It's Always Fair Weather Reviews
The first I became aware of this movie was also the first I became aware of the concept of pan-and-scan. I saw it many years ago, when [i]Siskel and Ebert[/i] did an episode about the concept of letterboxing. Remember, when I was a kid, all home movie release was in fullscreen. On TV, on VHS--if you saw a movie at home, you saw it filling your screen. And I was young enough so that I'd never really considered that it was a different ratio than appeared on movie screens. Of course, neither had a lot of people older than I. Occasionally, Roger and Gene would--presumably in weeks where not much interesting was coming out in the theatre--do special episodes where they talked about something important to them. They did colorization, and in this particular episode, they did pan-and-scan. This movie was used as an example of what you're missing when they cut off the sides of the picture, and it's true that I've seldom seen a movie where the sides of the picture were so important.
It is October of 1945. Three buddies have returned from Europe; they are Ted Riley (Gene Kelly), Doug Hallerton (Dan Dailey), and Angie Valentine (Michael Kidd). They tell bartender Tim (David Burns) that they will always be friends, and they bet him a dollar each that they will come back ten years later, still friends. And those ten years go by. Doug becomes an ad man. Angie opens a hamburger stand. Ted sort of drifts, I think. Doug's wife wants a divorce, because he isn't the man he used to be. Angie and his wife have four kids. And Ted just kind of picks up girls. When they meet again, they have nothing in common. Doug's company does the ads for a product called Klenzrite, which sponsors a show starring a woman named Madeline Bradville (Dolores Gray). Her interesting guest, a recovering alcoholic, has gone off and gotten drunk. So executive Jackie Leighton (Cyd Charisse) suggests the story of three old Army buddies . . . .
I'm not sure I'd quite label this as satirical, though everyone else seems to. It's using the tools of its age--television is a major plot device, for example--but it takes it rather straight. Yes, Jackie gets an implausible dance number with a bunch of boxers, but that's just a staple of the genre, and it doesn't come across as tongue-in-cheek. I think the issue is more that most of the movie [i]doesn't[/i] happen in that sort of world. Yes, the boxing number. And the really exquisite dance Gene Kelly does on roller skates, which is alone reason enough to watch this movie. I mean, it just shouldn't be possible to tap dance on roller skates and then glide off. But the story actually relies on a certain amount of realism. After ten years, these guys don't have much to say to one another, because they've led incredibly different lives. The boxing game is full of shadowy and threatening characters. And doing what's expected of you can make you into a relatively unpleasant person.
Famously, this movie didn't do very well in the theatres, and it's generally considered to have been part of the death knell of the MGM musical. It's true that it is a darker movie than a lot of the others, and the story is not really about Gene Kelly wooing Cyd Charisse in song. Heck, they didn't even get a musical number together in this picture. Honestly, I think part of the popularity of Facebook is that it lets us deny that people can grow apart after years distant. It's true that I have a few friends with whom I may well have more in common now than I did in high school, but I know there's at least one I've substantially grown apart from. We like to believe that we can just walk back into our friends' lives, and this movie is based on the premise that we really can't. Yes, we know they'll be friends again somehow, because movies require happy endings, but they have to get back to who they'd been before they can be friends. The only reason the movie works is that they want to.
Oh, it's still not my favourite musical. Not even my favourite MGM musical. And my understanding is that Gene Kelly was such a pain to work with here that Stanley Donen, his codirector, never made another MGM musical--and basically stopped speaking to Gene Kelly. Kelly had Michael Kidd's musical number cut, because the whole "singing to kids" thing was his schtick. He also really wanted it clear that the movie was about him, so it's lucky (I guess; I don't like it much) that Dailey's "Saturation-Wise" number got left in. I will say that it's important character development which would have been lost, which Kidd's "Jack and the Beanstalk" (preserved now as an extra on the DVD and missing most of the lyrics) is not. However, it's worthwhile to see that musicals can be more than just lighthearted pursuit of a girl and not get into Sondheim territory. Sondheim wouldn't have let us have a happily-ever-after, of course.
That's not to dismiss the music and dance. Featured is one of Kelly's most impressive numbers in which he tap dances in roller skates. It really is a sight to see! Cyd Charisse also has a great number in a boxing gym. The songs are alright, but nothing memorable.
THE BANDWAGON talked about art-theater pretensions, vaudeville, broadway and the general world of the stage. While there was no Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, here, Betty Comden and Aldolph Green returned to pen it. All the satirical elements are there, though it's perhaps the most light-hearted of the bunch.
And now, we come with the third in the "series", so to speak, and it is the most unusual of the bunch. First, it's in Cinemascope and stereophonic sound, so the visual plane is gigantic. Second, it takes place in post-WWII America. Third, it's NOT in technicolor, but the somewhat muted Eastman color process. And finally, the music is not as toe-tapping and memorable.
