PRODUCTION NUMBER: 1400
PRODUCTION DATES: December 2, 1946 – August 14, 1947;
August 27 – October 21, 1947; November 18, 1947
PRODUCTION COST: $3,768,496
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
RELEASE DATE: World Premiere: May 15, 1948 (Montreal, Quebec); Radio City Music Hall Premiere: May 20, 1948; General Release: June 10, 1948.
INITIAL BOX OFFICE: $2,956,000
Judy Garland as Manuela Alva
Gene Kelly as Serafin
Walter Slezak as Don Pedro Vargas
Gladys Cooper as Aunt Inez
Reginald Owen as the Advocate
George Zucco as the Viceroy
The Nicholas Brothers as Specialty Dancers
Lester Allen as Uncle Capucho
Lola Deem as Isabella
Ellen Ross as Mercedes
Mary Jo Ellis as Lizarda
Jean Dean as Casilda
Marion Murray as Eloise
Ben Lessey as Gumbo
Jerry Bergen as Bolo
Val Setz as Juggler
Gaudsmith Brothers as Themselves
Cully Richards as Trillo
Produced by: Arthur Freed
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
Screen Play by: Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich
Based on the Play by S. N. Behrman as produced by The Playwrights Producing Company and The Theatre Guild
(some sources also credit Lillian Braun, Anita Loos, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Joseph Than and Wilkie Mahoney as having contributed to the writing)
Musical Direction: Lennie Hayton
Instrumental Arrangements: Conrad Salinger
Songs by: Cole Porter
Dance Direction by: Robert Alton and Gene Kelly
Art Directors: Cedric Gibbons and Jack Martin Smith
Paintings by: Doris Lee
Set Decorations: Edwin B. Willis
Associate: Arthur Krans
Mack the Black
The Pirate Ballet
(Gene Kelly dance)
You Can Do No Wrong
Be a Clown
(Gene Kelly and The Nicholas Brothers)
Love of My Life
Be a Clown
(Judy Garland and Gene Kelly)
The Pirate can be considered “Judy’s cult film” in a sense. Indeed, the film is unlike any other musical (or other films) released in 1948 and the result is that people either love it or hate it. There is no in-between. Producer Arthur Freed said that it was “twenty years ahead of its time.” It’s lauded for Minnelli’s use of color and Gene Kelly’s dancing although critics were (and still are) divided on the merits of the acting. Some felt that Judy and Gene overacted. Others loved the high farce the production was aiming for. I personally love Judy’s performance in the film. Yes, sometimes you can see some of the strain she was under, but overall her talents as a comedienne really shine through.
The production was plagued with problems from the start. This was Judy’s return to the studio after giving birth to Liza Minnelli and she suffered severe postpartum depression. She also did not relish the thought of returning to the intense grind (and dieting) required in making musicals. She had been talked into renewing her MGM contract paying her an incredible $6,000.00 per week and requiring she only make two films a year. Later she would say that it was “one of the classic mistakes of my life”.
But all of the issues can’t be blamed solely on Judy. The script went through many changes. Most famously the Anita Loos and Joseph Than take on the story altered the premise by making the pirate impersonate an actor impersonating a pirate, rather than the more believable story of an actor impersonating a pirate (who happens to have become the mayor of the town). The husband-wife writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were brought in to rewrite the script.
The music went through many changes as well. The first scoring of “Mack The Black” had what Freed called a sound “like a Chinese carnival,” meaning it sounded very over arranged and shrill. When going through a rehearsal of “You Can Do No Wrong,” Judy and Porter had harsh words with each other over the pronunciation of the word “caviar.” The argument was attributed to Judy being over medicated, because she normally adored Porter and his talent. “Love Of My Life” was also re-recorded.
Over the years, The Pirate has become one of Garland fan’s most well loved films in spite of its minor faults. It may not make the top 10 list of everyone’s favorite musicals, but it was a great experiment at the time and helped advance the film musical to the heights it would achieve in just a few years
TIMELINE PART ONE:
The deleted “Voodoo” number is legendary in the history of Judy’s MGM career. Filmed in mid-April 1947, it was deleted after the first two previews. Part of the number’s legendary status is due to the fact that no footage has survived, so everyone has their own imaginations to think of what the number might have looked like. The other part of the legend is due to the stories that have been told surrounding the number’s troubled filming.
There are a couple of stories that may or may not be true that were first published in the 1970s and 80s in books about Judy and MGM. In the most lurid and well known legend, Judy was allegedly so distraught due to her addiction to medications that she had a complete meltdown in the middle of a take with everyone looking on. In their book “The MGM Girls – Behind the Velvet Curtain” (published in 1983 by St. Martin’s Press) co-authors Peter Harry Brown & Pamela Ann Brown gave this very colorful account:
Judy Garland clung to her stand-in and shivered in the darkness. All around her, unseen, were the hundreds of dancers, singers, and stars (including Gene Kelly and Walter Slezak) who were supporting her in a lavish new musical, The Pirate. five times they had started the music, and five times they had waited in vain for Judy to burst on the scene in her $125,000 dress and sing a frenetic production number called “Voodoo.”
