When it comes to choosing diverse movie roles, this group of actors take the cake. These musical players got off the song-and-dance bandwagon to try their hand at dramatic acting. The perceived motive for such a bold move is that they wanted to capitalize on acting chops exclusively, or try changing their image. Such a drastic change of venue gained audience reactions on both sides of the spectrum. Regardless of your impression, it’s clear that the following film roles showcased these A-listers out of their element.
After starring in musical hits such as “Singin’ in the Rain”, “An American in Paris”, and “Anchors Aweigh”, Gene Kelly accepted the role of E.K. Hornbeck in “Inherit the Wind.” This film is based on the events of the Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a teacher is charged with the crime of teaching evolution in the classroom. Kelly initially turned this role down. When Director Stanley Kramer told him Spencer Tracy and Frederic March would be his co-stars, he accepted. (Kramer had not yet asked Tracy and March at the time.)
For “On the Beach”, Fred Astaire was brought on board to play Julian Osborne. Here, Astaire and his shipmates find safety in Australia after a nuclear war has wiped out humanity. Kramer must have had a thing for casting musical actors, as he filmed this the year before ‘Inherit the Wind.’ Perhaps the Grand Prix scene was an incentive for Astaire?
Bing Crosby earned an Oscar nod for his role as Frank Elgin, a washed up singer/actor who has a chance to make a comeback…if he doesn’t let the bottle get the best of him. Crosby almost turned this role down because he thought he was too old to play the character. It’s a good thing he didn’t because this one proved to be a champion among fans and critics. It was also the first of several highly acclaimed dramatic performances.
Movie-goers had seen Sinatra in a serious role previous to ‘The Manchurian Candidate,” but ‘Manchurian Candidate’ is special. Sinatra said he was more excited for this movie than any other film he had been, or ever would be in. The reason, he says, is because of the “long, wild speeches” his character gave throughout the film.
Elvis Presley’s role as Pace Burton in “Flaming Star” is due, indirectly, to director Michael Curtiz. Curtiz and Presley worked together two years previously on “King Creole.” Though ‘Creole’ was technically a musical, it did demonstrate Presley’s dramatic capability. The film was Curtiz’s attempt to turn “the king of rock n’ roll” into a dramatic leading man. Presley was well on his way with “Flaming Star”. When another dramatic performance in “Wild in the Country” failed a year later, the “dream” to become a serious actor….died.