When Gene Kelly was the guest on The Muppet Show, he wouldn’t perform. (This is within the show, not in real life.) Said he was their guest, and you don’t make your guest work. And in order to get him to sing, Rowlf played a certain vamp. Several times, in fact, with Kelly starting a differernt song every time before finally launching into “Singin’ in the Rain,” the song Rowlf was trying to get Kelly to sing all along. Similarly, no matter what Stanley Donen did over the length of his career—and it was a long career—he will always be remembered for that movie.
I don’t know for sure that he’s the only person to have directed both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly; frankly, I’m not going to go looking to find out. But he did direct both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, which is I suppose the important thing. Also any number of musicals featuring neither man. Also a few movies that weren’t musicals at all. There are several movies that he directed in his career that ensure we’d be talking about him today even if he’d never directed another film beyond it.
Let us for a moment discuss Charade. People don’t, and I think that’s a bit of a shame. Cary Grant later said of it that all he wanted for Christmas was to make another movie with Audrey Hepburn. He never did, and it’s a shame, but the movie is still worth being better known than it is. Audrey is great. Cary is great. James Coburn and George Kennedy are both ominous and threatening—but in completely different ways. The whole movie sings, and Donen doesn’t get enough credit for it. Heck, there are several minor characters that he gives just enough weight, and he knows when to emphasize the comedy to get beyond the horror, and I’m a little disappointed at how seldom I hear people talk about it.
Charade, to me, disproves the idea that Stanley Donen only did what Gene Kelly told him. Who directed Singin’ in the Rain? In the end, who cares? It seems likely to me that it was a collaboration, and that trying to unwind who did what is not worth it anymore. I honestly don’t like some of Donen’s other films—Two For the Road doesn’t work for me, for one. But Charade was eight years after the men’s falling out during the making of It’s Always Fair Weather. Hard to believe Donen was getting directing advice from someone who wasn’t even speaking to him.
One of the reasons I don’t believe in auteur theory is that directing is such a collaborative effort at the best of times. Whose decision was it to switch all the lines in the Charade script so that Regina is the pursuer and not the pursued? I don’t know that, either. It doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t work no matter whose decision it was without at bare minimum that acting talents of Grant and Hepburn. Maybe Donen did his most famous work because he had the help of Gene Kelly on it, but he was a director. All of his best work required other people.