The Pirate is an entertaining example of the quality work brought to fruition at MGM by producer Arthur Freed. A favorite of Judy Garland fans, the film features a fine collection of Cole Porter songs, highlighted by the closing number, "Be a Clown."" There's little substance other than the musical numbers, and The Pirate sags somewhat when no one is singing or dancing. Though she portrays an innocent young girl unwise in the ways of love, Garland had lost some of her ability to convey Dorothy-like purity in the decade since The Wizard of Oz. Fortunately, her voice was still in full form. Gene Kelly is superb as usual, as is the well-chosen supporting cast. Freed would later loosely translate "Be a Clown" as "Make 'Em Laugh" in 1952's Singin' in the Rain.
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When Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne appeared in S. N. Behrmann's The Pirate on Broadway, there were no musical numbers whatsoever. But with Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in the leading roles of the 1948 filmization of The Pirate, the MGM production staff would have been drawn and quartered had there not been song after song. The story is merely serviceable: on a Caribbean isle in the early 19th century, sheltered young Garland comes to believe that travelling troubadour Kelly is in reality "Mack the Black," a notorious pirate. Kelly realizes that the surest way to win Garland's heart is to impersonate the romantic buccaneer, and this is what he does--nearly getting himself hanged in the process. Cole Porter's marvelous score yielded only one bona-fide hit: "Be a Clown," which has practically nothing to do with the storyline, but do you care? Highlights include the magnificently staged "Mack the Black," a heady combination of Broadway glitz and Caligariesque nightmare. Seven MGM screenwriters toiled away on The Pirate, though only the team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich were credited. While The Pirate was not a huge moneymaker on its first release, it has since been embraced by the cultists, who apparently can never get enough of Judy Garland.