Presented for your entertainment are three stories told through the medium of dance. First, The Circus, tells a tale of a clown in a travelling carnival who falls in unrequited love with one of the performers there, but she is in love with someone else. Second, Ring Around the Rosy which charts the progress of a valuable bracelet around a cast of characters, beginning at a wild party. Then lastly, Sinbad the Sailor, where the lead character is wandering through a Arabian market when he ends up with a magic lamp. When he rubs it, a genie emerges and adventures ensue.
Gene Kelly famously said "When Fred Astaire dances he represents the aristocracy. When I dance I represent the proletariat," but that didn't tell the whole story, as you could not imagine Astaire having the artistic pretensions to create something like Invitation to the Dance, Kelly's attempt to bring Terpsichorean delights to the masses, but only appealed to the highbrow, and even then in small measures. MGM, the studio he made it for, had great reservations about the project, and sat on it for some time before allowing it to escape into selected cinemas, but it never had the wide release the star had hoped for.
Thus Kelly's heyday as a dazzling performer of the silver screen was effectively over - his more tradtional musical It's Always Fair Weather was not much of a success either, though not a flop on the scale of this, and fashion moved on as the style Kelly had made his own became passé in the minds of moviegoers. He continued to direct, and forged a new career in dramatic roles, but a small part of the magic of movies died when Invitation to the Dance faltered so badly, though MGM's lack of faith in it cannot have helped. If you watch it now, you can see why that happened, as while it was a neat enough idea the execution left something to be desired, making you wonder if Kelly was quite right for this.
The first act is a maudlin yarn told as much in mime as in dance, with Kelly in white Pierrot makeup and making with the forlorn gestures to bring tears from the audience, but actually being more offputting than he intended: this type of character simply wasn't in his range, and it showed. Generously, as with the next sequence, he gave over much of the dancing to his co-stars Igor Youskevitch and Claire Sombert, which is pleasant enough but far from the most accomplished ballet you might have seen. In the second act, he hardly appeared at all as a mixture of tones from comedy to sincere romance were employed, the bracelet passing around a selection of dancers in a manner evidently intended to dredge up flattering memories of La Ronde.
Well, you do get to see a ballerina eating a sandwich while dancing, which is a novelty. If this film has a well known sequence, it'll be the final one where Sinbad conjures up the genie of the lamp (little David Kasday) who sends him into a picture book; this was celebrated to a degree because Hanna Barbera provided the animation for it, harking back to an even more famous sequence in Anchors Aweigh where Kelly danced with Jerry Mouse. Here he does the same with a dragon (more of a giant snake, really), two of the Sultan's guards and a random harem girl, all in cartoon form and pleasing enough but these sequences do grow repetitive very quickly. Originally, Kelly didn't want to appear as much as he did though studio pressure demanded he do so in each segment, and you can perceive there were problems with that, mainly down to Kelly's star quality distracting from his noble artistic ideals. It's far from a dead loss, genuinely colourful and attractive to look at, but didn't hit the heights it wished for.