Thursday, August 30, 2012

Claudia and David - 1946

“Claudia and David” (1946) takes us four years later into the marriage of Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young, first paired in “Claudia” (1943) discussed here on Monday. It’s an unusually successful sequel, partly because of the consistent excellence of McGuire and Young in the roles, and partly because the story, with a host of new characters, stands on its own.

Just as with Monday’s post on “Claudia”, I’m going to throw out spoilers here and there like the Easter bunny scattering eggs. Proceed with caution.

Elsa Janssen and Frank Twedell are back as their live-in servants, but Walter Lang is the new director at the helm. His style is less pensive and intimate than Edmund Goulding’s was on “Claudia”, but the film does not suffer for it. It has a broader scope, takes us outside into the community, long drives on rural Connecticut highways, and the homes of their friends. No longer is the ramshackle farmhouse an island unto itself.

And it has electricity now.

The baby McGuire was expecting at the end of “Claudia” is now a three-year-old boy, played by the adorable Anthony Sydes. Just as she clung too much to her mother in “Claudia”, here McGuire clings too much and too possessively to her son.

That, and their friendships with the opposite sex are the new challenges to their marriage.

We learn more about Young’s work as an architect. He plans to travel to a professional convention. McGuire doesn’t want him to go alone, and doesn’t want to go with him, either, and leave their son. She frets over every act of her husband’s independence. She mourns her lack of sophistication as they dress for a dinner party.

Young’s high society sister, played by the glamorous Gail Patrick, has invited a group of neighbors to her home, none of whom know each other very well.  Miss Patrick, always a pleasure to find in the cast of any movie, was nearing the end of her film career with only a few more after "Claudia and David."  Unfortunately , she doesn't have much to do except lend the cache of her own splendid elegance.

John Sutton is Miss McGuire’s dinner companion, who sneaks his oysters to her as they make fast friends. Rose Hobart, who we last saw here in “Conflict” (1946) as the severe wife of Humphrey Bogart is here the severe wife of John Sutton. Their marriage is a bit rocky as they are growing apart after the loss of their son. Miss Hobart obsesses over her child’s death, and tries to find consolation attempting to contact him through psychics.

Jerome Cowan, who I love to pick out in so many supporting roles, plays a phony psychic at the dinner party.

The wonderfully pompous Florence Bates, another favorite in the stable of character actors, is his champion who swears by him. He warns McGuire of a dire accident to come.

Mary Astor plays a newcomer to the neighborhood, a widow with a young daughter, who wants Robert Young to design a new house and barn on her property. They hit it on very well from the start, which will cause Miss McGuire a great deal of jealousy.

The movie, in a gentle and smooth way, debunks the traditional Hollywood idea of a “happily-ever-after” in marriage. Here, all the married couples must work at their marriages if they want to keep them.

The dinner party scene is especially intriguing, because we have all the principle characters together, and the camera can pause on different groupings and individuals as we drift in and out of conversations. The characters we don’t know well are all neatly established for us in a few minutes.

Mary Astor had already started playing mothers of grown, more glamorous, children, and the dowager parts were coming soon.  Just as with Gail Patrick, "Claudia and David" lets us see Miss Astor one more time as elegant and provactive. In her excellent memoir on her film career, Mary Astor - A Life on Film (NY: Delacorte Press, 1971, pp. 190-191), Mary Astor recounts her work in this film, with special emphasis on the consequences of the dinner party scene.

I enjoyed (“Claudia and David”)—I loved it—I wasn’t anybody’s mother and I looked lovely in beautiful clothes…

There was a big formal dinner…quite a long episode with a lot of dialogue. I think it was two or three days’ work. Table scenes are difficult, technically. People can’t be moved around, there are cross cuts, you are attached to the table. It’s a lighting and camera problem mainly, and takes time.

The first course—and only course…was oysters. Lovely fresh bluepoints on the half shell served on an iced plate with the usual accompaniments…The first day we were all delighted with the excellence of the oysters that the studio had provided us…The first two shot you spear an oyster, dip it into the sauce and swallow it quickly in time for whatever it is you have to say. While the other person is speaking, you have time to eat another, or to wipe your lips with a napkin. But, careful! It has to match: You ate an oyster at that point in the establishing shot!

No lunch that day. Just, “I think I’ll like down during lunch hour.”

