THERE is a lot to be seen of Gene Kelly in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's "Invitation to the Dance," an extraordinary choreographic picture, which came to the Plaza last night. He virtually gives a twinkle-toes recital in this three-part, no-dialogue dance film. Furthermore, he created the dances and directed the whole shebang.
Mr. Kelly deserves some admiration. So does Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for letting him go at this picture and footing the obviously high costs. For "Invitation to the Dance" is most unusual in its creative concept and form, and it certainly represents a departure from the ordinary song-and-dance film. At the same time, it throws a heap of hoofing of a rather gaudy sort into one show. And because it has nothing but dancing, it is likely to have limited appeal.
As we say, the picture is in three parts, each approximately thirty minutes long. The first is a semi-classical ballet called "Circus," in which Mr. Kelly plays a clown; you know, a standard Pagliacci: he's in love with the pretty acrobat, who has eyes only for the high-wire walker. And it ends with the death of the clown.
In this one, Mr. Kelly reminds us of Marcel Marceau, with his chalked face, his pantomimic gestures and his resolutely melancholy air. Igor Youskevitch is strong as the wire-walker and Claire Sombert makes a lovely acrobat. The three of them dance very nicely in a formal, postured ballet.
The second of the numbers is a modern, satiric, theatrical thing which Mr. Kelly calls "Ring Around the Rosy" and which may have been inspired by the French film "La Ronde." It follows the course of a bracelet from a doting husband to a faithless wife to a fickle lover and so forth to a prostitute and back to the husband again. The most imaginative and amusing thing in it is a wailing, groaning trombone that represents the voice of a shiny-haired crooner. On the whole, it is rather banal.
Mr. Kelly does a small part in this one. He's a marine who comes home to find his girl has received the bracelet (for services rendered). He takes it away from her and passes it on to the prostitute, danced by Tamara Toumanova. She is the most striking of the several girls.
The last number, "Sinbad the Sailor," has Mr. Kelly and a little boy, David Kasday, dancing "live-action" within the frame of an animated cartoon. This one, while technically clever, is neither irrestible nor original, Mr. Kelly did the same sort of thing much better in the eleven-year-old musical "Anchors Aweigh."
Arthur Freed, the producer, has surrounded Mr. Kelly with glittering theatrical déecor, which looks very pretty in color, and three elaborate musical scores. They are slightly more sophisticated and skillful than his eclectic choreography.
This film represents a brave experiment, but it would have been more commendable if Mr. Kelly had been more fertile with ideas and less inclined to overdo...