In times of social strife and troubles, war or depression, Hollywood’s remedy was usually an outstanding escapist musical that was sure to contain attractive, talented singers and outstanding dancers, telling wonderfully happy stories of love, good feelings, and happy endings, shown in widescreen Technicolor. But unfortunately today, the movie musical is one of the least popular genres.
During the 1940s and 1950s, one of Hollywood’s finest musical talents was Gene Kelly. Working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, Kelly directed, acted, choreographed, sang and danced in some of that generation’s finest musicals. Just a few of these include: “On the Town” (1949) directed by Stanley Donen and Kelly; “Summer Stock” (1950), directed by Charles Walters; “An American in Paris” (1951) directed by Vincente Minnelli, which won the Oscar for best picture and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) directed by Donen and Kelly, which lives in legend as one of the finest musicals ever made.
In 1955, Kelly reunited with Stanley Donen one last time to direct the lesser-known original musical comedy “It’s Always Fair Weather”. This misunderstood little gem was produced by MGM’s master of the musical Arthur Freed, who insisted on the use of the newly utilized Cinemascope process, the super wide-screen technology, which presented a screen image with an aspect ratio of 2.35: 1 or even 2.66: 1. Many thought these widescreen processes were Hollywood’s direct attempt to maintain the uniqueness of the movie-going experience from the rising popularity of free television.
Film historian Jeanine Basinger notes, that “It’s Always Fair Weather”, seen today, is something of a minor classic.” This truly entertaining tale, written by the famous writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music by Andre Previn, concerns the ten-year reunion of three World War II GI buddies, played by Kelly, Dan Dailey, and Michael Kidd.
As the film begins, World War II has just ended as Ted Riely (Kelly), Doug Hallerton (Dailey) and Angie Valentine (Kidd) converge at Tim’s Bar, a Third Avenue Manhattan nightspot. The trio spends a wild night celebrating out on the town dancing in the streets. When the night turns to morning they have one last drink, vowing to remain friends and to meet 10 years from that day, on October 11, 1955.
Ten years later, all are into very different careers and family situations; the three face the reunion with some doubts and apprehensions, realizing they’re now different people with little in common. At a popular dinner spot, they meet Jackie Leighton, (Cyd Charisse) a smart gal who’s actually an early feminist, who works at a program coordinator for a popular television show. Later still the three become surprised guests on this popular television show “Midnight with Madeline”. Television host Madeline Bradville (Dolores Gray) embarrasses them a bit and other troubles follow for this group of old buddies.
In Basinger’s recent 2019 book “The Movie Musical”, she highlights several of the film’s unique qualities: the wonderful use of split-screen presentation, the utilization of the full potential of the screen wider parameters; creative dance numbers, like where the three leads wear garbage-can lids on their feet; the film’s “delightful female co-stars”, Cyd Charisse dancing with a group of boxers to “Baby You Knock Me Out” and Delores Gray’s show-stopping routine in “Thanks a Lot, but no Thanks” and not to mention, Kelly’s usual outstanding dancing skills.
If I had to put my money on it though, the film’s most incredible dance number features Kelly on roller skates gliding and taping his way up and down busy city streets joyously singing the tune, “I Like Myself”. Feeling really down about his life, and his lack of good luck, he suddenly comes to the realization he’s in love with Ms. Leighton. Breaking into a song he exclaims, “Why am I feeling so good? …Why am I feeling when things could look black, that nothing could possibly go wrong? This has been a most unusual day. Love has made me see things in a different way…” The camera follows him in constantly moving, fluid tracking shots, across the film’s widescreen space, adding just the right feeling of the character’s carefree joy and emotional elation.
While comparing this 1955 Donen/Kelly film to other musical classics, Basinger notes a slightly more complex aspect of this film, “Where ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ had been a funny and charming satire in movies, ‘It’s Always Fair Weather’ was designed as a mockery of television, with its ads, its sentimentality and its exploitation of ordinary people as guinea pigs for shows, such as ‘This is Your Life’.” So, in today’s world, where there aren’t many contemporary musicals to view, take the extra effort to hunt down “It’s Always Fair Weather” for some special escapist pleasures.