Just how bad, I wondered, could a big MGM musical from 1947 with Gene Kelly really be? Had to see it.
MISGUIDED is the word that comes to mind. Louis B. Mayer's hot new "find" Marie McDonald isn't really awful --merely bad.
As intially filmed, the movie was NOT a musical; it contained the opening "pre-war" dance number to set up the relationship(it's actually very nice and atmospheric--real 40's-type romance); Gene's fabulous dancing is explained much later in the film when he say's "I might go back to dancing". After he returns from the war (the bulk of the story), the film then becomes a romantic comedy, with the understated, whimsical, and charming Mr. Kelly chasing after this dullard wife of his. The writers threw in all of the "clever" stock character types: daffy parents (Charles Winniger and Spring Byington), tough, wise old grandma (Jean Adair), cynical, supercilious butler (Clinton Sundberg), etc, etc...but the film never goes ANYWHERE with these people because it is so ineptly written. The dialogue sounds incredibly phony: whenever Gene and his wife open their mouths, they spout clever, philosophical one-liners and zingers that are oh-so MEANINGFUL....it really gets painful. And the courtroom scene near the end is utterly pointless.
Now what if.....the producers, after seeing the early rushes, decided to dump Ms. McDonald and write the character out of the script entirely.....the story would then center around grandma's derelict mansion...the symbol of her bygone youth and happy days gone to ruin....and the sense of joy involved in remodeling the house into the new, communal dwelling for all of the young vets and their families. Grandma's final days would then acquire a new sense of meaning, as the old house would now symbolize a renewal of her own youth and ideals. Gene would then meet the war widow Peggy (Phyllis Thaxter), whose husband was an army buddy of his. The relationship between Gene, Phyllis and the little boy (Jimmy Hunt) could then blossom, instead of being aborted as it is in the film--- now THAT would have been a cool movie!!!
But, alas, no. The producers took the finished film, realized what a DUD they had on their hands, and decided the only chance of salvaging it was to interpolate a few musical numbers that would allow Gene to do what he does so brilliantly. Hence, the charming "Fido and Me", "Statue Dance" and the scene with the kids and the house under construction-----all added on later and, incidentally, some of Mr. Kelly's personal favorite dance sequences.
One last observation---the kid's dance scene features one of the most ludicrously inept continuity edits ever scene on film! Gene and grandma are on the porch (in yet ANOTHER philosophical exchange), and they refer several times to the SUNSET in the distance. The light is low, a really nice dappled shade effect---and as grandma leaves, a workman on a ladder asks Gene to hold his bucket....SUDDENLY, the scene is FLOODED with blinding sunlight---it's daytime again, since the producers needed to insert an emergency dance sequence with Kelly and the kids! It's absurd!
Could have been a great film, without the whole wife thing. But any serious fan of Gene Kelly's should own it, as he really carries the film with his great charisma and presence.
(Fans of character actors will enjoy Dick Wessel and Maxine Gates as the Navy guy and his wife in the first post-war scene, and "Mickey Mouse Club's" Jimmy Dodd and Ellen Corby seen briefly in the house remodeling scenes).