For the scene the sound stage (the size of two football fields) had been blacked out, its doors sealed with tape and guarded by a phalanx of studio police. A roaring fire had been lighted, and dozens of native drummers were stationed in a semicircle, where they pounded out an authentic voodoo call – a call to the spirits of evil, the spirits of the dead.
Judy, bone thin and tight as a crossbow, had spent four hours in Makeup and another being sewn into her billowing dress. Her husband, Vincent [sic] Minnelli, was directing with love and care, fitting his schedule carefully around his drug-crazed wife and her bouts with paranoia. Realizing his role was as a father figure as well as a husband, he had coaxed and coddled Judy, painfully drawing out her performance minute-by-minute. By now the pressure was on. It was costing $20,000 an hour to keep the “Voodoo” cast assembled and waiting for the singing star to appear. So he did what was necessary. “Let’s move it, Judy,” he said. “We’ve got four hours to get this number on film – and four hours only.
She looked up at him through a drug haze and nodded. “Bastard,” she said through clenched teeth. “He’s as bad as the others.”
Judy had already recorded “Voodoo” almost a week before, producing a strident, hysterical vocal track that was almost painful to hear. But it was “Voodoo,” after all, and therefore not completely out of character.
So for the sixth time Minnelli signaled for the playback. The towering fire was stoked and a two-story door opened to the darkness of a midnight sky for ventilation.
This time Judy leaped into camera range, reproducing the movement of a Haitian rite with chilling accuracy. Then she moved within two feed of the fire. She stared into the flames, and her eyes opened wide with terror. “I’m going to burn to death. They want to ill me,” she shrieked. “They want me to burn to death. It’s a trick. Don’t you see? It’s a trick. They want me to burn to death.” Tears ran down her face, streaking the makeup that had been so carefully painted on. She ripped her dress, tore off her earrings, and began running from one extra to the other.
Her voice came out in a croak. “Do you have any Benzedrine? You Must Have. Give it to me, please. Give it to me. They won’t let me have any.” She repeated the pitiful plea over and over again, alternately sobbing, laughing, crying, and, finally veering completely out of control. She was led off the set. The production number was junked.
The Browns don’t don’t give a source in their bibliography for this particular story. The story about the incident was first published (legitimately) in author Hugh Fordin’s book about MGM’s Freed Unit titled “The World of Entertainment! Hollywood’s Greatest Musicals” published by Doubleday in 1975. Fordin’s version is the obvious source for the Brown’s version, although it’s not quite as colorful:
It was a night scene and she was to do the number around an open fire. On the stage floor the fires were lit, the ceiling-high doors were open and Minnelli and the company were waiting. Suddenly Judy tore onto the stage, her face emaciated, her eyes wide. Seeing the open fires she broke into hysterics, screaming: “I’m going to burn to death! They want me to burn to death!” In fain Minnelli tried to calm her. She pulled away and ran to a group of extras, pleading: “Do you have some Benzedrine?” Addressing each one individually, she kept repeating it. Sobbing, laughing, crying, completely out of control, she was led off the set. For everybody, but especially for the man crew members who had known and loved Judy since her adolescent years, it was a pathetic scene. This was the first public manifestation of Judy’s rapidly deteriorating condition. But she was able to bring herself out of momentary breakdown and resume shooting the next day.
Fordin’s account was published the same year as the first extensive, serious biography about Judy Garland was published, the best-selling “Judy” written by Gerold Frank and published by Harper and Row. Frank doesn’t mention the incident at all, nor does Christopher Finch in his equally lauded Garland biography “Rainbow – The Stormy Life of Judy Garland” also published in 1975, by Grosset & Dunlap.
In his Garland biography “Get Happy” (published in 2000 by Random House), author Gerald Clarke relayed the same story, only his account is very abridged compared to the Brown’s account:
Other times amphetamines had the reverse effect, making her [Judy] tense and occasionally even paranoid. Called upon to dance around open fires in one scene, Judy jumped across the stage in terror. “I’m going to burn to death!” she shouted. “They want me to burn to death!” Finally she was led away – crying, laughing, altogether hysterical.
The assistant director on The Pirate, Wally Worsley, doesn’t mention the incident in his daily production reports. Considering how detailed the daily reports were, it’s odd Worsley wouldn’t mention it. However, in their very detailed and exhaustive book about the film titled “The Cinematic Voyage of The Pirate – Kelly, Garland, and Minnelli at Work” (published in 2014 by the University of Missouri Press) authors Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar note that Worsley’s omission could be a result of his “being uncomfortable witnessing Garland’s extreme anxiety and chose not to report what had happened.” Or, as they also note, the story could be an exaggeration of a less dramatic incident. Judy most likely did have a very public breakdown on the set, but whether she actually ran up to extras begging for drugs or screamed in horror that “they” were trying to burn her to death is anyone’s guess. There is no actual documentation of the incident and it could simply be studio gossip that grew over the decades before Fordin’s book was first published. Regardless of the details, the incident is a reflection of Judy’s struggles with addiction, which had become more than just a habit or a crutch. Sadly, this was the time when true addiction took hold of Judy Garland.
