Wednesday, 20 July 2011
It’s Always Fair Weather
Starring: Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Michael Kidd, Dan Dailey
By Alan Bacchus
To be honest, I had actually never even heard of this film before it played on Turner Classic Movies this week when I saw it for the first time. It's really a must-see musical directed by the great team of Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly and their follow-up to the legendary Singin’ in the Rain. Although It’s Always Fair Weather was critically favourable back in the day, it didn't perform as well as Singin’ in the Rain, and thus never achieved the same cultural awareness as that film or their first collaboration, On the Town. That’s a shame, but what a fun 'discovery'. It's Always Fair Weather is a marvellously lavish piece of cinematic spectacle featuring Gene Kelly dancing on roller skates, some early triptych split screen work, and big, bold Cinemascope.
Like the Gene Kelly/Donald O'Connor/Debbie Reynolds team, Weather features another trio of friends, specifically war buddies from WWII who make a pact to meet up 10 years after VE Day to rekindle their friendship only to find in the present that they have almost nothing in common. As typical of the Kelly/Donen collaborations, some remarkably energetic song and dance set pieces are the chief reason to watch this picture. Like a fight sequence from a Jackie Chan movie or a car chase from Michael Bay, the five or six musical sequences in this film are a marvel of choreography, creativity, athleticism and technical artistry.
The characterizations of the three leads are admittedly base archetypes. Gene Kelly plays Ted Riley, a guy who gets dumped by his girlfriend by phone on VE Day and then turns into a womanizing, two-bit fight gambler and fight promoter. The tall, lanky Dan Dailey is Doug Hallerton, a painter who sells out his dreams of being a respected artist for a hum drum life of drawing cartoons for lowly TV advertisements. Angie Valentine (the legendary Michael Kidd) is the chef of the bunch, who lives a humble working-class life as a grill man and owner of a burger restaurant in Schenectady, New York. But characterizations like these are typical of the genre and really a means to get these characters to express themselves so dramatically in the form of song and dance.
The first set piece indeed reminds us of a Jackie Chan sequence. It features the three soldiers stinking drunk in 1945 celebrating their victory in the middle of the streets of New York tap dancing around in and on top of a yellow cab. Like Chan, Kelly and company make clever use of the props in the surroundings in their routines.
It's not always the boys who shine though. Cyd Charisse is magnificent in her main set piece as a Marilyn Monroe-style cock-tease amid the snarling sweaty men in a boxing gym. The most celebrated scene is the roller skating sequence, which feels like the famous Singin' in the Rain sequence, except instead of tap dancing with his shoes along the rain-soaked streets, Kelly elegantly glides around on a pair of roller skates. Kelly's skills on skates are amazing, matched equally by his ability to tap dance with skates on!
Kelly and Donen could have been the Michael Bay of our age. In addition to these musical sequences, they stage a rambunctious comic fist fight sequence at the end showing exactly how the choreography of dance and song in old Hollywood equates to the same creative and technical methodology of action sequences today.