Saturday, April 29, 2006

Thanks For Losing Your Mind

It's Always Fair Weather makes for a good DVD, with a good transfer and a making-of featurette that is more honest than these things usually are. The assembled talking heads actually talk about the problems with the production -- especially the friction between co-directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, who ended their professional relationship after this film. (Kelly's career probably suffered more from the breakup; Donen did some great work on his own -- Charade, Two For the Road -- but Kelly never starred in or directed another first-rate movie again.) They also talk about the mistakes that keep the film from being one of the all-time great musicals, especially Kelly's bizarre decision to cut the only number where he and Cyd Charisse danced together, as well as the only solo number for the great Michael Kidd. (Both these cut numbers are included as outtakes on the DVD; their soundtracks aren't complete so they can't be re-integrated into the film.) The mistake they don't mention was the decision to let André Previn write the music. Previn is a wonderful musician, but as a melodist, he is a total dud; the big love song, "I Like Myself," is a poor man's version of Bernstein's "Lucky to Be Me" from the stage version of On the Town, and all the other songs basically sound like good ideas for tunes, as opposed to actual good tunes.

But still, overall It's Always Fair Weather is one of the better Arthur Freed musicals (certainly better than the movie it's following up, On the Town, which is also hobbled by weak songs by an MGM contract musician). The dark, mature tone of the movie, the suggestion that the carefree world of the traditional movie musical has been swallowed up by the anxieties and pressures of '50s life, is certainly memorable and unique. Donen and Kelly were also unmatched when it came to filming a musical number; other directors, like Vincente Minnelli, had trouble figuring out how to stage musical numbers for the wide CinemaScope screen, but Donen came up with all kinds of ways to make CinemaScope work for, not against, a musical number (dividing the screen into three; blacking out parts of the screen and zooming in on a face), and the fluid camerawork, with the camera practically flying down a studio backlot street, is beautiful to behold.

The best numbers are fairly well-known: the trash-can dance for Kelly, Kidd and Dan Dailey; Charisse's "Baby, You Knock Me Out," and Kelly's roller-skating routine to "I Like Myself," which, while not a great song, may be even better than "Singin' in the Rain" as a piece of dancing and camerawork. And, finally, there's Dolores Gray's "Thanks A Lot But No Thanks," the campiest number in the history of the Freed Unit. Wom! Wam! has screencaps of the number as well as an analysis: "The '50s offers quite a few song & dance numbers dramatizing the sexual dynamic between men & Women with outrageously built Glamazons packed into outlandish costumes..."

1 comment:

npetrikov said...

I've always wondered why the producers dug 'way down and pulled out "A Stein Song" (1896) for their movie title. It has nothing to do with the flick; a zillion other less remote phrases could have suggested friendship and good times just as well.