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« In Praise of Blanchett's Curls in Truth | Main | YES, NO, MAYBE SO: Anomalisa »
Tuesday
Nov032015

The Honoraries: Dancin' Debbie Reynolds

For the next two weeks we'll be celebrating all three of the Honorary Oscar Recipients at TFE. Here's Dancin' Dan to kick things off... with musical numbers. - Editor

Debbie Reynolds may not have started out as a dancer, but she sure made a great one on film. I can be (and honestly have been known on occasion to be) somewhat churlish and point out the exact moment from the legendary "Good Morning" number in Singin' in the Rain where the 19 year-old ingenue starts cheating her steps... but it's my favorite movie, and we're here to honor the unsinkable Ms. Reynolds, so why would I want to?

And besides, she's already proven herself the cat's meow in her first number in the film, the perfectly pretty in pink "All I Do is Dream of You". (more...)

Never mind the other (clearly over-the-hill) chorus girls surrounding her, never mind the constant barrage of streamers threatening to trip her up, Debbie doesn't miss a beat. But even more important than that, she performs the HELL out of this number. She radiates so much charisma your eyes would still be drawn to her if she weren't front and center. Somehow, even though she's mugging for that camera like her life depended on it, she doesn't look like she's overdoing it. It's her most defining trait as a performer.

Take, for example, this number from I Love Melvin, the underrated follow-up she and Donald O'Connor made together not two years after Singin' in the Rain:

Putting Debbie and Donald, two of the biggest hams in the business, together should make the film stock sag from exhaustion from sheer overexuberance, but instead the number is a pure blast. Debbie's face-pulling looks cute instead of overbearing, and she has a grounded quality to her that stops her from flying away completely. Moreso than most modern-day stars, she has the amazing ability to draw you in and make you love her, no matter what she's doing. If what she's doing is ridiculous -- which it often is -- she looks like she knows it's ridiculous, and loves doing it still. This is true star quality.

If you doubt that star quality - or her dancing ability - just watch this clip from 1953's The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, in which she steals focus not just from co-stars Bobby Van and Barbara Ruick, but from none other than the man himself, Bob Fosse.

She may not have been a trained dancer, but she sure played a damn good one on film. None of her films came anywhere close to the level of Singin' in the Rain (what could?), but she consistently gave it all she's got, which is not an inconsiderable amount of talent.

Congratulations, Debbie! For these performances, and so much more, we are glad you're receiving an Honorary Academy Award.

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Reader Comments (10)

Denny I will love you forever for the clip of Bob Fosse. But you are correct.....Debbie just sparkles . I sometimes think that she just couldn't outgrow the ingenue. But she deserves the honorary Oscar for her talent, her films and her preservation of so many artifacts of the industry.
And sometimes please pass on the notated clip of Good Morning. I now dying to know

November 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

I am happy for her, but I definitely found her to be the worst part of Singin' in the Rain. Sorry everyone :(

Still one of the greatest movies ever, though!

November 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Terrific piece. Your so right when you point to her star quality especially in that quartet dance number. Both Fosse and Van were accomplished dancers with vibrant performing styles and I've always love Barbara Ruick but it's Debbie who draws your eye.

Her charisma is so strong that it's always surprised me that her film career didn't make the leap past the end of the big studio era. It's not like she couldn't carry the dramatic load, in her last big studio film as a star, Divorce, American Style, she's the MVP in a cast that includes Jean Simmons and Jason Robards, Jr. but somehow within a couple of years she was appearing in What's the Matter with Helen, which I love but was definitely down market, and then nothing noteworthy until Mother 25 YEARS later!! She was certainly active but usually not in projects worthy of her talent, such a waste.

Delighted she's being acknowledged. Your spotlight on her big breakthrough reminded me of a comment she made some years ago where she said the two hardest things she'd ever done in her life were childbirth and Singin' in the Rain!!

November 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Didn't she end up doing Vegas and that kind of circuit for many years? As I recall, her second husband took lost most of her money and she had to pay off her debts, and shows like that were guaranteed income.

It's not film work, but I loved her recurring role as Bobbie Adler on "Will & Grace". She did so much with the role of narcissistic, wannabe show-biz mother.

November 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

Funny thing about my second time watching Singin' in the Rain - it was in a high school Film class. And one of the dudes behind me just kept saying under his breath about Debbie Reynolds "she's so fucking hot" every time it was on-screen.

Everybody could hear him. One guy got mad because he kept saying it.

But hey, real recognize real.

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSTinG

HALLOWEENTOWN

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKaa

Well - she certainly lit up the screen. Energy. Divorce American Style as actually pretty good. I wonder how much of "Doris" she actually is from "Postcards from the Edge." If I am not mistaken she is not getting an honorary Oscar for her screen work. Isn't it a humanitarian award - something to do with mental illness? I never heard of her involvement with mental illness. I know she has been active in film preservation - and holding on to props and costumes for an eventual film museum. But - congratulations to her....pretty voice / pretty face (she's no Donna Reed, though in terms of looks), vivacious on-screen. Wish they broadcast these honorary awards - vs all the time spent on short subject,etc oscars. foolish move getting rid of broadcasting these - we've missed Jerry Lewis, Lauren Bacall, Angela Lansbury, Maureen O'Hara (RIP), Steve Martin....and now Debbie Reynolds and Gena Rowland....sometime someone will wise up and put them back. Thank God the Debbie Allen interpretive dance numbers got the heave-ho after many many years.....painful.

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

I think there are others more deserving of the Oscar than Reynolds ...

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterrick

BTW - I love how her dress "swirls up" in the donald o'conner video.

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy

Gene Kelly, Gene Kelly, Gene Kelly.

November 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

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