Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd are GIs back from WWII whose homecoming, with its Dear John letters and binge-drinking, seems closer to The Best Years of Our Lives than to On the Town ("People don’t love drunk civilians like they love tipsy soldiers"). The fellas romp around the streets with trashcan lids and taxis for props, regroup back at the bar and bet that their friendship can survive a decade; each goes his own way, the camera cranes back and upwards to reveal the "cold, cold canyon we call New York." Comes 1955, Kelly is a ruined gambler promoting fixed prizefights, Dailey the aspiring artiste is an ad-agency drone, wannabe restaurateur Kidd runs a hamburger joint. The reunion finds them loathing each other as "goons," "snobs" and "hicks" in internal monologues set to Strauss, their old scampering gives way to isolated laments stitched via split-screen: "Once upon a time I had a dream, what a joke / Gone is that dream, up in smoke." The idea is the winnowing of guys-out-together exuberance for the self-loathing in it -- Cassavetes in Husbands gives it the treatment it demands, Betty Comden and Adolph Green steer it toward Madison Avenue satire, Kelly and Stanley Donen film it for CinemaScope bustle. TV is a medium of phonies, useful for late-night idolatry (Dolores Gray and detergent) and unmasking mobsters; Dailey at the cocktail party describes his marriage ("A combination of boredom, disgust, and pity"), the rambunctious demolition that follows ("Saturation Wise") looks ahead to Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and Pierrot le Fou. Cyd Charisse hoofing amid the palookas in "Baby, You Knock Me Out" and Kelly gliding past MGM-paved boulevards in "I Like Myself" sweeten the acid, Gray gunning down somersaulting suitors in "Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks" adds a pitch of salt. The doleful crane movement and desolate view of the city-studio are repeated at the close, in early eulogy for a vanishing genre. Score by André Previn. With David Burns, and Jay C. Flippen.
--- Fernando F. Croce