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Feature: Duel of the Dudes

The love triangle is a standby of the romantic movie in which women or men have to choose which lover best suits them. It occurred to me in reviewing Love on the Run that it might be interesting to delve into hypothetical battles between actors and guess which would prevail. Granted, in most of these cases the outcome will depend on who the object of affection is as he or she is the ultimate decider. Nevertheless, based on the typical on-screen persona of the men below, who would you guess to be the victor in a romantic comedy or drama (Explain your answer!)? Without letting my own bias into the mix, below are my conclusions about Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.


Despite being probably the most prominent dancers of their time, Astaire and Kelly never appeared in a narrative movie together. They pop up as themselves in The Ziegfeld Follies and That’s Entertainment II, but otherwise the two never had to fight over a girl. I mentioned in my review of the former flick my opinions of my favorite of the two dancers, but I will try to keep that conclusion out of this argument.

Both men wooed women on screen through song and dance, but their styles of dance were distinctly different. Both could tap, but Astaire was the real hoofer whereas Kelly adopted more of what we now consider a Broadway or Jazz style. This difference is important in this battle as Kelly’s technique was more sensual (think An American in Paris) whereas Astaire’s was more fun. While Fred was busy holding hands and swinging his partner too and fro, Kelly was right up against his ladies, showing his prowess. It is for the mere reason of dance style that I think Kelly pulls to the lead.

Looking at their on-screen personalities, both men generally played kind, gentle lovers. Kelly occasionally went beyond that comfort zone to play a disgraced soldier (For Me and My Gal) and a criminal pirate (The Pirate), but he was always kind to the women in those stories. Astaire, on the other hand, seems to have proved in his cinematic history that he can always win over the girl, even when the alternative is Peter Lawford (Easter Parade). Kelly’s on screen personalities, however, did not shy away from being a down-and-out underdog in some instances, which perhaps could make Astaire the stronger lead in a love triangle.

Nevertheless, based on dancing style and the likelihood that Gene Kelly could act as a strong romantic contender against anyone, I will choose him as my victor. What do you think of this duel? Was it an unfair fight?

13 Responses

  1. I think it would depend on the lady. I think Ginger would get fed up with Kelly really quickly. But I think Kelly is more of an agressive heavy-hitter in his style of dance and wooing. I personally find him a bit slick. I much prefer Astaire’s finess. That’s why I think it depends on the girl. If it’s a really raunchy more sexualized type, or (on the other end of the spectrum) someone who’s really insecure about their personal image, I can see Kelly winning out. But if they’re more general kind and sensitive, but strong and independant, I think Astaire would win. On the whole, I think Astaire would win the girl ruled by her head and heart while Kelly would win the girl governed by her passions.

    • Can’t you be strong and independent, kind and sensitive, and still be an overall flirtatious sexpot in love with Gene Kelly?

      • Well, I don’t know about you, Alanna, but I know I can be all those things and in love with Gene Kelly. 😛

  2. Great, well supported argument, Margaret! I think your analysis is spot on. Although when you talk about a more sexualized type of woman, it makes me realize that I can’t imagine either man being cast alongside someone like Jean Harlow in her typical role. Super sultry characters would eat these men alive!

    • I was thinking more in terms of sexy dance style more than character. And I think Kelly is chronologically a bit later than those hard-hitting femmes fatales like Harlo[t] and Mae West. I also think Kelly wasn’t given vehicles that encouraged the more passionate style of his dance. I get the idea that he was less of a goody goody in real life. I think, like some other actors/actresses (K. Hepburn) his persona was often stronger than the filmic context could support. These are just personal theories, though. A person could just as easily argue the opposite, that his films could be more extreme than his persona (American in Paris).
      I do think that the biggest difference between these two dancers is the chronology of their careers. There’s no doubt that Astaire is much more 30s/40s and Kelly is 40s/50s. So, we’re really talking about two different historical environments in which their films were made. The American mindset shifted a lot, not least to say that definitions of femininity, manhood, and the role of women were in constant flux over this general thirty-year period. I think that’s a key concept to keep in mind when pursuing this debate.

  3. This is what some of my friends and I were talking about on Facebook (PS – the three of them are sisters – so cute!):
    Megan: Love what you said, Margaret! I totally agree. To me, there’s no duel–Fred Astaire would win my heart hands down. The tenderness and strength he expresses through dance is far more attractive than the aggression and athleticism of Gene Kelly. While I’m not a Kelly hater, I do think his performances highlight an air of selfishness while Astaire demonstrates self-forgetfulness and poise.
    Kelly: Pretty much what meg goes double for me!!!! Fred’s grace and gentleness, while still remaining incredibly strong, is more attractive by far. Fred has a certain charm, that Gene Kelly does not posses. Gene Kelly, while still a phenomenal dancer in his own right, has an air of arrogance and conceit. He know’s that he is great and he is not afraid to tell other’s of his greatness which has its place. But Fred’s poise and humility make him, by far, more attractive.
    Trisha: I love what you said, Margaret! At the risk of sounding redundant, I agree with you all! I think I’m a little in the middle. Who’s going to turn down a hunky guy like Gene Kelly? He’s got the charm, the looks, and he’s got the moves. However, he lets you know that he knows he’s got a little classic swag;) Whereas Fred is very humble and less arrogant. I think he has had his moments where he definitely knows someone like Ginger is picking up what he’s putting down. BUT, the expected humor that usually follows one of Gene and Fred’s cliché, swoon-worthy moves is always much more believable and innocent from Fred. Gene lays it on a little thick.

    • Great arguments. I did not consider the confidence factor in the men’s dancing style. One could say some leading ladies might like arrogance, though.

  4. Have to go with Gene Kelly here. He did a film with Catherine Deneuve and her sister Francoise Dorleac, so he holds a special place in my heart.

  5. It’s Astaire for me all the way, but that is partly because I love 1930s movies in general, and his with Rogers in particular. I also think he was a wonderful singer on top of his dancing. I do also like Kelly a lot though, and am pleased to know that these two great dancers were friends in real life – I recently heard a BBC Radio 4 programme about Astaire which had a long clip of Kelly talking about what great friends they were and saying “I couldn’t believe how well we got on, and for such a long time.”

  6. Kelly was the more athletic dancer. His style was more aggressive, and that’s an unusual qualifier to describe dance. You just got the feeling that Kelly could take off his dance shoes and put on baseball spikes and be able to play ball.

    As a dude, I can’t speak for the ladies as far as what trips their wire. I guess it all depends on the woman. An air of confidence and a little cockiness goes a long way I’ve found. It’s just when you get to the personal stage that you have to put some of that machismo on the back burner.

    • I think for sexual attraction, Kelly takes the cake. But when it comes to having a reasoned discussion, or verbal sparring match, I’d much rather spend an evening with Astaire. It’s hard to pick which turns on a woman more, intelligence or sex appeal. For me, intelligence is sex appeal.

    • Awesome arguments being presented here and glad to have a man chime in! I agree Kelly has the sexual appeal but when it comes to proving their smarts, I think Astaire’s sophistication and the better breeding his characters seem to have could win a girl over also.

  7. This is a hard one because both men were so fantastic in their work. I guess if I have to pick, I’d go with Astaire. I loved his acting style, and his style of dancing the best. Hmmm…but then Gene….well, I said it was hard! Good idea for a duel!

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