Cyd Charisse isn’t usually lauded for her acting prowess. I’d be inclined to agree if I didn’t love her so much. But since I do love her so much, there’s a contrarian in me who doesn’t readily accept this point of view. She was obviously more gifted as a dancer but there are times when she’s just as capable without the fancy footwork. I like Cyd best when she’s an ice queen resisting the charms of a man, a role she deftly played three times. First she took Gene Kelly down a notch in It’s Always a Fair Weather (1955), playing a calculating career woman who lists things off robotically, immune to Gene’s smile and flirting. In Silk Stockings (1957), a musical remake of Ninotchka (1939), she was the rigid title character of the 1939 film, a loveless Russian agent who didn’t fall for either Fred Astaire or Paris’ charms until the end of the film. In Meet Me in Las Vegas, she plays a ballet dancer who’s so absorbed in her work that she has no time for romance and initially, no interest. But like her male partners in the other films, Dan Dailey doesn’t give up easily.
A charming musical, Las Vegas was one of my favorite discoveries this year. A more wholesome film about sin city doesn’t exist.
The plot is straightforward and boils down to this: unlucky gambler and rancher Chuck Rodwell (Dan Dailey) discovers that dancer Maria Corvier (Cyd Charisse) is his lucky charm. All he has to do is hold her hand at the slot machines and he racks up winnings. The same is true at the tables. All his bets bring in cash. At first, Maria is put off by him. He calls her bunny for one thing; her hand is a rabbit’s foot. She refuses to be his lucky charm until he convinces her.
Maria is attracted to Chuck but doesn’t know how to communicate this. In one scene, she drunkenly dances onstage with the chorus girls, delighting everyone else and embarrassing Chuck in the audience. She complains to her chaperone that a man can sit with her, talk, dance, even kiss her, and still not see her. If you’re like me, you might be thinking: “With your looks and charm? Impossible!” But this isn’t Cyd Charisse being ignored by a man, it’s temperamental and inexperienced Maria Corvier.
Things do eventually get straightened out between Chuck and Maria. She accompanies him to his ranch, which has also been plagued by bad luck. Their winning streak follows them here too. The previously uncooperative hens lay eggs as they pass, a cow gives birth to a calf, even the defunct oil rig starts working again. Chuck is somewhat wary to introduce Maria to his mother Miss Hattie (the perpetually wonderful Agnes Moorehead), a woman difficult to please. But Hattie takes an instant liking to Maria, calling her the perfect wife.
Chuck asks Maria to marry and she accepts, naturally. They work out the perfect arrangement: six months at the ranch and six months for Maria’s dancing commitments. But when Maria announces her plans to her manager Pierre (Paul Henreid), he’s less than thrilled. He comes up with a plan to dissuade the two from marriage, which includes their luck souring at the casino. Will love get the sleight of hand? Of course, but you ought to watch for yourself and see how.
Meet Me in Las Vegas showcases Cyd’s dancing glory in solo routines. First there’s an ethereal Sleeping Beauty ballet. Chuck doesn’t care much for ballet but changes his mind after he watches Maria rehearse.
But the real crowdpleaser is her “Frankie and Johnny” number. She has a partner in this one, but for the first time, Cyd isn’t sharing the spotlight with an accomplished dancer like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. Your eyes are glued to her only. With narration of the lovers tale by Sammy Davis Jr., this has become one of my favorite numbers ever. You can watch it here (and you have to, I mean, you really do).
It’s amazing to watch her versatility in motion, from ballet to modern dance. The latter is obviously sexier, but Cyd is still a marvel to behold even in her classical routines. Her dancing isn’t ever subdued. She exudes so much passion no matter the style. In Maria’s case, her passion for dance clearly excludes any passion for romance. Until Chuck that is.
I’ve found a new favorite movie couple in Cyd Charisse and Dan Dailey. Their chemistry is undeniable. It’s relaxed, and makes me feel all warm and bubbly inside. The two of them together are like foam from a champagne bottle.
The film also features dozens of celebrity cameos, and one performance by Lena Horne at the beginning. Lena looks so stunning and statuesque, and even her brief appearance is one of the film’s many merits.
These were the cameos I actually caught.
You can catch Meet Me in Las Vegas on TCM today, as part of the Summer Under the Stars tribute to Cyd Charisse. 24 hours of her films. I ask you, what could be better?
I wrote this post for Kristen of Journeys in Classic Film‘s Summer Under the Stars blogathon. Click the banner for more posts on beautiful dynamite herself, and other stars featured this month.