All these elements would not endear it to anyone. Indeed, the film pretty much dissolved the working relationships of Kelly and Donen and everyone involved. The production may have been reflected in the film's dark tone, coming off as surprisingly modern in this sense than anything that came before it in the MGM and Freed unit era.
Andre Previn actually writes the music, and at times you might think you're listening to a Sondheim score than your typical song and dance. This too, might be due to the fact that Comden and Green write the lyrics.
Because of this, the songs and plot are more intertwined than before, with very little musical "fat", so to speak. Those old Berkeley musicals are a far cry compared to this, with very few 'production numbers' to fill the dead plot air.
However, this is made up for with some of the best dancing ever, and you even get to see Michael Kidd, the legendary choreographer do his thing with Kelly and company.
The plot is unusual. Three soldiers come home from the war, joyous and raucous. They think they will be friends forever, and so they make a pact that in ten years, they will reunite in the same bar and it will be just like old times again...but the times change. America changes. The war changes them. Their jobs change. Their career aspirations change.
Doug (Dan Dailey) wanted to become a painter but he ends up selling out and designs a product cartoon character: a talking broom for the cleaning product KLENZERITE! He marries but their marriage is ruined by his own nervous habits, nervous breakdowns and general need to feel superficially successful.
Angie (Michael Kidd), who wanted to be a cook, ends up settling down and establishes a little hamburger joint, which he is relatively proud of.
And finally, Ted, (Kelly) who thought he would make it big in everything, ends up wasting his ten years as a gambler, ladies man, heel, shark, and general racketeer, associating with shady types and remaining the ultimate sucker the whole way through.
They all reluctantly meet up, and it seems that they may have a chance to relive their youth, chat things up, and be in good company....but then they discover they have nothing in common. Their hopes and dreams never happened as they should have; all have gone their own ways, none can relate, and each are ultimately jealous of one another's successes in one form or another.
The meeting ends in disaster, but then a TV newswoman, Miss Leighton (Cyd Charisse, a bombshell throughout), runs into them all, attracting the attention of lothario Ted. But much to his chagrin, he discovers that she is not some stupid bimbo like he's used to, but an irritatingly intelligent and dominant woman who takes no crap from men. He realizes he's a fool to even do such a thing.
However, through one form or another, she finds out what happened with the reunion, and decides to use it on the human interest hour in Tv personality Madeline's (Dolores Gray) show. After losing a profitable and emotional "surprise" guest for the hour, Leighton realizes the three GI's disastrous reunion could be good for ratings.
Along the way, each man goes through some serious soul searching, but Ted goes through the greatest amount. But since this is a musical, there's gonna be some serious hoofing along the way!
This musical arguably contains some of the most solid and enjoyable numbers ever committed celluoid. Donen's filmic ingenuity brings some liveliness to the proceedings and of course, the film has four great dancers, and they can sing and act as well. Everything is ironically the best of both worlds, compared to the relative darkness of the story.
In addressing the several "problems", as some people thought...
The cinemascope format was not Kelly's favorite, as he believed it did not suit dancing well. Rather, it was difficult to fill that wide frame with one dancer. Notice then, that throughout the film, all the numbers involve three people, three things, or crowds of people filling the frame in clumps, ensuring that the film can only be seen in cinemascope. A major feat, considering that some films that use widescreen can be seen without much loss by panning and scanning, and yet, here's one that would definitely be hindered by such a process.
Some inventive numbers include a tap-dancing garbage can lid sequence, where the three GI's strap lids to one of their feet, and proceed to dance.
Another one is Cyd Charisse impressing a room-full of boxers with her knowledge of all things boxing. She then proceeds to out-dance everyone as they keep up with her. She knocks everyone out for sure.
Kelly has a scene-stealer where he dances around the streets with roller blades on, gliding along, making it seem so effortless.
One amusing one is where the three men realize they don't like each other and we hear their singing...in their heads! the screen shrinks down to their heads so we get the story.
When they all begin to "sing" in their heads, the film rapidly cuts to each face, in tune with the beat. It's incredibly amusing and ingenious.
Another great sequence is when each man sings about their broken dreams, now knowing they've been fooling themselves this whole time. The screen then shows three separate "strips" with each man in his own space, and yet, they all dance and sing at the same time. It's striking.
The one who has the most scene-stealing is actually Dolores Gray, as the grating and soppy Madeline. She gets a fun number at the end, where she removes her numerous suitors in increasingly morbid manners. Ironically, these numbers feel the most out of place, but that's okay. They're also some of the most fun.
In the end, IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER acts almost as a precursor to the "cynical" musicals of Sondheim, where relationships are meant to be more realistic and grim, and happy endings aren't as sunny or fair as the title may imply. If anything, IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER is a highly ironic and sad melodrama, that just happens to end on a bitter-sweet note.