Director: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Writer: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Cinematographer: Robert J. Bronner
Producer: Arthur Freed
by Jon Cvack
The name of this film cannot stick with me. I’ve searched It’s Always More Fair and It’s Always Fairer at least a dozen times now while searching for the film, never able to recall the title. If you could judge a film by its name then this musical would honor the principle completely. Netflix advertised the movie as a satire of MGM musicals, which called to mind The Band Wagon (1953) and its ability to explore genre and trope within a traditional format. I had been on a role with Gene Kelly these last few years, specifically his collaboration with Frank Sinatra in On the Town (1949) and Anchors Aweigh (1945), figuring the same plot of soldiers returning from the war would offer another yet another solid addition, Sinatra or no. Unfortunately, it’s a film that plays like it was made with the year’s remaining budget, forfeiting big set pieces and matching song and dance numbers for a film that flirts with ideas about post-war alienation, never amounting to much.
The film opens up on VJ day in 1945, as three war buddies Ted Riley (Gene Kelly), Doug Hallerton (Dan Dailey) and Angie Valentine (Michael Kidd) work their way through the parading streets, ending up at a bar where they each discuss their dreams. Angie wants to be a famous cook, Doug wants to be a world renowned painter, and Riley wants to be rich and successful. After an underwhelming song and dance sequence, they swear to meet up with each other in ten years.
The time races by as wives, kids, and the professional grind impede their plans. Ted never becomes the big shot businessman (or whatever it was he hoped to be), currently involved with some mafiosos in fixing a fight; Doug has hit the corporate grind, moving up the ladder and abandoning the canvas; and Angie never gets his Michelin 3-Star restaurant, instead trying to manage a small diner. The three remember the bet, and while each has to finagle his way out of their commitments, they meet back up at the bar, finding that they have little to say, if not completely disliking each other.
The film did a fantastic job of setting up an interesting situation in which the brotherhood formed in war fades when civilian life enter into the picture; leaving me thinking of alienation explored in The Best Years of Our Lives. It’s the musical element that stand in its own way. The film flirts with the more substantive issue. Doug offers the most interesting conflict as he reaches his breaking point with the executive role, getting wasted during a company party and embarrassing his boss. Angie’s story kind of fades by comparison whereas Ted offers your traditional gangster-gone-good redemption.
Somehow they get involved with a television producer Jackie Leighton (Cyd Charisse) that wants to put their story on a live television show that night, plot serving the film to get both an attractive love interest into the mix along with providing an underwhelming climax. Riley eventually ditches out on the fixed fight and the gangster goes after him, ending up at the show where a fight breaks out and the police arrive.
The whole thing feels grossly under budgeted, plays boring, though does illustrate that not all musicals from the period were the spectacle movies as seen in the more popular titles. Nothing in this film stands out beyond the possibility of a good story; exploring the lives of three men who discover they have little in common beyond the bonds of war. To think of all the sequences that could have stemmed from this seed - flashbacks to battles, drunken furloughs, spanning across all theaters of battle, all while trying to make the others understand why their life has become so ordinary - seems like one of the most significant missed opportunities in musical history.
BELOW: One of the film's few impressive song and dance numbers
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