- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

“It’s Always Fair Weather,” the last of the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen musicals, enjoys double exposure in the Washington area for the next week. It’s now in revival at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre as part of a summer retrospective devoted to the movies of Mr. Donen. Slow to surface in the home video market — and never available in a VHS edition that preserved the proper aspect ratio for its CinemaScope pictorial format and deftly panoramic dance numbers — “Fair Weather” has finally appeared in a letterboxed DVD edition that does keep the principal performers in camera range again.

While it’s preferable to rediscover the movie, originally released in September 1955, in full theatrical magnification, adequate home video copies have been devoutly awaited for years. “It’s Always Fair Weather” is standing the test of time in sturdier fashion than most of the other prominent musicals of 1955. The film versions of “Oklahoma!” and “Guys and Dolls” were the obvious big deals of the year, in part because they ended the wait for famous Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II or Frank Loesser shows. Just as the Irving Berlin songbook had been the safest pretext for musicals in 1954, when “White Christmas” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” were substantial hits, the magnet in 1955 was Broadway prestige.

Nevertheless, three examples of musicals contrived expressly for the screen — “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Daddy Long Legs” and “Fair Weather” — were also difficult to overlook if one kept up with the movies. Made for about $2.1 million, “Fair Weather” grossed about $2.5 million, so it was a marginal success on the books. Disappointment took over because it outclassed the perceived hits in many respects but seemed to get a brushoff from the public.

“Fair Weather” grew out of a logical notion that occurred to Betty Comden and Adolph Green: a sequel to their first Broadway hit, “On the Town.” The landmark 1944 show had been successfully filmed at MGM in 1949, with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Donen sharing co-directing credit for the first time. Originally envisioned as a Broadway project, the sequel aroused Mr. Kelly’s possessive impulses. He insisted the writers develop it as an original movie musical for MGM and eventually insisted that Mr. Donen co-direct it with him.

Unfortunately, the collaborative relationship that had continued to flourish between “On the Town” and “Singin’ in the Rain” had begun to sour by 1954-55. Mr. Donen had established his own credentials with MGM musicals, notably as the director of “Royal Wedding” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” He was not keen on resuming a junior-partner status with Mr. Kelly.

The studio insisted, in part because the performer needed a comeback vehicle. Mr. Kelly was in a lingering slump, aggravated by two years as a tax exile in England and the iffy status of an overspecialized, costly dream project, “Invitation to the Dance,” which remained unreleased until 1957.

Partnered with Leonard Bernstein for “On the Town,” Miss Comden and Mr. Green wrote a new song score for “Fair Weather” with Andre Previn as the composer, arranger and conductor. This represented a vote of confidence since producer Arthur Freed had scuttled many of their songs in the film version of “On the Town,” including the exquisite and immortal “Some Other Time.”

The heroes of “On the Town” — three sailors on leave for 24 hours in Manhattan toward the end of World War II — are re-envisioned as three GIs in “Fair Weather.” They vow to reunite 10 years later after a farewell Manhattan binge a few months after the end of the war. Comes 1955 and the former comrades — Mr. Kelly, Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd — keep the date but discover that disillusion is stronger than nostalgia: They can barely tolerate each other. Circumstances come to their rescue and inspire a renewal of lost loyalties before the day is over.

The highlight of the prologue is a tap dance trio that culminates with the pals wearing garbage lids on their left feet and achieving a blissfully clattering mood of drunken camaraderie. This stunt generates such a joyful kinetic racket and rapport that it seems unlikely the movie can duplicate its impact. Especially when it intends to dabble in disillusion.

The level of dance invention doesn’t fail you. Subsequent numbers bring satisfying changes off the initial burst of fun and novelty. There are follow-up trios that prove ingenious in fresh ways, not to mention virtuoso routines for Cyd Charisse with a chorus of boxers, Dan Dailey on a slapstick bender and Mr. Kelly on roller skates. The set pieces for Dolores Gray as a brassy television star and Hal March as a slow-on-the-uptake boxer (readily appreciated at the time as a spoof of Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”) may also seem priceless in retrospect because the industry took scant advantage of their comic flair.

The writers’ cheerful mockery of TV variety shows had an unintended boomerang effect. Once the major studios began leasing their feature libraries to TV, wide-screen pictures such as “Fair Weather” were in jeopardy of prolonged disfigurement. Expansive lateral compositions couldn’t be squeezed into a conventional picture format, so telecasts tended to chop off performers at the sides. The trio dances in “Fair Weather” usually retained Mr. Kelly in the center but lost all or part of Mr. Dailey and Mr. Kidd on his flanks. Not until the introduction of the letterbox format was it possible to see the group properly reunited.

A lot of blunders, mischances and misperceptions have been clinging to “It’s Always Fair Weather” for half a century. The repair work remains in preliminary stages for the first DVD edition, which restores a couple of outtakes in a very haphazard fashion, but at least the prospect of optimum restoration and homage for a wonderful movie is sunnier than it was for decades.

TITLE: “It’s Always Fair Weather”

RATING: No MPAA Rating (released in 1955, years before the advent of a rating system; suitable for all ages)

CREDITS: Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Produced by Arthur Freed. Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Music by Andre Previn. Lyrics by Miss Comden and Mr. Green. Choreography by Mr. Kelly and Mr. Donen. RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

DVD EDITION: Warner Home Video

SCREENINGS: American Film Institute Silver Theatre showings: Today through Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

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