Few directors have made as lasting and beautiful a contribution to musical films as Vincente Minnelli, the filmmaker responsible for helming such enduring classics as An American in Paris, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Pirate, The Band Wagon, and Gigi. Happily, in a month filled with Oscar-related woes about snubs and forgotten categories, it’s nice to look back and see a talented filmmaker that was actually being recognized for his work in his own time, and Minnelli did win the Best Director Oscar, in 1958, for Gigi.
Minnelli was born to a showbiz family: his mother was a French-Canadian actress, his father a Sicilian musical conductor, and together they traveled the midwest as the Minnelli Brothers’ Tent Theater. As an adult, Vincente continued his career in the theater in Chicago and New York, finding work as a costumer, set designer, and ultimately a stage director, including a stint at Radio City Music Hall. His transition to film came about in 1940, courtesy of MGM impresario Arthur Freed, and his work for the studio in the years following resulted in many of Minnelli’s, MGM’s, and really, cinema’s most popular musicals. Fans of his will recognize the lasting theatrical influence in his musical work, seen in everything from his impeccable costuming ro his detailed, but relatively static staging, and, in general, his respectable and often awe-inspiring commitment to spectacle and beauty.
Although his name will forever be synonymous with his many movie musicals, Minnelli also directed many popular comedies and dramas without signing and dancing, including two of my recent favorites, The Long, Long Trailer, starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as newlyweds, and The Reluctant Debutante, starring Sandra Dee and John Saxon, as well as enduring comedies like Designing Woman and Father of the Bride.
By the way, aside from his cinematic efforts, Minnelli is also remembered for a more organic creation: his daughter, Liza Minnelli, who was the result of his famous six-year marriage to Judy Garland. In the spirit of 31 Days of Oscar, it’s worth mentioning that they’re surely one of few families in which the mother, father, and child can all say that they’ve won an Oscar—how about that for pressure at a family reunion? Minnelli also directed seven actors to Oscar acting nominations, including Spencer Tracy for Father of the Bride, Gloria Grahame and Kirk Douglas for The Bad and the Beautiful, Anthony Quinn and Kirk Douglas for Lust for Life, and Arthur Kennedy, Martha Hyer and Shirley MacLaine for Some Came Running. One can certainly have few qualms regarding Oscar snubs for Mr. Minnelli!
Though his work was sometimes criticized for valuing beauty over form, Minnelli’s extraordinary body of work has certainly secured his immortality within the public memory, as well as securing him as part of Oscar’s record of history. Though Gigi is not my favorite film of his*, I’ll accept that the Oscars sometimes run on a slightly delayed schedule, and so often signify a reward for a body of work, perhaps, more so than the actual film.
This is part of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon, hosted by Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. To find out more info, visit the blogathon home page. All my Oscar entries are/will be tagged under 31 Days of Oscar.
*My favorite Minnelli musical is The Band Wagon, but I’m willing to hear compelling arguments for your favorites in the comments :)