Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 28 October 2011

"The Throb of Manhattan"

ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, 1955, may well be my very favourite musical (after A STAR IS BORN and THE BANDWAGON of course) - it and those sophisticated musicals from 1957 [LES GIRLS, FUNNY FACE, SILK STOCKINGS, THE PYJAMA GAME, bits of PAL JOEY] are my perennial favourites, ever since I saw them as a child at Sunday afternoon matinees - BRIGADOON was another but it it not quite in that league, but I prefer them to the over-hyped SINGING IN THE RAIN or AN AMERICAN IN PARIS both of which show Kelly at his most grating (of course, as per Musicals label, I also love ON THE TOWN, MY SISTER EILEEN, KISS ME KATE, SWINGTIME, GYPSY, LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT among others...)

Good to see that ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER is being revived by the London National Film Theatre in their season on MGM musicals - it cries out to be seen on widescreen, using as it does, multiple images when our 3 wartime buddies reflect on their lives now. It seems to have been a troubled shoot, co-directors Kelly and Stanley Donen fell out, Kelly and Charisse don't have any number together, she has one marvellous dance number "Baby You Knock Me Out" at the gym (where, as Pauline Kael put it, "Cyd Charisse is benumbed until she unhinges those legs") wearing that terrific Helen Rose ensemble, and Gene has the very inventive roller-skate number and of course when the 3 guys dance with the dustbin lids, so it is all very innovative, just as original musicals were dying, it was mainly films of Broadway shows after this.

It is the perfect mid-century story of 3 wartime buddies meeting up 10 years later in 1955 and realising that they don't like each other much now, and indeed Kelly and Dailey don't much like themselves either. Gene is mixing with hoods and managing a dumb boxer, while Dan Dailey has risen to "Executive Vice-President" level in advertising and is sick of the advertising game as he lets rip in his terrific solo number "Advertising-wise". Cyd Charisse is the television researcher who stumbles across the 3 wartime buddies and realises their reunion is ideal for her television show "Midnight with Madeline" for "The Throb of Manhattan" spot where saccharine stories are featured. This is the early days of live television and the movie is a splendid satire on those artificial tv hostesses like Madeline and her diva tantrums. Dolores Gray is stupendous here, and has one of the best numbers ever "Thanks a lot but no thanks" which is a delirious treat with that ritzy gown and that killer line:"I've got a man who's Clifton Webb and Marlon Brando combined"!. Then hood Jay C Flippen and his goons invade the studio where the live broadcast is being made, as they are after Gene who has thrown the fight once he realised his boxer has been bribed to lose it. Cyd gets the hoods to confess on live air, Madeline has a hit show, the 3 buddies realise they are still friends after all. It's a perfect conclusion as Cyd joins Gene and the the guys back at the bar where they vowed to meet up 10 years previously.

Choreographer Michael Kidd is ideal as the family man, Dailey has one of his best roles (apart from his father in THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS), Cyd and Gene sparkle as they spar with each other, and Dolores steals the show. What's not to love? It is a dark, sometimes bitter take on ON THE TOWN a decade later as the 3 buddies meet again - by 1955 though Sinatra had gone on to solo projects and was "difficult" and Jules Munchin was not a name enough. Produced of course by Arthur Freed, with songs by Andre Previn, script by Comden and Green; perfect entertainment then, but see the widescreen version, not panned and scanned! The DVD includes a fascinating 'Making-Of' chronicling the fallout between Kelly and Donen, and several out-takes including a terrific inventive (that word again) deleted number between Kelly and Charisse "Love is Nothing But a Racket" which has been unseen for far too long, and Michael Kidd's solo spot with some kids, but Gene did not want that included, after his number with kids in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS! Essential stuff then.

I met Gene at a recording of an interview of his for the BBC in 1975 - Donen of course went on to direct several of my enduing favourites: those Audrey Hepburn films like TWO FOR THE ROAD and CHARADE, Kendall in ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, Peck and Sophia ideal in ARABESQUE, and the marvellous BEDAZZLED with Pete and Dud and Eleanor Bron in 1967. We won't mention STAIRCASE or LUCKY LADY!


  1. This is such a good movie. It's on my top five list of favorite musicals. Dolores Gray's "Thanks a Lot But No Thanks" is my favorite musical number of all time. The music and choreography is quite above par as are the costumes(Ms. Gray's dress is astounding). The femme-fatale theme is very chic, sophisticated and way ahead of its time.

  2. Dolores is also terrific of course in Minnelli's DESIGNING WOMAN, 1957 as Gregory Peck's discarded girlfriend, and also in Vincente's '55 KISMET and as a very catty Sylvia in the 1956 remake of THE WSOMEN titled THE OPPOSITE SEX which is a riot of '50s fashions on a great collection of '50s gals. I have done a separate piece on the fabulous Dolores, see Dolores Gray label.