On the Town (1949) follows three sailors on 24-hour leave. It's just a feel-good Gene Kelly-Comden and Green musical and nothing more. Or is it?
Raymond De Felitta praises a different Comden and Green story for being the antithesis of musical comfort food: It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) - a film about three Army pals who, ten years later, cannot reestablish their friendship. Felitta calls the film a “musical noir” that bookends On the Town as “a dark, decade-later answer to that earlier show's [optimism]….”
Kelly’s character in the main plot, Gabe the sailor, cannot find the woman that he has won, loved and lost in the Big Apple. He looks at a sign advertising “A Day in New York: A Comedy in Three Acts,” then muses over the day. In his mind, the play becomes a six minute ballet which reruns the actions of the entire story up to that point in an abstract and decidedly more cynical light - stripping away the earlier comedy mask, revealing tragic persona.
|The ballet within the film|
The main sailor (Kelly, playing Gabe's alter ego), not having a dance partner, sees a picture of Vera-Ellen’s character and sets out to find her.
|Ballet version - courting at night|
Although Fair Weather seems to be a distant observer with a fresh perspective, declaring a moratorium on the good cheer of its innocent predecessor, it is actually the full grown plant of the seed of cynicism that has already germinated in On The Town. The latter was simply waiting for the proper place to take root.
With the curtain falling over Sailor‘s tragic story and replaced with the “Comedy in Three Acts” sign, we’ve peaked behind Gabe’s mask. He carries on, but, as Comden and Green would later tell us, the party‘s over.
---------------This post was previously published here on Java's Journey and resurrected for Musical Monday.