After three days of eating nothing but oysters and crackers, the body rebels…Dorothy and I had the longest scenes, the most close-ups—and in spite of frequent visits to the ladies’ room, we both looked rather pale and wan in the sequence that followed…

Just as in the first movie, Claudia’s challenge is become more emotionally mature. She deals, awkwardly if earnestly, with her jealousy over Mr. Young’s attentions to Mary Astor, and in turn, she must comfort Rose Hobart, who is jealous over McGuire’s relationship with John Sutton. Sutton, in a friendly though perhaps unwise gesture, sends Dorothy McGuire a dozen white roses.

Miss Hobart, in a moving scene, recalls that her husband gave her white roses only three times in her life: when they were married, when their son was born…and as consolation just after he died.

Seeing Hobart’s faults in herself, McGuire is determined not to be jealous and  tells Young, “Don’t let’s ever fight again.”

He replies, with his usual sense, “Well, that’s a tall order, but I’d rather have you fight back than be one of those noble women.” Regarding his friendship with Miss Astor, “Do you think marriage means the beginning and end of all human contact?”

McGuire’s mother, who died in “Claudia” is mentioned here on a few different occasions in a nice bit of continuity, and serves as a reminder to McGuire to not cling too tightly to those she loves.

Just as in the first movie, this one has two very grave episodes that add surprising depth. The first is when their little boy comes down with measles. John Sutton brings Dorothy McGuire home from the house party and they find the child unconscious with a fever-induced seizure. Sutton, with the help of the servants, takes over and helps undress the boy and put him in a tub of water.

The doctor is another favorite character actor, Harry Davenport.

When Robert Young returns home late to the commotion, he graciously thanks Sutton for taking his place, then angrily confronts his wife for not calling him and becomes jealous himself.

The second potential tragedy happens during preparations for their own dinner party. As McGuire gets ready to dress, they get word that Young has been involved in an auto accident.

Elsa Janssen holds the fort while her husband, Frank Twedell, drives McGuire to Doc Davenport’s office, where the unconscious Young has been moved. In a striking scene, really brutal despite its simplicity, we see the viewpoint out the car window as they come upon the highway accident scene.

A cop directs traffic. Rubberneckers begin to swarm. Two cars are wrecked. One is Robert Young’s. It’s completely upside down.

We pass it slowly. The camera is mesmerized by it, and so are we. McGuire and Twedell exchange no conversation; we can almost sense her heart in her mouth.

Later, after Robert Young has been transported to the hospital and they await a call, McGuire must endure the horror of a house full of guests. They are the same Hobart and Sutton, Gail Patrick and her husband, and Mary Astor, but now they are no longer strangers and wait out the long night together. They have all been through a trial by fire, in their own marriages and in their friendships with each other. Astor, aware she has inspired jealousy in McGuire, delicately helps her to dress.  When Dorothy McGuire leaves the party to visit Young in the hospital, Rose Hobart, no longer jealous, magnanimously suggests to her husband that he drive her.

“Claudia and David” could have led to further adventures, but by this time Dorothy McGuire was eager to move beyond the scatterbrained wife roles. Finding challenging material to equal her prodigious talent would be a problem for the remainder of her career, more than just the common complaint of actors of being typecast. Hedda Hopper, syndicated in the Toledo Blade, August 7, 1946 wryly noted, “Dorothy McGuire got caught in her own web of excellence.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Claudia - 1943

“Claudia” (1943) is a film of rare accomplishment even while cloaked in the ordinary. Its comic premise of a scatterbrained child-bride and her lovingly tolerant husband barely scratches the surface in describing this remarkably deep film, and its deft exploration of love, death, birth, and especially marriage.

This week we’ll be covering both “Claudia” and its sequel, “Claudia and David” (1946). The sequel, unlike most sequels, was every bit as good as the original, so strong in its own storyline that it stands well on its own. Both films sprang from the hit Broadway play, “Claudia”, which sprang from a series of magazine stories, later developed into several novels, by Rose Franken.

Stop here if you don’t want any spoilers. The whole thing is going to be spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. Look! There’s another one! Duck!