The second legend around the number is about the actual dance. The number had to be restaged (whether it was before or after Judy’s breakdown is unknown) due to the overt sexuality on display. One author described it as “humping” and columnist Hedda Hopper reported that it was “a hair curler.” It was apparently so sexual (especially for an MGM musical in 1947), that when MGM boss Louis B. Mayer’s secretary saw some of the footage, she was so shocked she convinced him to view the rushes. As author John Fricke relayed in his Garland biography “Judy Garland – World’s Greatest Entertainer” published in 1992 by Henry Holt Publishers:
“Burn the negative!” [Mayer] cried. “If that exhibition gets on any screen, we’ll be raided by the police!” He later gave Kelly a lecture on how to behave while dancing, and “Voodoo” was restaged.
Mayer giving Kelly a lecture on how to behave is totally in character for Mayer. He liked to think of himself as the kindly Papa of everyone who worked at MGM, whether that was truly accurate or not.
Over the years there have been claims by fans that they have seen the footage, or some of it. There have also been claims that somebody somewhere has a copy. To date, nothing has surfaced. It’s likely that the surviving footage was destroyed in the 1965 vault fire at MGM.
TIMELINE PART TWO:
December 27, 1946
“Love Of My Life”
December 28, 1946
“Mack The Black”
First Deleted Version
First Deleted Version – Tag
Second Deleted Version
February 12, 1947
“Mack The Black” – Temporary Track Ending (Judy with piano)
March 28, 1947
Complete edited version
April 10, 1947
Take 3 (includes some Garland chatter)
May 13, 1947:
“You Can Do No Wrong”
“Love Of My Life”
You Can Do No Wrong
Love Of My Life
July 14, 1947
“Be A Clown”
Cued Playback Disc (provided by Hisato M.)
December 15, 1947:
“Mack The Black” (new version)
These playback discs are two different types. There are the standard 80 rpm MGM playback discs that feature the MGM logo and typed information on the labels. The other are double sprocket hole (or more) discs which were played on different equipment. These had blank labels on which the details were handwritten. It’s unknown if these are more casual “first run” playback discs not meant for filming but more for test purposes or something else.
Note that the dates are different than the recording dates, reflecting the dates the discs were made.
All discs from the Hisato Masuyama collection. Thanks Hisato!
Release Date: November 24, 2020
NEW 2020 1080p HD Restoration from 4K scan of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives
Run Time: 101:00
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio Specs: DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 – English
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 4×3 FULL FRAME
Product Color: COLOR
Disc Configuration: BD-50
Special Features: Commentary by Author/Historian John Fricke, Making-of featurette “THE PIRATE: A MUSICAL TREASURE CHEST”, Vintage M-G-M short You Can’t Win, Vintage M-G-M cartoon Cat Fishin’, “MACK THE BLACK” musical sequence in HD with stereo audio, Audio-only outtakes, Associate Producer Roger Edens’ guide/rehearsal recordings, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly M-G-M radio promotional interviews, Original Theatrical Trailer (HD).
The differences between the old standard definition DVD and this newly remastered (finally!!) HD print is like night and day. It’s as if the film had been stuck in a shadow all they years and the curtains were finally pulled for all to see. Even if you’re not a fan of the film as you might be with Judy’s other films of this period, it’s still worth having for the amazing color, clarity, and music (which sounds as though it’s been upgraded too). It’s simply amazing!
The Pirate was the first Garland film to get a soundtrack album. Technically Till Till The Clouds Roll By was first, but Judy was merely a guest star with just two songs. The Pirate is a Judy Garland film through and through. The soundtrack as released by MGM Records was abridged due to the constraints of the standard albums of the day. It features abridged versions of some numbers, and a markedly different version of “Love of My Life” than that heard in the final film. Although part of the pre-recording of the “Voodoo” outtake appeared on the 1976 “Cut! Outtakes from Hollywood’s Greatest Musicals” LP and an expanded CD released in 1990 by Sony/CBS Special Products, the complete soundtrack with outtakes did not appear until the 2002 Rhino Records CD. All of the surviving Garland pre-recording sessions (material used for the 2002 CD) first appeared on the 1996 laserdisc “Judy Garland – the Golden Years at MGM.” You can get more details about all soundtrack releases of The Pirate at The Judy Garland Online Discography or by clicking on the album and CD images above and below.
The Pirate was released on home video in the early years of the formats, first on videodisc then VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and most recently on Blu-ray (remastered to its original glorious luster).
Below, the 1984 Japanese laserdisc edition, provided by Hitaso M. Thanks, Hitaso!