It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) was a musical begun with high expectations from the Arthur Freed unit at MGM. That the film miserably failed at the box office is perhaps more a matter of timing than a reflection of its artistic merit. There is no denying the innovative camera work, the clever use of split screen, or the dynamic songs and dances that personify the very best MGM had to offer. Yet, It’s Always Fair Weather is a difficult movie musical to digest. It eschews the light and frothy air of standard Hollywood musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and An American In Paris. Its Betty Comden/Adolph Green screenplay delves into darker issues: the awkward assimilation of three soldiers back into civilian life and their falling out as friends. Indeed, the film plays much better from our current post-modern cynicism.
But in 1955, amid a decade of ‘more the merrier’ entertainments, with musicals in particular a main staple as mindless confections, decorously fleshing out their wafer thin ‘boy meets girl’ scenarios, It’s Always Fair Weather is hardly the proverbial ray of sunshine its title suggests. Rather, it is a thundershower on all that blind optimism, perhaps understandably shunned by audiences who, having just endured a decade of war, wanted nothing more from their musicals than glycerine smiles and happy endings.
Furthermore, the popularity of musicals had begun to cool by 1955. To be sure, the genre would outlive the decade, well into the 1960s, but with infrequent successes. Still, It’s Always Fair Weather is an odd duck indeed, its premise of dealing with soldiers and friendships after both cease to exist, seems the very antithesis of other ship-to-shore musicals like Anchors Aweigh (1945) and On The Town (1949), to name but two of the more successful. Whether It’s Always Fair Weather failed to live up to the memory of these past achievements is a moot point. What affected the film most negatively, at least behind the scenes, is Gene Kelly’s self-indulgences to create a star vehicle for himself at the expense of his two male co-stars. Undeniably, the part of Kelly’s Ted Riley is the most robust. Almost every plot point hinges on his character. Collaborator Stanley Donen was in constant disagreement with Kelly over just about every aspect of the film’s production, including the deletion of Michael Kidd’s solo dance.
Plot wise: Ted, Doug Hallerton (Dan Dailey) and Angie Valentine (Michael Kidd) are three soldiers returning from the war, who part company after some heavy drinking at their favourite local watering hole. Before they separate, Ted tears a ten dollar bill into three equal portions, giving one piece to each of his friends. The trio vow to reunite in ten years to see where life has taken them. Unfortunately, time alters their expectations of each other. Ted becomes a professional gambler and boxing manager; Doug, an uppity ad executive with chronic indigestion, and Angie, the loud mouthed proprietor of a Brooklyn eatery affectionately named the Cordon Bleu. The three chums very quickly realize they have absolutely nothing in common and worse, that they hate one another. However, as fate would have it, Doug’s campaign work for the TV show ‘Midnight with Madeleine’ has fixed it so that the boy’s will suffer a surprise reunion on live television.
Ted immediately makes a play for the show’s producer, Jackie Leighton (Cyd Charisse). She finds him obnoxious at first, but predictably reassesses him as more bearable and even attractive as time wears on. Furthermore, Jackie is sympathetic to Ted’s current bind of being forced to fix a fight. Seems a pack of gangsters headed by racketeer Charlie Culloran (Jay C. Flippen) are determined that Ted’s pro throw his match. Ted intercedes, knocking his boy unconscious in the dressing room, thereby forfeiting the fight. Charlie and his boys tail Ted to the live broadcast of Midnight With Madeleine, presided over by the superficially hilarious Madeleine Bradville (Dolores Gray) where they intend to break a few of Ted’s bones. Instead, Jackie turns the cameras on Charlie, who inadvertently confesses his involvement with the fix on live TV. Charlie and his men attack Ted, but Angie and Doug come to his aid. In the ensuing brawl, Doug, Ted and Angie re-establish their friendship and Charlie and his boys are carted off to jail. Angie, Doug and Ted, with Jackie in tow, return to the bar for one final drink together. They go their separate ways, only this time secure in the knowledge that they will always remain friends.
It’s Always Fair Weather is bittersweet melodrama bundled in the melange of a typical musical. From its conflicted narrative come some of the most exhilarating numbers ever conceived for the screen. Kelly, Dailey and Kidd’s The Binge is an exuberant drunken celebration as the boy’s don metal garbage can lids to perform a clattering tap routine. Kelly’s pompous I Like Myself is a tour de force bit of bravado on roller skates (albeit unoriginal, as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had previously conceived a routine on skates for Shall We Dance 1937). Dolores Gray’s sultry lampoon, Thanks A Lot But no Thanks is a riot as she rejects jewels, furs and other gifts from a pack of hapless male suitors. Once I Had A Dream deftly reconceives the Cinemascope screen as three independent panels with Kelly, Daily and Kidd performing a soft shoe on separate sets in perfect unison. Personally, I’ve always been a sucker for Baby You Knock Me Out, Cyd Charisse’s electric dance performed with a male chorus of pug-nosed pugilists. Musically, there is much to recommend this film, and such a shame that in the end co-directors Kelly and Donen seem unable to fully reconcile the ‘feel good’ in these numbers with the film’s more downtrodden plot.
The other unforgivable sin of It’s Always Fair Weather is that it does not feature the anticipated pas deux between Kelly and Charisse. In fact, according to studio records, even the possibility of staging a romantic song or dance between these two was never discussed. In retrospect, perhaps the film is trying too hard to be an original – to break away from the time honoured conventions of the Hollywood musical and be something that the musical genre was never intended to be. Don’t get me wrong. I like It’s Always Fair Weather. But I find it a curious anomaly. Generally, it’s good. Occasionally, it’s even great. But overall, it doesn’t quite eclipse our preconceived expectations and that, I suspect, remains the biggest hurdle the film needs to overcome.
Warner Home Video’s anamorphic widescreen transfer is rather vibrant, considering the film was shot in lackluster Ansco Color – a monopack dye transfer that has since proven highly susceptible to color fading. Flesh tones do seem a tad pasty and perhaps slightly too orange. But the color on this DVD is quite passable. Though the Cinemascope image is soft at times, that excessive graininess inherent in all early scope productions, especially during dissolves and fades, is kept to a bare minimum. Fine details are nicely realized. Blacks are rarely deep, but overall the image will not disappoint. The sound has been remastered to 5.1 Dolby Digital and recaptures much of the glory of the original mag tracks. Extras include a very short featurette and some junket materials. Overall, nicely done.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)