it certainly is every bit as stylish as Hitchcock’s thrillers. Donen’s direction always has a certain flair to it, but combined with this film’s thrills that flair shines brighter than ever, and you’d be hard pressed to find two greater leads for the film.
Released: December 5, 1963
Cast: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau and James Coburn
Trivia: Cary Grant thoroughly enjoyed working with Audrey Hepburn and reportedly always hoped to make another film with her. Unfortunately those hopes never panned out, despite efforts by both stars to get each other involved in subsequent films.