Monday 27 January 2014

Movie Review: It's Always Fair Weather (1955)

A half-hearted attempt to recreate the vibe of On The Town, It's Always Fair Weather is only moderately successful. Weak musical numbers and generally lacklustre performances undermine an interesting story of post-war alienation.

It's 1945, and soldiers Ted (Gene Kelly), Doug (Dan Dailey) and Angie (Michael Kidd) survive World War Two and return to New York, promising to remain friends forever. Ted receives news that his pre-war girlfriend has dumped him and married someone else. Nevertheless, the three men commit to meeting at the same watering hole in ten years time to renew their friendship. In the intervening years, Doug, an aspiring artist, gets married, raises a family and settles for a corporate career in advertising. Angie, who has ambitions of becoming a respected chef, only manages to open a suburban burger joint.

But it is Ted who struggles the most, wasting the decade on floozies and gambling. When the men meet again in 1955, they all feel like failures, and they can barely stand each other. Ted is managing the career of a boxer he won at the gambling table and gradually getting embroiled in the corrupt world of boxing fixes. Through Doug's contacts he meets strong willed advertising producer Jackie (Cyd Charisse), and she helps him re-examine himself, but a reconciliation with Doug and Angie appears unlikely.

It's Always Fair Weather gives the impression of a drama contorted into a musical. Had the story been developed to its full potential, it could have easily stood on its own as a compelling peek into the difficult challenges of adjusting to mundane civilian life after surviving the chaos of war, a ten year echo of The Best Years Of Our Lives.

But rather than maintaining a focus on narrative strengths, song and dance numbers of widely varying quality are coarsely mounted onto the story, blunting most of the film's power. A few of the musical routines work well: Kelly, Dailey and Kidd dance up a storm with garbage bin lids on their feet; Charisse lights up a boxing gym; and Kelly gets to show his moves on roller skates.

But there are also some pretty unfortunate misfires, Dailey's Situation-Wise descending to the embarrassing farce of lampshade-on-head, and annoying radio show host Dolores Gray over-performing her two numbers into painful small market touring company territory.

A sense of disturbing unevenness runs through the film, stemming from a strained relationship between co-directors Stanley Donen and Kelly, and some poor editing decisions. Kelly co-starring with Charisse and yet not sharing a dance sequence with her is a phenomenally weird decision. Somehow, the finished product has much more of the crass Gray than the stunning Charisse, a truly horrific miscalculation, while Kidd's solo number was left on the cutting floor, resulting in a fundamental imbalance in the film's core triangle of friendship.

While the performances are competent, the leads lack spark. Charisse comes closest, but she is given so little to do that it does not matter. Kelly, Dailey and Kidd never convince as war-time buddies, the script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green lacking the necessary wit and warmth to delve into what makes a deep friendship.

It's Always Fair Weather does end on a high of sorts, a well-choreographed brawl on live television reminding the friends why they liked each other to begin with. After all, there is nothing like a mindless fight to bring back the good memories of war.

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