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Mel Johnson

Faux Pas on film

18 posts in this topic

We're creeping up on the Silly Season, but already I feel the urge to go after the Most Dubious Achievements in filmed dances. No matter how hard I try, I cannot forget a movie featuring Margaret O'Brien and Cyd Charisse which was an American remake of La Morte du Cygne, and contained some of the most dreadfully incompetent ballet sequences I've ever seen. It was made in 1947, and was called The Unfinished Dance.

My other nominee for most incompetent dancing was contained in 55 Days at Peking. Now, granted, I know that embassies are supposed to be rather conservative places, but showing an embassy party in 1905 and having the participants dancing a sort of contradanse (old-hat by the time of the Civil War) to music that was clearly a 6/8 two-step of the "Washington Post" variety (the latest thing in 1905), strained my credulity. Charlton Heston danced. Robert Helpmann delivered lines. Oh dear. :dunno:

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the most dreadfully incompetent ballet sequences I've ever seen.  It was made in 1947, and was called The Unfinished Dance

Is that film where Swan Lake is danced on a floor made of mirrors? Also didn't someone fall through a trap door on stage during the performance....I think I saw this on TV many, many years ago and it was so silly I've remembered it all this time - kind of stuck in my mind like a bad dream!

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I don't know if this qualifies, Mel, but I remember it as rather silly. The TV show Hart to Hart had an episode that I seem to recall was written or co-written by someone who was a student of Vladimir Dokoudovsky's in New York, so as it had to do with the murder of a ballet star, they asked Mr. Dokoudovsky's permission to use his name. The cast is interesting and I don't remember if it even had ballet sequences though I suspect it did. Here is a capsule:

"Harts on Their Toes" Episode: #3.18 - 2 March 1982

Victor Barbee .... Yuri Rostoff

Xander Berkeley .... Christopher Hawks

Mark Bratcher .... Vladimir Dokoudovsky

Gerald Gordon .... Federal Investigator

James Jeter .... Policeman

Alexander Lockwood .... Marty

Alexander Minz .... Boris Lermontov

Clive Revill .... Zabin

Anna Rodzianko .... Michelle Barrie

"Boris Lermontov"! :)

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Wait! I remember another one. But it was both not so bad and really bad at the same time. The 1939(?) Shirley Temple film The Little Princess had a dream sequence in which the Princess (Shirley) watches a dance put on for her and the lead dancer is Shirley. Around her is an adult corps de ballet (everyone is dressed more or less as a Sylphide) who are good dancers, wonder if they were Ballet Russe people? Anyway Shirley Temple was unbelievably awful in ballet and it was very odd.

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Is that film where Swan Lake is danced on a floor made of mirrors?  Also didn't  someone fall through a trap door on stage during the performance....I think I saw this on TV many, many years ago and it was so silly I've remembered it all this time - kind of stuck in my mind like a bad dream!

That's the one, and I saw it on TV, too. It was so bad it was memorable. And yes, Cyd Charisse does go trap-diving. This film was also the debut of a young, very earnest Danny Thomas, who did what he could with his lines, but the allover production values were so stupid, he couldn't do much about it.

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This isn't a movie but it might qualify. It was Jackie Gleason's TV show. He had those dancers who danced as a group at the beginning and end of each program. At the end of this program the dancers (women) were wearing calf length skirts that were quite narrow. As a result every time they did a step that required extending their legs more than about 35 degrees they knocked themselves over. They were dropping like flies!

Giannina

P.S. The June Taylor Dancers!!

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It was Balanchine's version of Swan Lake in a Vera Zorina film---the story ended with Lew Christiansen leaning remorsefully on a castle---he was several feet taller than the castle.... :D

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It was Balanchine's version of Swan Lake in a Vera Zorina  film---the story ended with Lew Christiansen leaning remorsefully on a castle---he was several feet taller than the castle.... :D

I Married an Adventuress! It was so funny when he waded out to the miniature castle in his suit of armor...

