Yes, Gene Kelly starred in many non-musical pictures. He may be most widely known as a song-and-dance man, but his “straight pictures” (i.e., no singing or dancing) were just about as numerous. In total, not counting the TV productions, he starred in 14 non-musical pictures.
Part of the reasoning for having Gene star in non-musical pictures was for the studio to get their money’s worth out of him. It made no economic sense to pay a star if he or she would have no work to do. There was not always a musical available for Gene and, besides, he also found value in straight pictures.
Gene’s notable non-musical pictures include: The Cross of Lorraine (1943), Christmas Holiday (1944), Living in a Big Way (1947), The Three Musketeers (1948), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), and Inherit the Wind (1960) (image right).
The Cross of Lorraine is a story about French soldiers captured by the Nazis and their time spent in a POW camp in World War II. Viewers will find a small history lesson in the form of the French resistance, as well as in the conditions of the camp. It is not a topic to be taken lightly, but fans take note: Gene looks incredibly sexy with mussed hair and a scruffy face!
Christmas Holiday is a title that would suggest a cheery film with Gene “rockin’ around a Christmas tree,” but don’t be fooled! This is, instead, a film noir co-starring Deanna Durbin, who played just as much against type here as Gene did. This was the only film in which the music stopped when Gene stepped onto the dance floor.
Gene brings much life to Living in a Big Way (right). In terms of being a non-musical, it is confusing: there are a couple of musical numbers, but the film is not considered an outright musical. The first number features Gene dancing with his leading lady, Marie McDonald. Gene dances with both a dog and a statue (yes, a statue) in the second number. The third number, which was an addition, is considered the highlight of the film. Gene joins a group of children on a construction site and proceeds to perform stunts that are usually reserved for acrobats.
The Three Musketeers was a bigger budget film, and was the first one in Technicolor from this list. Gene’s athletic skills are in great display and prove that dancers can bring out the moves just as well as any athlete. Lana Turner, Van Heflin, and June Allyson were his costars. Another heads-up: this is the only Hollywood film in which Gene appears shirtless for a moment.
Marjorie Morningstar (right) featured Natalie Wood as Gene’s very lucky leading lady. The film is about a summer romance that takes place largely at a summer resort (a sort of precursor to Dirty Dancing). Gene plays Noel Airman, the social director for the camp, who woos a naïve, young Natalie with his song “A Very Special Love.” Read up on the other similarities and differences between MM and DD here.
Finally, Gene acts alongside Spencer Tracy and Fredric March in Inherit the Wind. The plot is based off of the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial, in which a schoolteacher is accused of promoting the theory of evolution. Gene’s character, E.K. Hornbeck, is the cynical newspaperman who is drawn to the town to report on the trial, as well as the antics of the townspeople.
Source: Hirschhorn, Clive. Gene Kelly. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1974.