It's Always Fair Weather (Blu-ray Review)28 Nov, 2016 By: Mike Clark
Available via Warner Archive
$17.99 DVD, $21.99 Blu-ray
Stars Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse, Michael Kidd, Dolores Gray.
By 1955, the movie musical (and incredibly, even the MGM movie musical) had fallen on tough times as Chuck, Fats and Elvis lingered in the pop culture wings. Still yet to come in Leo the Lion’s domain was High Society (an outlier, in that it was from neither the studio’s Arthur Freed or Joe Pasternak units) — as was the Oscar-happy Gigi from Freed. But otherwise, an era had passed, and this, I think, is the main reason It’s Always Fair Weather got hit with stormy box office — and not the fact that it’s widely acknowledged as being cynical and downbeat, notwithstanding its good reviews at the time or the size of its subsequent cult. Cynical, yes, but I’m hesitant to call it downbeat, given the 101-minute grin on my face that’s wider than the movie’s 2.55:1 aspect ratio every time I see it (including just now).
The idea was to reunite Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin from On the Town, showing how the passage of postwar time had frayed the friendship of its story’s three central sailors — who are now respectively shown to be a broke fight promoter, burger joint proprietor and a physically dyspeptic ad exec who looks to be as much in need of antacids as Bobby Cox always did when he was managing the Atlanta Braves. But Munshin wasn’t much of a draw, if he ever was, and the studio didn’t want much to do with the Man from Hoboken, who was already full of his comeback self (interestingly, MGM already had Sinatra with The Tender Trap and High Society around the same time). So along with Kelly, Weather ended up with new-to-Metro Dan Dailey and non-actor Michael Kidd, who’d just choreographed The Band Wagon and 7 Brides for 7 Brothers (the latter, then and now, a choreographic landmark). Kelly wanted Stanley Donen to co-direct, as he had with both Town and Singin’ in the Rain — but Donen’s unhyphenated 7 Brides had just been something of a surprise Oscar-nominated smash, and he hoped that his co-directing days were over. Still, Donen came on board, and the movie is better for it — the downside being that the two longtime associates had a permanent falling-out during production (supposedly over a severed Kidd solo that Kelly’s well-known ego couldn’t abide).
None of this shows on the screen. The Betty Comden-Adolph Green satire is almost as on point about encroaching television as it was about the talkie transition in Rain, and the Andre Previn orchestrations are sprightly (only the muddy Eastman Color is a letdown, though even this is in keeping with material so “anti-lush” that some of the story takes place in Stillman’s Gym). Even more significantly, Weather is deservedly on all the lists of the films that used early CinemaScope most creatively, along with A Star Is Born, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and a handful more. For one thing, it creatively splits the screen into a triptych to tell the parallel stories of its three key protagonists — and, boy, did this one suffer in those dreaded old pan-and-scan days when local TV stations and then VHS did what they could to destroy widescreen movies because living room yahoos didn’t want to move their asses maybe a foot closer to their TVs to watch a letterboxed presentation.
Though Weather’s running time has always felt just right to me, it was rather odd to pair Kelly and Cyd Charisse and then not give them a number together – evidence, it’s been said, of MGM cost-cutting (which probably wasn’t helped by the poor reception to the previous year’s Kelly-Charisse Brigadoon). Yet on Blu-ray bonus extras that have been carried over from the old DVD, we get the deleted “Love Is Nothing But a Racket” — a modest but enjoyable tickler of a teaming that would have gone a long way to warm up Charisse’s chilly character had it made it into the final cut. This said, her big number at Stillman’s (“Baby, You Knock Me Out”) is still something of a wow, while Dolores Gray (in her best showcase in a limited screen career) is such a stitch that after seeing it, it’ll be difficult to take any number that turns chorus boys into flying projectiles with respect. Pauline Kael, a Weather detractor, claimed that, if anything, this was Dailey’s picture, though she must have mixed too much scotch in her porridge or something. Anyone who’s ever seen Weather with a big audience knows that the two standouts are “The Binge” opener (where the three male leads don trash can lids on their dancing feet) and Kelly’s roller skating solo to “I Like Myself.” Both numbers are the stuff of That’s Entertainment! assemblages, and it isn’t much of a stretch for me to call “The Binge” one of my 20 favorite movie scenes of all time. Kidd says all six ankles were sore for a long time.
A lot of people love Weather, and I can recall Tom Shales, before he became the paper’s Pulitzer-winning TV critic, writing a feature rave remembrance of it in 1973 or ’74 for the Washington Post when the AFI Theater showed it in the Kennedy Center. Warner Archive gives it a solid presentation with hefty stereo while cleaning up Eastman mud as much as it can. Supplements additionally carried over from the DVD include a making-of featurette plus the deleted Kidd number (as with “Racket,” some of the sound is missing) and some raw footage from “The Binge.” There are also two promotional segments from ABC-TV’s short-lived “The MGM Parade” (which I used to watch religiously as an 8-year-old) and two early Scope cartoons — one of them with Droopy, or as my younger son used to say when he was about three: “good old Droopy.”