Sunday, February 07, 2010

Underrated Movie #33: It's Always Fair Weather

Title: It’s Always Fair Weather
Year: 1955
Director: Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly (On the Town, Singing in the Rain)
Writers: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Stars: Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse (Tension), Dan Dailey, Michael Kidd, Dolores Gray

The Story: Three old war buddies show up for a reunion ten years later, only to discover that they’ve each abandoned their dreams. Only when their reunion is exploited by a smarmy live TV show does each confront his own failings.

How it Came to be Underrated: MGM musicals weren’t supposed to be cynical and satirical. Nobody knew what to make of this at the time, and they still don’t, but it keeps winning new fans every year.

Why It’s Great:

  1. In 1948, Donen, Kelly, Comden and Green had made the zany sailors-on-leave musical On the Town. Somehow they all found the guts to reunite seven years later for a semi-sequel that would reflect the disappointments of the postwar years. The triumph and camaraderie of wartime America had soured, dissolving into angst and acrimony. Things had soured at MGM, too. Dore Schary’s fabled musical unit was winding down. The Golden Age of Hollywood had come to an end and the dawning age of TV seemed to those left behind like a tacky little replacement. How on earth did they make such an entertaining movie out of this bleak material?
  2. The satirical touches are way ahead of their time. A Face in the Crowd’s attack on TV and The Apartment’s skewering of corporate-ese both seem a little less daring once you realize that a toe-tapping musical beat them to the punch.
  3. Some people think they don't like musicals because they hate the Pollyanna-ish view of life the genre seems to demand. But why can’t you make a dark musical? Popular songs and ballets express dark moods all the time. This movie is an eye-opener.
  4. One of the reasons that movies were hurting in 1955 was because the frame had just gotten too darn wide. Fritz Lang famously quipped that cinemascope was only good for shooting snakes and funerals. It was almost impossible to compose a dynamic frame or achieve any intimacy, but Donen knew how to make it work. For the musical numbers he could create massive tableaus that used every inch of the screen, but for quieter scenes he would arrange the characters so that they lopped off the sides of the image, shrinking the frame to a manageable size.

Underrated Compared To: Singing in the Rain. This is even better. Yeah, I said it.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Kelly’s only solo-directed musical, Invitation to the Dance, is odd but underrated.

How Available Is It?: It’s available on dvd along with deleted musical numbers and a good documentary on the troubled production.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Krogarr!!


Rick said...

Hi Matt,

I especially liked Dolores Gray's "Thanks a Lot But No Thanks" number. Besides being entertaining and sensual, this "femme-fatale" performance was way ahead of it's time.

Matt Bird said...

Gray is great! I was disappointed that there were no good YouTube clips I could post of the eye-popping musical sequences. I guess that just means that everyone will have to rent the movie.

Rick said...

"Thanks A Lot But No Thanks" can be found on myspace. Or.....why not rent it?

BLB said...

Agree! Watching this on a Sunday morning intrigued by a musical with this cast that I hadn't heard of before. Sophisticated, intelligent and somewhat fearless right down to its ending of the friends parting, where a melancholy note attends an ostensibly happy ending. Dolores' irony is delicious. Cyd's hot and Gene's roller skate a masterpiece.

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