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The word "sour" is often used to describe It's Always Fair Weather, the 1955 MGM wide-screen musical at long last released on DVD. Pauline Kael described this film's tone as "a delayed hangover...sour." In his review of the boxed set Classic Musicals From The Dream Factory, a 5 DVD set that includes It's Always Fair Weather, the estimable Steve Daly of EW calls this cult musical "sour, cynical." In Ethan Mordden's 1981 book The Hollywood Musical, Fair Weather is listed under the chapter "The Energy Peters Out." And Mordden zeroes in on the sequence of buddies Dan Dailey, Michael Kidd and Gene Kelly singing about their loathing of one another as more than just the dissolving of a partnership; to Mordden, it's a sign of the end of the line for the classic Hollywood musical.
Sour? Savory is more like it. There's no disputing palates, but Betty Comden and Adolph Green-scripted musicals were never completely gossamer dreams. New York-based cabaret-trained performers that they were, Comden and Green always included some razory satire of the entertainment business. They made a comedy out of the tensions of staying afloat in short-memoried showbiz in The Band Wagon, where 1930s icon Fred Astaire adjusts himself to the gaudy post-war world of Times Square, pulp fiction, and "Technicolor and stereophonic sound." Singin' In the Rain is similarly about future shock, as sound technology comes in to mess up the comparative ease and order of the silent film world. The Comden-Green It's Always Fair Weather uses elements that's all over noir: post-war dissatisfaction, the Kefauver report on organized crime, and the pressures of conformity on the returning GIs. Golden hindsight reduces the 1950s in today's imagination to a decade-long dance night at Jack Rabbit Slim's. Cop a look at Peter Biskind's Seeing is Believing, not just to unearth the true meaning of 1950s monster movies as symbols of the nuclear menace, but of also to study the political strife between the radical right and the centrists that gave those bug-eyed-monster attacks deeper textual significance. (President Dwight Eisenhower was a compromise candidate between these two political extremes. No wonder Ike was brought back as a figure of compromise in Why We Fight.) And no wonder Jacques Demy soaked up the undertones of the MGM musical and recreated them in his films, figuring it was appropriate to use musical comedy tropes in a story of a drafted gas station attendant and his pregnant girlfriend.