“Claudia”, the Broadway play, shot lead Dorothy McGuire to stardom in a show than ran two years and over 700 performances. When Hollywood scooped up the rights, it scooped up Dorothy McGuire as well. Her role was then taken over on stage by Phyllis Thaxter, who recently passed away. Have a look here at my New England Travels blog for Thaxter’s “Claudia” on tour in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Playwright Rose Franken directed the stage show and picked Dorothy McGuire, with only some summer stock under her belt, to play the demanding role of a lead character who is in almost every scene. When she went to Hollywood, McGuire was touted as being part of that new look of young actresses, called natural, to distinguish them from the glamorous screen sirens of the 1920s and 1930s. Jennifer Jones and Ingrid Berman, Martha Scott and Teresa Wright, as well as Phyllis Thaxter, were part of this cadre.  Both McGuire and Teresa Wright understudied Martha Scott in "Our Town".

A beauty column written by Sylvia Blythe, syndicated in the Milwaukee Journal, January 18, 1942 picks up on the change:

Naturalness, which at long last brings good looks out from behind a cloak of artifice and affectation, is a style trend of the times…

If you shiver with fear that this new look is going to strip you of all pretentions to loveliness, look at Dorothy McGuire. Naturalness won this young actress the coveted theatrical role of the naïve girl-wife in ‘Claudia’, one of this season’s outstanding theatrical hits.

Moreover, as a vitamin-fed, pink-scrubbed, lean-limbed, sweater-and-skirt girl, Miss McGuire has captivated Broadway, which usually pays its homage to sophisticated glitter.

Claudia is a young bride married to a slightly older, much more level-headed fellow, played here by Robert Young. He works as an architect in New York, but their home is a rambling hobby farm in Connecticut. They have an elderly German couple working for them, played by Frank Tweddell -- who played the same role on Broadway with Miss McGuire, and by Elsa Janssen, who we last saw as Lou Gehrig’s mama in “The Pride of the Yankees” (1943). You’ll remember her as one of the refugees at Rick’s in “Casablanca” (1943) as well.

Ina Claire plays Dorothy McGuire’s mother. She had a splendid stage career herself, began in vaudeville, performed in the Ziegfeld Follies as a fresh-faced comedienne, perhaps not unlike McGuire’s persona in this film, and starred on Broadway throughout the 1920s. She did only a handful of films, and “Claudia” was her last before spending the rest of her career back on stage which she preferred.

The movie was directed by Edmund Goulding, who worked magic with “The Constant Nymph” (1941) which we discussed here. This movie required the same sensitivity, despite the setting and the characters being much less artistic and fey. Still, Goulding pulled a magical twist on what could have been a really commonplace tale. He takes the characters seriously, and the script, though busy, always moves forward. The acting is superior.

Claudia, more waif than wife at first, hits us like a stiff breeze of constant activity, fast-talking speech that flits from one subject to another, even as Dorothy McGuire flits about her rather large colonial farmhouse. As was typical of Hollywood, the set designers depict what should be a fairly small home with uneven floor boards, low ceilings and small rooms -- has a living room large as a ballroom. The folks from “Holiday Inn” (1942) and “White Christmas” (1954) might put on shows here.

There is only one small touch of genuine New England architecture, when Miss McGuire proudly refers to a door being “the crookedest door in Connecticut.”

McGuire is all energy and little sense, and there are the usual clichés about her not being able to balance the checkbook, and having the bad wifely habit of listening in on other people’s phone conversations. However, there is a huge difference in Claudia compared to other movie scatterbrained wives.

She is forced to grow up.

Claudia is not really stupid or scatterbrained, rather she is undisciplined, coddled by a mother who thinks she’s a hoot, and tolerated by a husband who is charmed by her freshness and gaiety. The character is rather like a child or young teen who says something or does something unexpectedly funny, and wins the attention of all around her. So she tries to repeat the action until she gets the same response. Pretty soon, it gets to be a habit -- not the need for attention, but the desire not to be held accountable for anything she does or says.

Until that moment she very much wants to be taken seriously, and no one does.

McGuire is fascinating in the role. She moves like a fidgety kid, flopping on furniture, running her hands through errant hair that is always falling in her eyes. Her moods are mercurial. She and Robert Young have great chemistry. Their marriage, in so far as it has not been seriously challenged yet, is good. They are sexy, playful, with a lot of touching, tickling, and spontaneous gestures of desire and affection.

