You just never know which movie you sign on to be the director of will be your last. Gregory La Cava was a former animator who started out working in Hollywood with Woody Woodpecker producer Walter Lantz during World War I, and went on to direct one of the greatest comedies of the 1930s, My Man Godfrey. Six projects later, in 1947, La Cava found himself helming a semi-musical post-World War II comedy starring the legendary Gene Kelly — an assignment that would prove to be his last credited directorial contribution to the industry, as Living in a Big Way (which he also co-wrote) wound up all-but killing his career.
Here, Gene Kelly stars as Leo Gogarty, a carefree serviceman in the final days of the Big One with a passion for dancing. And singing. But mostly dancing. Shortly before shipping out for his last mission, he marries a young hot blonde named Margo (doomed actress Marie “The Body” McDonald). It’s a whirlwind affair to say the least — and when Leo returns to the States (in actuality, Kelly had recently returned from the service), we discover that he his wife has written him several letters announcing that she is no longer interested in him. And so, buying the worst possible suit he can find (courtesy an unwilling Navy officer), he heads to the estate of his wife’s family — none of whom know about him.
Although their mutual objective is a divorce, Leo discovers Margo’s family to be an eccentric and wealthy lot (who greatly resemble the Bullock clan from My Man Godfrey), and decides to raise havoc with his spouse — insisting his spouse build a charity apartment house for his dispossessed GI pals and their families. During that time, Leo manages to show off his excellent dancing skills; wooing large statues and hopping around the unfinished building. Charles Winninger, Spring Byington, and Jean Adair co-star as members of McDonald’s family; Phyllis Thaxter (Superman) has an early role; and there are small bit parts filled in by Charles Lane, Barbara Billingsley, Marie Windsor, and Shelley Winters. But the highlight performance her is definitely Clinton Sundberg as a wise-cracking, snoopy butler.
Although it contains one of Kelly’s all-time personal favorite dance routines, Living in a Big Way has never seen the light of a digital release or even seen a second screening in movie houses since it was released in ‘47 — where it was a flop for its makers, MGM. Fortunately for Gene and his fans, the Warner Archive Collection has brought the lost gem out of the vaults, issuing it as part of its Remastered Edition subcategory. The print here looks and sounds great, though the disc I received tended to skip occasionally — a problem I’ve never encountered with a Manufactured-on-Demand title before, so I can certainly guess it must be a fluke. A theatrical trailer is also included, and the disc is available at WBshop.com.