Invitation to the Dance is a 1956 anthology film consisting of three distinct stories, all starring and directed by Gene Kelly.
The film is unusual in that it has no spoken dialogue, with the characters performing their roles entirely through dance and mime. Kelly appears in all three stories, which feature leading dancers of the era including Tommy Rall, Igor Youskevitch, Tamara Toumanova and Carol Haney.
The movie was filmed in 1952, but its release was delayed until 1956 because of doubts at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about its commercial viability. The movie was a failure at the box office, but is regarded today as a landmark all-dance film.
Kelly conceived the film as an all-ballet musical, building on what he had done in his previous films like An American in Paris (1951) and Singin' in the Rain (1952), integrating dance and film. He wanted to use MGM's European offices to give him access to the top European Dance companies. He secured some of the top ballet dancers of the time for the project. He hoped the movie would educate mainstream American audiences about dance as an art form. He himself intended to appear in only one of the sequences, but the studio refused to allow him to make the film unless he appeared in all of them. He and some of the other dancers in the movie felt this held them back from expressing the full potential of the talents involved. There was intended to be a fourth segment titled "Dance Me a Song," which would consist of several popular songs interpreted through dance. This sequence was filmed, but later cut.
The first segment, "Circus", set to original music composed for the film by Jacques Ibert, is a tragic love triangle set in a mythical land sometime in the past. Kelly plays a clown, who is in love with another circus performer, played by Claire Sombert. She, however, is in love with an Aerialist, played by Youskevitch. The Clown, after entertaining the crowds with the other clowns, sees his love and the Aerialist kiss and wanders into a crowd in shock. That night he watches them dance together, and after the Lady finds him with her shawl, he confesses his love to her. The Aerialist finds them and thinks she has been unfaithful and leaves her. Determined to win her, the Clown tries to walk the Aerialist's tightrope himself, only to fall to his death. Dying, he urges the two lovers to forgive each other.
The second segment, "Ring Around the Rosy", set to original music by André Previn, tells several romantic stories tied by the exchange of a gold bracelet. The bracelet is originally given by a husband (David Paltenghi) to his wife Daphne Dale. She gives it to a flirtatious artist (Youskevitch), at a party, infuriating the husband, who stalks off. The artist gives the bracelet to a model (Claude Bessy), who gives it to her boyfriend the Sharpie (Tommy Rall). He in turn gives it to the Femme Fatale (Belita), only to have her present it to a Crooner (Irving Davies) after his performance. When the Hatcheck Girl (Diana Adams) orders him to leave, the Crooner gives her the bracelet. She returns home to her boyfriend, a Marine (Kelly). When he sees the bracelet, he angrily takes it and storms out. Coming out of a bar, he encounters a Streetwalker (Tamara Toumanova) and dances with her, giving her the bracelet as pay before walking off again. The next person the woman meets is the Husband who bought the bracelet. He recognizes it, buys it back, and reunites with his wife, returning it to her.
The third segment, "Sinbad the Sailor", is a fantasy consisting of live action and Hanna–Barbera-directed cartoons set in the casbah of a Middle Eastern country. This segment includes complex dance sequences showing a live Kelly dancing with cartoon characters; predating many ideas which reappeared in Mary Poppins. (Walt Disney was a friend of Gene Kelly's, and Disney animators provided technical consulting for the MGM animators on blending live action with animation for Anchors Aweigh.) Use is also made of the original themes of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade by the MGM music department team of adapter Roger Edens, conductor Johnny Green and orchestrator Conrad Salinger. Kelly plays a sailor who is sold a magic lantern. Rubbing the lamp, he discovers a childlike Genie (David Kasday). Put off by the Genie at first, the Sailor soon befriends him and changes his clothes into a miniature sailor suit to match his. The Genie's uses his magic to transport them both inside a book of One Thousand and One Nights. This puts him in conflict with a cartoon dragon, and then two palace guards wielding swords, and falling in love with a cartoon harem girl. With the Genie's help, he defeats the two guards by out dancing them. The Harem Girl then joins him and the Genie, after he changes her clothes into a Women's Naval Uniform. The film ends with the three of them dancing into the distance together.Gene Kelly - Pierrot / The Marine / Sinbad
Igor Youskevitch - The Lover / The Artist
Claire Sombert - The Loved
Tamara Toumanova - The Streetwalker
Diana Adams - Hat Check Girl
Tommy Rall - Flashy Boyfriend
Belita - The Femme Fatale
David Paltenghi - The Husband
Daphne Dale - The Wife
Claude Bessy - The Model
Irving Davies - The Crooner
Carol Haney - Scheherazade
David Kasday - The Genie / Little Sailor
Invitation To The Dance was originally planned for a 1954 release. Poor preview response delayed the release for two years while the film was tinkered with. When The Invitation To The Dance finally opened it played in special "art House" theaters with souvenir programs in an attempt to appeal to an upscale audience. But, despite containing some of Gene Kelly's best dancing and an very imaginative Arabian Nights' partly animated children's ballet with a talented ten year old David Kasday dancing a duet with Kelly, the film failed to find an audience. Consequently, the movie was a financial failure. According to MGM records it only earned $200,000 in the US and Canada and $415,000 elsewhere recording a loss of $2,523,000, making it the studio's biggest flop of the year.
The film won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 6th Berlin International Film Festival.