Robert Young moves gracefully between the comedy and the drama, always as steady as his character, and much of the depth of the film is due to him and his skill as a wonderfully empathetic actor.

Young is never really exasperated with his young wife, which would be the typical husband’s reaction in other films with comic scenarios of this sort. When she bungles the checkbook he is amused and play-acts frustration to bait her. He holds it over her head that she is a silly child, and to mock her innocence there is some coy conversation when their milk cow needs to be “serviced” to continue to produce milk. He tweaks her for being a mama’s girl, because she has a close relationship to her mother.

But Young, too, has a close relationship with his mother-in-law, also unusual in the movies. The two of them banter like pals.

“YOU talk to her, Mother, you gave birth to her.”

“YOU married her. She’s yours now.”

There are two moments of crisis for the couple, and both are really illustrated through Mr. Young’s reactions. First, the charming British scamp Reginald Gardner, a new neighbor, makes eyes at Miss McGuire. She encourages him because her husband’s teasing, which sounds condescending to her, makes her feel undesirable. She wants to see if she can attract another man.

In a showdown, Gardiner has one of his funniest moments when he quickly slips on a pair of glasses so Young won’t hit him.

When Young confronts his wife, we see the tenor of Young’s attitude change. He is not as angry as he is hurt, as well as disappointed in her because he knows Claudia well, has long seen a pattern that is dangerous. He wants her to grow up, for the sake of their marriage. He asks if she knows she could have destroyed their marriage with this foolishness, and she wants to know why he never tells her she is beautiful or desirable. It is a moment of quiet conversation, one of many scenes in the movie that suddenly take an introspective turn. Both admit they messed up, but remain on tenterhooks.

Robert Young has a lot on his shoulders, and his worry over his wife’s emotional immaturity is compounded by some very bad news he’s been hiding from her.

Her mother is dying.

We find out at the beginning of the film that Ina Claire is going in for x-rays and to see a specialist. She confides in her son-in-law, who is supportive and wants to go with her to the hospital, but she does not yet want to tell her daughter. She’s probably got cancer, but it’s never said aloud, and doesn’t need to be. We’re all reading each other’s minds at this point.

She's worried about how her daughter will handle it.  “Claudia has to learn to let go of people she loves. To hold close, but with open hands.”

How the film deals with this death sentence is quite frank and its very lack of melodrama gives the subject a much stronger impact. The news hits Robert Young, and us, like a ton of bricks.

“It means an operation,” Robert Young surmises.

“If I’m lucky,” she answers.

Young’s best moment is when he receives Ina Claire’s phone call about the results of her tests. Look at his expression crumble, his voice begin to shake. He is trying to be emotionless for her sake, and that makes the scene all that more emotional.

Director Goulding, who has framed this happy household in sunny window seats with billowing curtains and farmyard sets, now follows the stricken Robert Young out onto the porch in the half-dark, where Young pulls himself together after the phone call and tries to figure out a way to break the news to his wife. The camera pulls back, and we see she has been in the kitchen, listening on the extension.

Here is where Claudia has to grow up in most brutal way. She must let her mother go in way that will not put any more emotional demands on her mother. She has to let her mother feel free to die.

Not usually the stuff of domestic comedies.

There are subplots to round out the larger issues of life. A visiting Russian soprano wants to buy the farm. Olga Baclanova also came from the Broadway cast, and reminds me of Fanny Brice, with startling lung power as she erupts into high C shrieks. This was her last film role.

The servant couple have a son, who was in prison and came around to steal the egg money. We never see him, and that story is dropped pretty quickly in the film. Robert Young shoots a handgun in the air to frighten the unknown intruder away. He keeps the pistol in his car. We’ve mentioned loaded guns in desk drawers before, but not in the glove box.

There does not seem to be electricity in their house: all the rooms are lit with oil lamps. But they turn on the radio. Hmm.

One small touch I like: Ina Claire is reading the newspaper. It’s The Hartford Courant, still the oldest continuously published newspaper (since 1764) in the United States.  She said proudly.

Toward the end of the movie, Elsa Janssen diagnoses Dorothy McGuire as being pregnant, because of McGuire’s latest craving for pickles. A late menstrual period does not occur to either of them, but then only hygiene films dared mention menstruation back in the day. Robert Young insists upon a more scientific diagnosis by the doctor, and he confirms Janssen’s diagnosis.

