Roller Skates and Existential Crises: IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER

December 6, 2017 - 10:45am
Posted by Matt St John


These notes on Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's It's Always Fair Weather were written by Lillian Holman, PhD candidate in UW Madison's Department of Communication Arts. A 35mm print of It's Always Fair Weather will screen in our Gene Kelly series on Friday, December 8 at 7 p.m. in our regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall. 

By Lillian Holman

During one of the major flirtation scenes in It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), Ted (Gene Kelly) turns to Jackie (Cyd Charisse), and says: “You’re inhibited.” Coming from Kelly, that is the worst possible insult. Whether it be in Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, On the Town, The Pirate, or a whole host of other MGM musicals, Gene Kelly would always rather be dancing, and for Kelly, dancing is freedom. Luckily for him, the audience usually has no objections to such a desire. Weather is the third film directed by both Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly and also starring Kelly. Previously the pair worked together on On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952).

The two borrow freely from their previous successes in It’s Always Fair Weather. On the Town tells the story of sailors from the Navy on leave for one night in New York, and Weather picks up on the story of three men just out of the Army after World War II is over. While the military may not be the first thought that comes to mind when you think of singing and dancing, it provides a cohesive unit for Kelly to work with in terms of choreography. These men are bonded by circumstance both emotionally and physically which makes them an ideal dance group. In both films, the men are not just members of their military unit, they literally move as a unit. This is seen more obviously in the musical numbers, but it is also apparent in the way they interact with their non-musical environments as well. The mischief that Ted, Doug, and Angie get into in the bar at the very beginning of Weather is only possible through perfect coordination akin to the same choreography as the drunk sequence just a few minutes later. Meanwhile, the allusions to Singin’ in the Rain are not really present (except for Charisse’s green dress) until Ted falls in love. It turns out Gene Kelly in love looks the same in pretty much every movie. Just like Rain, he wanders into the street, bats his eyelashes a bit, and then starts to glide in time with the music and his own sonorous voice. In Rain, his partner is his umbrella and a lamppost with no one out to watch him but one grumpy old man. In Weather, he exchanges a partner for roller-skates and solitude for a crowd, but since he doesn’t seem to care one wit about the crowd, the tone is identical. He is so overflowing with love, he must dance. Nothing else matters and he lets us in on his joy almost by accident.

With these two homages to some of the most joyful movie experiences ever filmed, it would be easy to assume that Weather is a similarly carefree experience. What is odd and notable about the film, however, is the somewhat more subdued tone that envelops even the most exuberant of the musical numbers. The film centers on the reunion of the three soldiers ten years after they have been discharged. Each has moved on from his life as a mischievous, young man and each is dissatisfied with their grown life for different reasons. If the three sailors who had only 24 hours in New York in On the Town had to beat the clock, in It’s Always Fair Weather the clock has beaten the three soldiers. If in Singin’ in the Rain, Kelly was the picture of confidence, in Weather Kelly is the picture of insecurity. If Kelly’s love makes him sing in the face of bad weather in Singin’ in the Rain, in Weather he sings that “she likes me so I like myself.” This translates into other numbers too. If “Make ‘Em Laugh,” the delightfully nonsensical tour de force by Donald O’Connor, was the comedic centerpiece of Rain, in Weather it is Dan Dailey’s drunken charades at the workplace party. In the Rain sequence, O’Connor means to cheer Kelly up, while in Weather, Dailey, beset by marital problems, is so desperate to cheer himself up, he is driven to drink.  Ultimately, while It’s Always Fair Weather has the same bright colors and names on the marquee as Singin’ in the Rain and On the Town, the slight differences reveal its greater kinship to the films of the 1950s that explore the darker side of post-war American life, like Bigger Than Life, All that Heaven Allows, and A Star is Born.