On the Town
The dinosaur is from Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, Miss Turnstiles the well-bred hootchy-kootchy dancer is from Indiana, and the stolen taxicab is strictly from New York.
Same old story, every blessed morning, as indicated.
Singin’ In The Rain
The transition from silents to sound.
It is said that Arthur Freed asked Comden & Green to write “a musical, with my songs,” and that they labored mightily with no result, and then somehow came up with this. The beauty of the tribute to Freed and Nacio Herb Brown is one line or imbrication of the tessitura, the others, more or less brilliant, are revealed by patient study.
Take, for instance, the “Make ‘em Laugh” number, a showstopper whose main points are Chaplin, Keaton, and Curly Howard, paid tribute to and then some as part of the homaging and roasting of silent days. There shortly begins a reciprocal homage by Mel Brooks, for example, in History of the World: Part I and Blazing Saddles, William Friedkin in The Night They Raided Minsky’s, William Wyler in Funny Girl (and more later). Again, the fashion sequence repays Cukor.
“You Were Meant For Me” announces not the least of all the honors, Nureyev’s choreography of Prokofiev’s Cinderella. Note the tantalizing experiment here with colored lighting.
“Moses Supposes” introduces (with the line, “gotta be a rose ‘cause it rhymes with Mose”) an important part of Auden’s later deprecation of Byron. This scene is said, by his own account, to have happened to Tony Curtis, and it closes on Magritte.
From Moses to the recording bush, where a crucial point is reached. Up to this, Jean Hagen has been teaching the cast that, ultimately, acting is only a matter of keeping a straight face (and incidentally setting the stage for young Melanie Griffith). Now, the film’s intensity must brace them against her onslaughts, or all is lost. “Pee-air!” she says, like a mewing cat.
The basic structural definition is announced in the “Good Mornin’” number, which interestingly adumbrates the next number, and seems more like the dance number in Godard’s Bande ā Part than anything by Fosse (more later).
A dance teacher has published a notation of Gene Kelly’s steps in “Singin’ in the Rain”, and their complexity amply justifies Sandburg’s famous poem “for Gene Kelly to dance to”. And yet, archetypally, it looks so easy. The spectator will be repaid, after a hundred or more viewings, by examining the backgrounds to this scene.
After this, a glimpse of the M-G-M Orchestra at work. It is not often said that the basis of the M-G-M musical is its orchestration, because, one might suppose, that sounds so odd, but it’s true. And about here, too, occurs another of several references to Citizen Kane.
“Broadway Melody” is the pivot, and has been imitated as recently as PBS’s Crazy for You, and as far back as George Sidney’s Viva Las Vegas. Here, one should say, might be observed the beginnings of Bob Fosse’s style (and note a gag also used by Termite Terrace), as well as Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. Here the structure of The Dancing Cavalier is established, and becomes that of Singin’ in the Rain, though the former is not actually seen, only described or sketched, which is what makes the final billboard gag one of the great moments in film. This is what Comden & Green slapped up for Arthur Freed.
These notes omit Dali and Inside Daisy Clover, a discussion of the “stunt man” theme (echoed in Ken Russell’s Valentino) and of the camerawork, but they will conclude with a word of praise for Millard Mitchell, who strides around the set like Calder’s sword-swallower—though not without also praising the revelation of Kathy Selden as a functional gag (from Max Neufeld’s Ein Stern fällt vom Himmel or Paul Merzbach’s A Star Fell from Heaven, with Joseph Schmidt), and a coup in the domain of sound.
It’s Always Fair Weather
The main point of departure is The Best Years of Our Lives. On October 11th, 1945, a bet is made that on October 11th, 1955, friendship will obtain amongst three newly-demobilized soldiers.
The fix is in, advertising replaces art, hamburger stands aren’t cordon bleu, television is a maudlin image-worshipper. This is 1955, a gag remembered by Kazan for A Face in the Crowd (and derived from Singin’ in the Rain) puts the mobster on television to tell his tale.
Kelly’s legendary numbers take off from Chaplin on roller skates in the solo “I Like Myself” or erect a powerful dynamism of contrast with Charisse among the boxers in “Baby, You Knock Me Out” or go slap-happy in the drunken trio with taxicab and ashcans. Donen formulates a split-screen unison (“Once Upon a Time”) and the gymnastic “Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks”, and the great non-dance number (expressive as can be), “Why Are We Here?” to the Blue Danube waltz.
“What are you doing with these paintings,” the ad man says to his boss, “you old goof? Picasso, Braque, Roualt, Renoir—your art appreciation stopped at Mutt & Jeff!” Comden & Green take apart Madison Ave. for Dan Dailey to dance to.
Madeline has her midnight show to heal the broken hearts of Broadway, but first, “thanks a lot for going insane,” she sings, “thanks a lot for the State of Maine,” vamping in pink at men on stage in somersaults.
A Dear John letter on his first civilian day ends Kelly’s career as a lawmaker, Dailey gives up his painting career in Europe for a secure job inventing animated logos, Kidd settles for a griddle to support his wife and kids.
A life of gambling and girls wins Kelly a boxer who’s in on the game. The ex-GIs lunch at The Turquoise and sing three interior monologues to Strauss’s tune, excoriating each other as a hick (Kidd), a snob (Dailey) and a hood (Kelly).
Midnight With Madeline has a spot to fill, Charisse is the liaison from the ad agency (the product is Klenzrite, extolled by “Little Miss Mop-Up”). She’s a career woman out of Ninotchka, with a knowledge of boxing out of Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Kelly KOs his boxer, flees the mob and makes it to the studio where the story of the bet is about to go on and surprise “The Rover Boys”, who suddenly remember their old Army days when hoods move in on their mark.
In view of their respective titles, there is a comical relation to White Christmas. Kelly and Donen have a satire that’s curiously ahead of its time, with some of the best musical numbers and dancing on film. Crowther allows as how Comden & Green ramble, but the converse is true. No songs more pointed can be imagined, there is the satirical conclusion toward which everything tends.