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I think Balanchine and Tchelitchev (who designed that segment of the film's costumes and decor) must have been having a good hearty laugh up their sleeves at that one!

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There's a tape of Cinderella with the Berlin Opera Ballet that is truly terrible.

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This isn't a movie but it might qualify.  It was Jackie Gleason's TV show.  He had those dancers who danced as a group at the beginning and end of each program.  At the end of this program the dancers (women) were wearing calf length skirts that were quite narrow.  As a result every time they did a step that required extending their legs more than about 35 degrees they knocked themselves over.  They were dropping like flies!

Giannina

P.S.  The June Taylor Dancers!!

I don't remember this number, but the June Taylor Dancers were usually rather like a television version of a Busby Berkley ensemble, with those amazing-for-the-time overhead camera angles. They did more serious work as well as the lighthearted stuff.

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The dance recording that always makes me cringe (aside from Toumanova's peg-legged Don Q variation, she's just poking at the floor) is Gene Kelly's "Be a Clown" with the Nicholas Brothers.... because the Nicholas Brothers totally outclass Kelly and make kelly's choreography look like kitschy hokum -- they can't help it, they're really trying to do his white-bread moves, and they've got NOTHING to DO but jerk from pose to pose. Their deep joy in dancing makes Kelly's look like tooth-paste salesmanship....

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In the 70's one of the daytime soap operas had a plot line including a dancer -- a woman who supposedly left a ballet company (modeled on the Joffrey) and her hotshot composer husband, and started teaching baby ballet classes in the soap opera city, where she met the perennially eligible doctor. There was a certain amount of "can she be happy without the stage" hullabaloo, but it seemed that Dr. Bob and the baby classes was going to be her pathway to true happiness, until composer ex shows up, needing her help for a new ballet score he's writing, and eventually the two of them fade off into the sunset, leaving Dr Bob alone until his next temporary relationship.

The dancing itself was minimal -- cute curtseys at the end of the baby classes, some strained partnering during a touring performance by her former company, and a lot of swooping around the hotel furniture as she "assists" composer ex with his new work. As I recall the actress was not a dancer, and she certainly didn't have a very credible studio persona, but it was interesting to see what the show did and didn't get about dance life.

And for some odd reason, I remember the composer ex's name was Ian.

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And I thought this was all about me! :P

When I was in college I had a creepy roommate (one of four or five) who always rented porn and watched it with his girlfriend on the one TV in the common living room. One he rented was about a ballet company and starred porn veteran Paul Thomas. A google search showed that the title of the movie was "Let's get Physical" from way back in 1984 with Hypatia Lee as the head of a ballet company and Paul Thomas was her bitter husband, an injured danseur noble who ruined his legs in a car crash after she caught him in flagrante with another woman (and we get to see how in flagrante that was).

All I remember was Paul Thomas in a horrible homemade flouncy collar and tights pretending to be the Prince in "Swan Lake" in a flashback. I also remember a ballerina doing it in a tutu and nothing else!

Is that too much of a faux pas for this site! :)

Faux Pas

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I remember an episode of the Tom Selleck Series Magnum, P.I. in which he was hired to guard a ballerina, played by Andrea Marcovicci, who is now a cabaret singer, with some pretty awful ballet sequences.

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I can also recall an episode of the old TV series Ben Casey which dealt with a defecting Russian ballerina. Susan Oliver played the dancer, and while there were some long shots of a blonde girl dancing, and not badly, I could swear that that dancer was Zina Bethune. When they cut to a close shot of Oliver, dressed in a tutu, and not looking bad in it, you could tell that instead of bourrées, she was walking sideways. That's far from the worst I've seen, though.

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One camp classic with a few ballet sequences is "Salome, Where She Danced" with Yvonne De Carlo and David Bruce from 1945.

IMDB entry for Salome, Where she Danced

There is an "under the sea" nymph ballet with Yvonne de Carlo dancing on pointe. Quite a sight!

Faux Pas

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