Friday, September 26, 2008 02:45 PM
On the Viewer - The Pirate
 by Fëanor

A month or so ago, poppy and I, along with SuperTarzan, Val, and a few of Val's friends, attended one of the occasional outdoor movie screenings at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philly. They were going with a pirate theme leading up to Talk Like a Pirate Day, so the film playing was The Pirate, an odd little period romance/musical comedy from 1948, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring his then wife, Judy Garland, not to mention Gene Kelly. Although it's called The Pirate, and the plot does indeed revolve around one particular pirate, it's not really a pirate movie. There is no high seas adventure; in fact, there is no high seas at all - the movie takes place entirely on the land. Garland plays Manuela, a young woman who lives a safe and boring life in a small town and longs to be captured and taken away by the infamous pirate, Macoco. Her dreams of romance and adventure are shattered by her Aunt Inez, who has promised Manuela in marriage to the Mayor, an older, rounder man with no interest in travel. Manuela is initially upset, but quickly resigns herself to her fate - although she does make a final request of her Aunt before being locked in the shackles of matrimony. The marriage dress has been ordered from offshore, and she wants to travel to the city to meet the ship when it comes to port. Her aunt reluctantly agrees. But it turns out that also arriving with the ship is a troupe of traveling players led by the arrogant, womanizing Serafin (Kelly). When Serafin sees Manuela, he experiences love and desire like never before. He chats her up and invites her to that evening's performance. She reacts with disgust, but when the night comes, she finds herself sneaking out to the show. When Serafin sees her in the crowd he skips to the part of the show where he hypnotizes an audience member, and of course his subject is her. He's hoping to wheedle out of her what he assumes is the inevitable fact that she has a secret desire for him, but in fact all he gets out of her is a song about how she wants to be swept off her feet by Macoco - or "Mack the Black." ("Mack the Black" is a bit suggestive, but apparently the original number - "Voodoo" - was so racy that MGM chief Louis B. Mayer demanded the negative be burned. Nobody wants to see Dorothy acting like that!) When Manuela comes out of her daze and realizes the shameful thing she's done (that is, sung a racy song with actors), she runs back, wakes her Aunt up, and demands they go home immediately. It seems she's gotten away safely, until the troupe shows up in town on the day of the wedding and Serafin invades Manuela's room, determined to win her. The Mayor shows up to find out what the hold-up is, and that's when things start getting really interesting. (Spoilers ahoy!) Serafin, it turns out, was one of the few victims of Macoco to escape the pirate alive, and he quickly recognizes that the Mayor himself is the pirate. Yes, in an ironic twist, the man Manuela is about to marry, crushing her fantasies of being carried away by Mack the Black, is himself Mack the Black! The pirate has gone straight and doesn't want anyone to know about his old life. So Serafin immediately resolves to blackmail him, but in a creative way. Serafin claims to be Macoco, and with the help of the pirate's terrible reputation, is able to lord it around the town, making all kinds of ridiculous demands. Of course it's all just a ploy to capture Manuela's heart, but Serafin didn't think his plan through very well and it ends up backfiring on him and nearly killing him.

The film has some fun song-and-dance numbers (like "Mack the Black"), others that drag on a bit too long or seem out of place (like the awful closing number, "Be a Clown," which features Kelly and Garland dancing around in full clown makeup and dress, performing stupid physical comedy; it simply doesn't belong in the movie), and others that are just seriously weird (like the surreal dream sequence that occurs when Manuela is watching Serafin circle a horse with a whip; she imagines him as Mack the Black, leaping about and terrorizing a native populace while flames dance in the background). In fact, the movie is in general rather weird, swinging from carefree, fun-loving moments - with silly gags, physical comedy, and romantic comedy - to moments of serious and deadly danger, embodied by the central character of Macoco, who is actually a terrible mass murderer.

The story is quite clever, with interesting ironic twists, and there are some very funny moments, like the scene where the townspeople come to shame-facedly request that Manuela give herself to Serafin/Macoco to save their lives, and she pretends to refuse over and over, when really she can't wait to go to him, and is just stalling so she can put on makeup and a nice dress. But the movie drags on a bit longer than I'd like, especially during the drawn-out final sequence, where we have to sit through a ridiculous performance from Serafin and Manuela as they try to provoke the Mayor into revealing himself. And then there's the terrible, tacked-on "Be a Clown."

Still, overall The Pirate is a fun, entertaining romp, and an interesting example of the grand old movie musical.

- - -

P.S. Seeing a movie at the Independence Seaport Museum was a fun experience, but I think if we went again we'd definitely follow the example of others in the crowd that night and bring cushions; the seating consists of nothing more than a series of bare stone steps.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), Music (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Pirates (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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