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A lighter approach to the difficulties of readjusting to normal life after war, It's Always Fair Weather (1955) is that rarest of creatures: a cynical musical.
Stanley Donen's third pairing (along with Singin' in the Rain, 1952, and On the Town, 1949) with co-director Gene Kelly and the writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, It's Always Fair Weather follows three soldiers as they are released from their wartime service at a former favorite neighborhood pub. The bosom buddies make a vow to return in 10 years to that same pub, to renew their undying friendship. Clever use of montage and split screen techniques follows the men on their individual courses as the years tick by. Ted Riley (Gene Kelly), a sharp-as-a-tack big-talker moves into the lowlife world of gamblers and bookies as a promoter of second-rate fighters. Doug Hallerton (Dan Dailey), a talented artist, has traded in his dreams to rise in the soulless corporate world of advertising. And aspiring chef Angie Valentine (Michael Kidd) starts up his own Schenectady hamburger joint, absurdly called The Cordon Bleu.
But the real meat of the film follows the misadventures of the trio after their 10-year reunion and their mutual disappointment at how far each has strayed from their dreams and youthful integrity. Though they take an almost immediate dislike to each other at their reunion, the three reluctantly agree to have lunch at an uncomfortably swanky New York restaurant where they are observed by one of Doug's advertising colleagues, Jackie (Cyd Charisse). Sensing a marketable story, Jackie decides to feature the "happily" reunited chums on the saccharine TV show Midnight with Madeline (a parody of fifties "reality" programs like This Is Your Life) hosted by phony, effusive glamour-puss Madeline (Dolores Gray). As Jackie attempts to keep the three alienated friends around for that night's performance (and begins to fall in love with Ted), the film veers into an arch comedy about the constructed sentimentality and crass manipulations of television and the advertising business.
Like other films of the fifties, anxious to distinguish themselves from the new entertainment form stealing all the movie industry's profits, Donen's film used a CinemaScope format to satirize the TV invasion. Donen proved to be a deft manipulator of the rectangular CinemaScope frame, breaking up space in innovative ways. On several occasions in the film, as in the hilarious "I Shouldn't Have Come" musical number set to "The Blue Danube" waltz, Donen splits the screen into a triptych, to show the different perspectives of the three leads lamenting their misguided luncheon reunion. And in a climactic fight at the Midnight with Madeline TV studio, where some of Ted's outraged mobster rivals come after the promoter, Donen shows the brawl through the windows of the control booth and the multiple perspectives of the television monitors.
It's Always Fair Weather melds elements of homefront disillusion found in films like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) with the widescreen media-satire of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957). In fact Weather began as an effort to capitalize upon the success of On the Town, starring Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin, by picking up where that film left off, and following the lives of the sailors after they've settled back into the homefront. But after unsuccessful attempts to reunite that original cast, It's Always Fair Weather was reconceived as the tale of Army buddies coming to terms with how much their lives and personalities had, unhappily, changed since their youth.
Alongside its more somber and satirical elements, It's Always Fair Weather features ahost of memorable musical numbers, including Kelly, Dailey and Kidd hoofing with garbage can lids on one foot; Kelly gliding over the city streets on roller skates in a love-drunk stupor; Dolores Gray decimating a male chorus line via trap doors and exploding stage props; and Charisse in a sexy dance ("Baby, You Knock Me Out") with Ted's fisticuffs brethren at Stillman's Gym.
Though it was critically admired - placed on the New York Times' yearly top ten list (above Oklahoma!, 1955) and called "a winning show" by Times critic Bosley Crowther - the film never really took off with audiences, who were perhaps under-wowed by the film's blend of cynicism and dance numbers and its far less opulent production values. The film was riding the tail end of the musical wave, and MGM executive Dore Schary's imposition of budgetary restraints on the faltering musical genre showed in the film's final look.
But It's Always Fair Weather's clever spoof of television and the advertising business, ebullient musical numbers, melancholy observations about the transistory nature of friendships and some fiendishly clever performances, notably Dolores Gray's, make the film a continual favorite with contemporary audiences.
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Screenplay: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Cinematography: Robert Bronner
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons and Arthur Lonergan
Music: Andre Previn
Principal Cast: Gene Kelly (Ted Riley), Dan Dailey (Doug Hallerton), Cyd Charisse (Jackie Leighton), Dolores Gray (Madeline Bradville), Michael Kidd (Angie Valentine), Jay C. Flippen (Charles Z. Culloran), David Burns (Tim).
C-102m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Felicia Feaster