She should know, after all, she’s the housekeeper.

The joy of having a baby is destroyed for McGuire, now she has learned she’s going to lose her mother.

“What’s the sense of pouring your heart and soul out in what you don’t possess and can never posses?”

Young answers, “Because a loan carries a greater obligation than a gift.”

Another fine moment: When Young insists to his mother-in-law that she will spend her remaining days with them, she bristles at being a charity case and mumbles, “I’d rather die.” Then she realizes the irony, and begins to chuckle.

“Claudia” tackles the full circle of life with surprising poignancy between waves of silliness. It established Dorothy McGuire as a star in her first film, and would lead to two other parings with Robert Young. They played the troubled couple in “The Enchanted Cottage” (1945) discussed here, and would return to the Connecticut farm in the following year.

Come back Thursday for “Claudia and David” (1946).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

Franz Liszt, the 19th century composer, could not have imagined how vital one of his works would become to a 20th century media known as the movies.

In Monday’s post on “It’s Always Fair Weather” (1955), we note Dolores Gray’s magnificently ridiculous television hostess who performs on her own variety show. Introducing one segment she sits elegantly at the piano and thumps out a languid commercial ditty glorifying her sponsor, Klenzrite detergent. You will recognize the tune as Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2”.

The melody has been used in a score of Hollywood shorts and feature films since it was introduced to moving pictures in 1930 in the short “Fire Boys.” Since then it has popped up in “A Night in Casablanca” (1946), “The Horn Blows at Midnight” (1945), “You Were Never Lovelier” (1942) and many, many others. Often it has a comic interpretation, and has been scoffed up as favorite among cartoon animators. It had its cartoon premiere in “Rhapsody in Rivets” (1941) here:

Bugs Bunny used it in “Rhapsody Rabbit” (1946), a clip here below. Later, Bugs, along with Doris Day and Jack Carson in supporting roles, commandeered it for the animated segment of “My Dream is Yours” (1949).

Franz Liszt received the Tom and Jerry treatment in 1947 with “Cat Concerto” below.

Paolo Marzocchi here plays “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” as Franz Liszt probably imagined it, with no interfering mice or buildings collapsing.

However, as with most pieces of classical music I learned in childhood from the cartoons, I find myself waiting for sound effects noises of slapping, bricks falling, cannon fire, and general mayhem when I go to a concert. It’s like something’s missing.

Special thanks to my twin brother, John, for his encyclopedic knowledge of cartoons and their classical music.

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Always Fair Weather - 1955

“It’s Always Fair Weather” (1955) paints a post-war world in Technicolor and CinemaScope—a combination of a quaint painted postcard and an image of modern life so large it threatens to consume us. This movie, like the era it portrays, has been forgotten in some circles, but Gene Kelly has unwittingly left a very special documentary about this era in the unlikely form of musical comedy. It’s not the valentine that “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) was to the 1920s; the 1950s of “It’s Always Fair Weather” has less parody and more chagrin, even bitterness. I would submit that as a work reflecting its era this is a movie of greater value than Kelly’s more successful films.

This post is a contribution to the Gene Kelly Blogathon sponsored by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Have a look here for a list of other participating blogs.

Three returning vets played by Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, and Michael Kidd return to the states in 1945 and have one last (several) drinks together before parting company and heading back to civilian life. They pledge eternal friendship, and promise to meet in this bar in ten years’ time. Before they split up, they dance with garbage can lids on their feet.

There’s a lot of “incidentals” to this movie that make it special. First, the film was supposed to be a sequel to “On the Town” (1949), which Kelly made with Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin as three happy-go-lucky sailors on shore leave. Sinatra turned down “It’s Always Fair Weather”, and Gene Kelly and his creative partner Stanley Donen decided to change the premise of a reunion between the three sailors to different characters, this time soldiers who face not just the challenges of civilian life, but their own apparent failures at meeting those challenges.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the clever team who gave us “On the Town” crafted the script and lyrics for “It’s Always Fair Weather”. Music was by André Previn. So far, so good, but other incidentals turned the making of this film into what Donen called an atmosphere that “was really horrendous. We had to struggle from beginning to end. I can only say it was an absolute one hundred percent nightmare.” (Gene Kelly- A Life of Dance and Dreams by Alvin Yudkoff, Back Stage Books, NY, 1999, p. 234).

