Billed as “a gigantic and joyous musical,” part of the appeal of MGM’s Stanley Donen-directed It’s Always Fair Weather is that it often isn’t that way at all. In contrast to the cheerful optimism of the studio’s typical output, this film admits that life can be disappointing and that one time friends can turn out to be insufferable, though somehow it ends up shuffling away with a smile anyway. Now this television-age take on the Hollywood musical is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.
Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd star as Ted, Doug and Angie, a trio of soldier buddies who emerge from World War II full of hope and optimism. Downing drinks at a New York bar, they vow to meet there again in ten years, determined to keep the connection they have made.
A decade later, they keep their promise, but find they can’t stand each other. Ted has stayed in New York, never settling down and barely making it as a boxing promoter; Doug has given up his artistic dreams to draw cartoon mops for television and pop pills for his stomach issues and Angie has open a restaurant called the Cordon Bleu, which despite the polish of its name is a small town burger joint. The three leave each other in disgust, but eventually find that they are ready to give their friendship another chance.
Aside from the novelty of its bitter edge, It’s Always Fair Weather is special because of the variety and classic virtuosity of its musical numbers. Choreographers Donen and Kelly are clever in their use of props, enlisting garbage can lids, the curbs of set-bound city streets and even a taxi cab in a high-powered number with Kelly, Dailey and Kidd. Kelly is also exhilarating dancing on roller skates; he didn’t get there first (see Astaire and Roger in Shall We Dance ), but his vigor and athleticism are astonishing. And then there’s Cyd Charisse dropping her mysterious leggy lady persona to be light, fun and even a little silly with a crowd of boxers in Baby, You Knock Me Out, one of her most impressively athletic dances.
All of these numbers could make a film a classic on their own, so it is amusing that it is actually Broadway star Dolores Gray, in a supporting role as a slick television hostess, who steals the show. In the show stopping, Thanks, But No Thanks, she is so charismatic and insouciantly sexy that you wonder how she could have gotten away with only making a handful of films in Hollywood. In her later years the actress herself wondered if she should have preserved more of her legacy on film, but she chose the stage, and at least we have this amazing number to console ourselves.
In 1955, studio executives were ill-at-ease about the rise of television. They responded to the phenomena by stretching films across the screen in brilliantly-colored Cinemascope, and making productions bigger, bolder and completely unlike anything television could accomplish. Here MGM tackles TV head on, trying to make it look ridiculous, from the idea of a talking mop, to the oily ways of a soda pop pitchman. That brightly-lit box wasn’t going anywhere though and even on this production the studio would have to cut costs.
One number that was trimmed for budgetary reasons was a light-spirited Charisse and Kelly duo, which gives the film an odd feel since it is customary for romantic leads in a musical to pair up at least once. A rough version of that number is included in the special features on the disc, along with several other scenes, and you can see why it was cut. Instead of a sinuous coming together of lovers, it’s a goofy, if utterly charming romp through a room filled with costumes. Lots of fun, but not crucial to the film. That said, it was amazing to see these two being silly together.
Other special features on the disc include a featurette about the film, two segments from the MGM Parade featuring Charisse and Kelly, a pair of cartoons (Deputy Droopy and Good Will to Men), audio of the cut song I Thought They’d Never Leave and a trailer.