4YE’s Big Movie Binge: The Pirate (1948)

Credit: MGM

Vincente Minnelli was one of the foremost directors of musicals and film in general in the forties and early fifties. Many of his films starred Judy Garland, his wife, with whom he had Liza Minnelli. There’s no mistaking the manic and wild energy present in classic film The Pirate. It isn’t Minnelli who should get the credit for such madness, it’s stars Garland and Gene Kelly who deserve praise.

The Pirate tells the story of Manuela (Garland), a repressed orphan who lives with her Aunt on an island in the Caribbean. She longs for adventure and a life free from the confines of society. Alas, she is about to enter into an arranged marriage with the mayor of their town Don Pedro.

Serafin (Kelly) is a “lowly actor” who arrives at the island as part of a tour with his company. He’s a playboy. Basically an actor with a girl in every port. When he meets Manuela, however, he instantly is smitten with her. She is not.

So begins Serafin’s hunt for Manuela’s hand and love which, by modern standards, is a bit more rapey and consensual than is appropriate. Manuela and Serafin eventually fall in love. The film’s ambiguous ending and manic energy and boisterous noise, however, just leaves a rotten taste behind in its wake.

This is Garland or Kelly’s fault as both are acting legends. I think this is just a bad film with a horrible script and a not so great director. The Pirate is supposed to be Garland’s film. Bad blood between her and Minnelli at the time made the focus shift from Manuela to Serafin. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing either. Kelly as Serafin is buzzing with an energy that is undeniably exciting. It’s just also rather annoying at the same time.

No amount of acting could make Serafin as a character relatable or likeable. He’s overly dramatic, overly campy, and just a perv. Again, it’s a product of the script (and the time), but Kelly sure tries to make him likeable.

Garland as Manuela isn’t any better. The Pirate tries to sell the idea that sex is adventure. Manuela’s first performance is a mass orgy of writhing bodies and loss of inhibition. It’s cringeworthy. The metaphor is on full display but never comes to fruition, especially when taken with the final performance “Be a Clown”. The number turns Manuela and Serafin into sexless people that never fully realizes them as a romantic couple. This is counter to what the rest of the film was trying to do.

The good thing about the film? The dance scene Kelly does in tight black shorts against a red background on a ship all by himself. Kelly’s dancing is always so powerful and so full of life. This is the only part of the film worth watching, even if it, like the rest of movie, is still a bit cringeworthy. I think it’s the tight black shorts. It’s a strange costume choice but in the context of the film, it kinda works?

The Pirate is manic. It never sits still long enough to take itself serious as a film. Of course, it’s a not-so-serious musical so how much serious stuff can one expect? One thing is for certain, though, Kelly and Garland try to make the film work but fail miserably. Nothing can save The Pirate from its horrible writing, direction, and non-consensual sex fantasies.

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Shelby Arnold

Shelby is currently reviewer extraordinaire for 4YE. She is also currently the co-editor of Arkansas Tech University's paper The Arka Tech. She runs her own movie review blog called Shellin' Out Reviews where she crossposts many of her reviews. She previously was a staff writer at PopWrapped.

Shelby started writing at the age of 13 and has been hooked ever since. She's currently going to school at ATU for Creative Writing and English with a minor in Film Studies. She hopes to one day be a professor of film, a film critic, and a screenwriter. (Can you tell she likes the movies?)

She hopes to walk the red carpet one day. She contributes a long list of friends, co-workers, professors, and writers as the inspiration for her dreams and goals.

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Shelby Arnold
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