Kelly has been acknowledged by many partners and co-workers over the years as a difficult taskmaster as a director and choreographer. He and co-director Donen clashed a great deal over this film, and their relationship permanently deteriorated, probably not helped by Kelly’s romantic relationship with Donen’s ex-wife Jeanne Coyne. A couple of years later, Kelly divorced Betsy Blair, and eventually married Jeanne.

Though Gene Kelly is sometimes accused of being a camera hog, one must note that the two other men that he picked to round out the trio of buddies in this film were top-notch dancers. Kelly knew and appreciated talent. Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd were able to handle anything Kelly could dish out. It’s especially gratifying to even see Michael Kidd dance on film, since he didn’t make too many movies, and was known for his stage work both as a dancer and choreographer. He won five Tony Awards as a choreographer for Broadway, and we owe to him, among other spectacular screen moments, that vigorous ballet of woodsmen in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954).

Another lucky “incidental” for us is the appearance of Dolores Gray, who like Michael Kidd is known more for her stage work than movies. Here she’s a hoot as the self-involved TV host diva, a kind of Miss Piggy with better legs. She gets a great number “Thanks, But No Thanks” which she dances with chorus boys who ply her with jewels and such. She turns them down, brushing them off with disdain, with gunshots, with a detonator plunger removing her Romeos with a burst of TNT, and finally, by pulling a lever and dropping a cluster of chorus boys through a trap door in the stage. It’s a jazzy number with clever lyrics.  Have a look below.

Add to this a voiceover by the great June Foray as an animated character in a TV soap commercial, and you have a movie that preserves talent for the ages.

Even Pope Pius XII gets a cameo.

Back to the boys. The years fly by us in a montage of dates and newsreel images. Dan Dailey, once an aspiring artist, has become an advertising man for a big agency. He is disillusioned and dyspeptic, and his marriage is on the rocks. Michael Kidd runs the Cordon Bleu, a grander name than usual for what is just a roadside eatery. His real success is his growing family. Gene is a gambler, a fight manager, and a hustler on the make for his next big break, but always broke.

They reunite with disappointment. They are strangers now, and can barely stand each other. This sudden revulsion could be thrown around as a comic tool, but is used in this movie with great poignancy and allows us to see into the lives of these men. Their disappointment in each other is matched by their disappointment in themselves and what they’ve done, or haven’t done, with their lives since the optimistic days of their Army discharge. They are unhappy with themselves, looking in the mirror at what frauds they’ve become.

Cyd Charisse is the program director for Dolores Gray’s TV show, “Midnight with Madeline”, a kind of “reality” variety show where one segment of the program is devoted to spotlighting man on the street “hard luck” stories and audience participation. When their guest sucker for the evening is scrapped, Miss Charisse comes up with the plan to use the three Army buddies on the show instead. She takes charge of Gene Kelly, keeping him occupied until she can get him to the studio to be surprised, and embarrassed, on live TV that evening. Another executive babysits Dan Dailey, and Dolores Gray entertains Michael Kidd.

The chief challenge in making this movie, and possibly its chief triumph, is working in CinemaScope, but apparently the budget was cut for this movie under production head Dore Schary. Kelly and Donen had to be especially careful in how to use the monstrous widescreen technology in a movie that essentially takes place in tight interiors. Close-ups, as well, could be really pretty ugly in CinemaScope. We mentioned here in “This Happy Feeling” (1958) how awkward the widescreen setups can be.

Kelly and Donen successfully manipulate the unwieldy CinemaScope with some clever shots. We see the men in the restaurant thinking privately to themselves how much they dislike each other, to the tune of “The Blue Danube” waltz. Each gets a normal-sized close-up pasted together to avoid the distorted facial close-ups normally rendered in a CinemaScope shot. Two main locations, the gym and the TV studio-ballroom are larger spaces that accommodate CinemaScope well. In most situations we see the screen filled with a lot of people in the background, which keeps the central figure, usually a dancer, from looking diminished and insignificant in the huge spaces of widescreen.

Cyd Charisse gets only one number here (her singing dubbed), the energetic “Baby, You Knock Me Out” done with boxers in the gym. Have a look below.

