Hey you guys,
It didn't garner anywhere near as much press as the recent passings of Robert Altman or Jack Palance but we lost another titan of the silver screen recently in actress, songwriter, playwright and screenwriter Betty Comen, the longtime writing partner of Adolph Green.
Comden co-wrote four of my favoritest films in addition to countless standards. If you haven't seen the deliriously caffeinated 1947 football musical "Good News", 1952's sly showbiz satire "Singing In The Rain" or 1949's giddily kinetic "On The Town" (one of the all-time great New York movies) for the love of God do so immediately. They're just about the funnest movies ever. Pure joy, boys and girls, pure, exuberant cinematic joy.
But the most slept on Comden-Green joint, in my opinion at least, is 1955's "It's Always Fair Weather", a semi-sequel of sorts to 1946's "On The Town" that'd be agonizingly sad if it wasn't so much fun. "It's Always Fair Weather" follows three sailors (Gene Kelly, Michael Kidd and Dan Dailey) who boozily vow to reunite ten years after the end of World War II separates them.
But the intervening years push them in antithetical directions. Dailey's become a self-loathing advertising man who looks in the mirror every morning and hates the soulless shell of a man he's become. The blazingly cocky Kelly, who seemed destined to set the world afire, is a second-rate hustler barely eking out a living in the fight racket. Kidd meanwhile toils as a glorified fry cook.
But as much as Kelly, Dailey and Kidd hate themselves, they hate each other even more. The years have turned them into strangers and without the war to unite them they have little to say to each other and even less in common. Beneath "Fair Weather"'s tuneful high spirits lies a devastating critique of post-war conformity, television, advertising, and the existential ennui of a generation that saved the world then had to figure out what the hell to do as an encore.
"It's Always Fair Weather" may just be one of the most despairing and melancholy musicals ever made but its dark undercurrents don't keep it from being a whole lot of fun. It's as revisionist and subversive in its own way as Martin Scorsese's "New York, New York" (which doubles as the title of one of Comden-Green's most famous tunes, you know the one that goes "New York, New York, it's a helluva town the Bronx is up and the battery's down") but it also works smashingly as a musical and its profoundly cynical take on mass media and consumer culture give it a very contemporary sensibility.
That's the genius of "It's Always Fair Weather" and of Comden and Green. They're able to subvert the blindingly optimistic ethos of the musical comedy without losing the tune or missing a beat. In a strangely meta twist "It's Always Fair Weather" marked the final collaboration of co-directors Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, a legendary team that triumphed with "On The Town" and "Singing In The Rain" but came to hate each other so much that they pretty much had to be forced to co-direct one last movie together at gunpoint.
I could go on and on about "Singing In The Rain" or "Good Times" or "On The Town" or Comden-Green's other work (a particularly disastrous-sounding late project was a musical sequel to Ibsen's "A Doll's House" that sounds Carrie: The Musicalriffic") but I'm much more interested in hearing your thoughts on Comden-Green and what their oeuvre meant to you. Any favorite Comden-Green moments? What have I left out?
Hey you guys,