Reviewed by Steve Uhler, Fri., Feb. 7, 2003
IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (1955)D: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen; with Kelly, Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse, Michael Kidd, Dolores Gray, David Burns.
Is this the age of the Cynical Musical? Is that an oxymoron? The high-kickin' Chicago and Moulin Rouge have left their mark on appreciative audiences wary of treacle, but each film throws off the scent of pastiche. For a true misanthropic masterpiece, the real Crown Jewel of Cynicism, the reader is referred to 1955's It's Always Fair Weather -- as ironic a title as ever flummoxed an audience's expectations. In a follow-up to the sunny and successful Singin' in the Rain, star and co-director Gene Kelly reteamed with director Stanley Donen. Far from the cheerful hues of its predecessor, It's Always Fair Weather is a musical that goes deeper and darker than any that preceded it. Three soldiers (Kelly, Dailey, and dancer-choreographer Kidd) pledge eternal friendship and part ways at the end of WWII, vowing to meet up again 10 years later in a New York bar. A decade down the line, all three are disillusioned, self-loathing, and tripping over the carcasses of their collapsed ideals. Kelly (exploiting the smarm behind those pearly whites) is a third-rate fight promoter on the take; Dailey, a successful but embittered Madison Avenue adman whose marriage is falling apart; and the scrappy Kidd is Angie, a would-be chef who has to settle for slinging hash at a Queens diner. A musical without joy is a dirge, and Fair Weather's dark clouds are leavened by several sunny sequences, nudged along by some still-scathing satire. Kelly's amazing dancing-down-Fifth-Avenue-on-roller-skates number is jaw-droppingly athletic, Dailey's solo satirical showcase of modern corporate jingoism rivals that of Danny Kaye, and the trio's breathtaking, don't-try-this-at-home tap dance using trash can lids as shoes justifies Cinemascope. (Note: It is a federal crime to watch this film in any version other than letterboxed.) And, oh yes, two more words: Cyd Charisse. Ultimately uplifting, in a reticent way.