While Living in a Big Way was a big flop upon its release, and while it will never rank among Gene Kelly's best films, it actually is a diverting little mini-musical, certainly flawed but just as certainly containing a number of very good things. Among those very good things are the musical numbers, inserted well into production when it was decided that Big should be a musical rather than a straight comedy. These numbers, which include a very fine sequence with Kelly and a dog and an excellent one involving the star with children, are definite highlights that are sure to be appreciated by musical fans. Unfortunately, the numbers don't work so terribly well in the context of the film itself; a musical isn't something that can be thrown together willy-nilly. Things have to be structured just so, with the numbers serving very specific functions. The fitting in of musical numbers can be either by very conscious design or by intuition (or in some rare cases by sheer luck), but Big misses out in this department, and so you're left with something that's not really a musical and not just a regular comedy either. You're also left with a beautiful but dull and frequently annoying leading lady in Marie McDonald; worse, the story ends with Kelly and McDonald together, but there's greater chemistry between Kelly and Phyllis Thaxter, and so viewers feel cheated that they don't end up as a couple. In addition to showing off his singing and dancing, Kelly also gets to demonstrate his fine comedic sense, and Thaxter is quite good as well. The supporting cast, especially Charles Winninger, Spring Byington and Jean Adair, is great company as well. Great it ain't, but Big is a pleasant entertainment.
by Craig Butler review