Gene Kelly’s big solo number is the now iconic roller skate routine so masterfully done. We have to admire, again, his marvelous athleticism and creativity. Have a look below.

I particularly admire Dan Dailey’s number, “Situation-wise” which mocks the corporation mentality that pre-
dates Jack Lemmon’s famous “Kubilek-wise” in “The Apartment” (1960). Dailey, who we last saw here in “Meet Me in Las Vegas” (1956) had the ability, greater than the formidable Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, to act. He could be sensitive, deep, and all in the simplest of movements and facial expressions. He had a clear face, for want of a better term, that reminds me of Gary Cooper. Not that they resembled each other, but that each man was able to convey his deepest emotions transparently on his face with no affectations. Dana Andrews was like that, too. It’s as if they find a serene spot in the emotional turmoil and just let it be.

The “Situation-wise” number allows Dailey to act while he sings and dances, having had too much to drink at a cocktail party at his boss’s home as he faces his failings and self-disgust. It is a very inventive dance as well, because as he gets more out of control, he uses objects from the elegant living room as props. It all looks very natural and spontaneous. Often in Astaire or Kelly dance sequences, we see them placed in a situation where we anticipate what props are going to be used—a hat rack, a broom, etc., because they are as much on display as the dancer. There is a foreshadowing of what’s to come. But here, Dailey’s raucous slide into drunken mental breakdown is such that we don’t know what’s going to happen next as he snatches apparently improvisational props from around the living room. It is both heartbreaking and really funny at the same time. Look for the brief “Jerry Lewis-wise” lyric where he slaps his hands on his head and spasmodically struts like Jerry Lewis’s screen nerd character.

All three men reach their nadir, and their ultimate triumph, when they are dragged on stage to be feted and humiliated by Dolores Gray. Michael Kidd, who unfortunately we don’t get to see that much of in this movie, refuses her consolation gifts of a washing machine and shoes for his children because he is proud, and decides that his roadside diner is nothing of which to be ashamed. Dan Dailey likewise finds dignity in humility and wryly acknowledges that this moment on live TV is a “truly fitting climax to ten years of self-degradation.”

Gene Kelly goes a step further, mocking himself on camera, “I’m a bum. Boys, don’t be like me, be clean, use Klenzrite.”

We have our happy ending of sorts when the mobsters who are chasing Gene Kelly get their comeuppance on live TV in a spectacular brawl with a lot of bodies tossed on collapsing tables. The three buddies bond in fisticuffs defeating the bad guys, and when they at last part again, there is some satisfaction in their lives and their renewed friendship.

The final shot is another fine use of CinemaScope, the men walking off in different directions on the wet streets. The nighttime New York City skyline fills the widescreen nicely.

Even at the time it was made, “It’s Always Fair Weather” was recognized for capturing a slice of real life not usually noticed in musical comedies. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther pronounced the film to be, “Howling with derision at such recognizable idiocies of TV as singing and slobbering commercials, audience participation shows, give-away plugs for mundane products and the wise-talking agency boys.” He called it “continuously entertaining” and “a winning show.”

It was winning, and would be one of the last times Gene Kelly helmed a major vehicle of this genre. Musicals were on the wane, stories about WWII GIs were fading into the past, and perhaps the only thing that marched into the lasting future was the note of cynicism felt by the characters of this movie. That was prescient.

A few more fun incidentals: Oily TV announcer Frank Nelson—you may not know the name but the voice is unmistakable from a bushel full of TV guest spots. He delivers a commercial for H2O cola, possibly the first diet soda, also prescient.

Madge Blake, used as a prop in the party scene by Dan Dailey, whose frilly, befuddled “clubwoman” screen persona lent itself to TV supporting roles, including a hysterical stretch as Larry Mondello’s mother on “Leave It to Beaver”.

Phil Arnold, who is one of the boxers known as Butch, singing in his deep bass voice to Cyd in the gym. Another long career of roles without screen credit but whose face and voice is part of our shared TV memories.

A new DVD release of “It’s Always Fair Weather” contains some numbers that were relegated to the cutting room floor, which is always appreciated by fans, but just what’s here in the final cut is still plenty.

Have a look at the CMBA website for more posts celebrating the career of Gene Kelly and please visit the other blogs participating in the Gene Kelly Blogathon.