A bit sour, perhaps, but with great dancing by Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, Michael Kidd and Cyd Charisse
Apr 1, 2011
If you like superior dancing, It's Always Fair Weather is worth watching and, perhaps, worth owning. Some people say that its relative failure with the public is because the story was too cynical. I think it's more than that. There is a sourness and self-pity about the film that is exemplified by Gene Kelly's performance (and direction. He co-directed the movie with Stanley Donen).
Kelly plays Ted Reilly, a small-time New York boxing promoter and gambler who, after World War II, never achieved the success he and his two buddies expected of him. The movie is about the three of them, bonded "forever" in friendship by their experiences in the war, who agree to meet ten years later. But Ted has become a failure. Aspiring painter Doug Halloran (Dan Dailey) has become a successful but snobbish ad executive. Angie Valentine (Michael Kidd) has remained a small-town hick who owns a diner and embarrasses the other two. Within 15 minutes of their reunion at Tim's Bar & Grill they're uncomfortable together. Within an hour they heartily detest each other.
The premise of the film has great potential. The opening sequences are exuberant and stylish, with a terrific three-man dance routine. The ending has poignance and satisfaction, showing that people can learn from each other and reestablish themselves as friends. But the in-between, for me, is a long slog redeemed by the dancing. Kelly, Dailey and Kidd were outstanding dancers; they do some great work together and individually in the film. Keep an eye out for:
--The Binge Dance. The three of them, just discharged, get drunk and start a raucous dance that takes them into the streets of New York, in and out of a taxi and, spectacularly, with their left feet stuck on trash can lids. It's loud, funny and something only three skilled professionals could have pulled off.
--Baby, You Knock Me Out, a fast, stylish number danced by Cyd Charisse at Stillman's Gym. She's all over the place, in and out of the ring, and backed up by a crowd of muscular male dancers who look like they could be boxers themselves.
--I Like Myself. Kelly has escaped from some hoods in a roller skating rink. He finds himself outside on the street but still with the skates on. In an amazingly dexterous dance, he tap-dances, glides, spins and goes from street to sidewalk and back again on skates. As far as I could tell, these skates had real, moving wheels. He tap dances and then goes into long glides in continuous shots.
--Situationwise is a drunk, comic routine for Dailey that uses all his comic talent, falling down, staggering around, looking potted and making fools of several stuffed shirts.
--Once I Had Two Friends is a slow, sad soft shoe number with Kelly, Dailey and Kidd dancing separately in a coordinated three-way split screen. This is the kind of thing the three dancers could do with almost off-hand grace.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who wrote the book and the lyrics, were usually skilled at combining sophisticated but good-natured satire with subject matter that deserved it. It's Always Fair Weather not only skewers our recollections about friendships and how oblivious we can be to our own changes, but also takes a lot of pokes at television, at smarmy "This Is Your Life" type programs and at advertising. Some are funny, some miss. Andre Previn, who wrote the music, did a competent enough job.
Gene Kelly was always hyper-competitive. He could be not just demanding but deliberately rude. If he felt another star dancer in one of his movies might be competition, he would take action. His treatment of Donald O'Connor in making Singin' in the Rain was obnoxious. Here, he saw to it that Michael Kidd's one solo number was cut out. He evidently tried to reduce Dailey's dance time. At 43, his features had begun to harden into a kind of permanent dissatisfaction, relieved only when he was smiling or grinning. But he was a great movie dancer. Fortunately, the movie gives us a record of some of his best efforts, but also of the great dancing of Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd.
Dailey had an easy-going, even goofy kind of personality, but he also was a good actor. Watch him when he's on the phone to his wife. In the first set-up she's telling him again she's getting a divorce. In the second, she's telling him she's seen that he's a changed man. All we hear is his side of the conversation. He does an expert job . Michael Kidd was a small, wiry dancer who was far better known as a Broadway choreographer. If you enjoyed The Girl Hunt Ballet from The Bandwagon and the barn raising dance from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, you're admiring Kidd's work. And keep an eye out for David Burns who plays Tim, the gruff owner of Tim's Bar & Grill. Burns was a long-time featured star in Broadway musicals who didn't make many movies. He does a nice job.
There are several extras on the DVD, but the valuable one is called "It's Always Fair Weather: Going Out on a High Note." It tells us how this was one of the last of the big MGM musicals, gives viewpoints on why it wasn't well received and on its strong points. The filming evidently was not a happy experience. Donen didn't want to co-direct. When he finally agreed, Kelly treated him like a very junior partner. They seemed to have had one bitter argument after another while making the movie. Afterwards, for years they barely spoke to each other.