Anchors Aweigh is most famous for its animated sequence featuring the dazzling footwork of Gene Kelly alongside Jerry from Tom and Jerry. But, dear reader, that’s only one of this film’s many delights.
From the moment the first scene opened, my one thought was: “Wow. Production value.” And what high production value it is. Burnished golden trumpets gleaming on a clear summer day, sailors in neat formation, and a high angle shot of these sailors forming an anchor.
I was so impressed by these scenes and shots alone that I knew the visuals would only get better and more impressive as the film went on.
This is all part of a ceremony for two sailors, Joe (Gene Kelly) and Clarence (Frank Sinatra), who have just been granted shore leave after daring heroics. The pair are heading to sunny Los Angeles where they’re gonna meet and romance dames, much to the envy of all the other sailors.
Joe is a sly skirt chaser, but not coarse. He’s suave and radiates plenty of appeal. Any girl would be charmed by him. Gene Kelly, y’all.
Clarence on the other hand, is sweet, bashful, and inexperienced when it comes to women. Even his name is dorky. And Frank Sinatra is so great as the innocent, wide eyed boy. He’s hoping to meet a girl with Joe’s help. But Joe can’t get rid of him fast enough.
But he very reluctantly takes Clarence under his wing. One nice little surprise about this film is that Joe’s wolf technique doesn’t work for either of them. And poor Clarence could never hope to pull it off anyway.
Just after arriving in Los Angeles, the pair are dragged down to the police station. In one of those ridiculous movie plots, the police have rounded them up to help them with a little boy named Donald (the cherubic faced Dean Stockwell). Donald has been cheerfully wandering around the streets at night and stubbornly refuses to tell the police his address because he’s very adamant about joining the navy. But the appearance of two sailors prompts Donald to eagerly tell them where he lives, and the two bring him home. Donald’s house is empty though. He lives with his Aunt Susan who’s currently out with friends, though she believes Donald is safe at home with his babysitter. Joe is not thrilled about babysitting a little boy and having to wait for his frumpy aunt to get home. But to their surprise, Aunt Susie isn’t a frump at all, but a beautiful young woman (Kathryn Grayson).
Clarence is smitten instantly. Susie is the girl for him, but Joe’s none too pleased with her, since she and Donald have ruined his first night with Lola. He tries to dissuade Clarence from pursuing Susie, but eventually agrees to help him woo her. Susie is a movie extra and aspiring singer. It’s her greatest dream to sing professionally, and after they ruin one of her chances with a practical joke, Joe and Clarence promise her an audition with famed Spanish conductor Jose Iturbi (playing himself in the film). The only problem is that they actually don’t know Iturbi. So the two end up running around MGM studios trying to track him down and keep their word to Susie. And Joe ends up falling in love with her too.
Some feel that Anchors Aweigh is overlong at two hours and twenty three minutes. I somehow didn’t notice. I had such pure fun watching it that the length didn’t bother me at all. And there are so many splendid visuals in it that all I could do was stare dreamily and be whisked away into this bright musical world and forget the real world for that two hour+ run time.
As I said, the film’s most famous sequence is Gene Kelly’s song and dance number with Jerry the mouse. This was one of the early instances of real people in animated scenes and it’s so beautifully realized. Joe meets Donald at school and begins to spin a fanciful tale of how he got his silver medal. But first the kids need to close their eyes and imagine it.
People always compare Gene Kelly to Fred Astaire since they were the most famous male dancers of Classic Hollywood. And I only feel the need to compare because I can appreciate their very different styles. Whereas Fred was elegant, Gene embodied all this masculine energy. It’s like he made dancing cool for muscular guys or something. In those above shots he still manages to move with grace, but it’s just different from Fred’s and more masculine.
There’s also another imaginative sequence that I fell in love with. Joe and Susie have to admit their feelings for each other, but not with words. This time Susie is a princess and Joe is the mysterious bandit who loves her.
The dark studio lot around them transforms into a courtyard, where the princess meets her bandit on the balcony.
The set designs and cinematography are so gorgeous, inventive even. This is a musical that has as much to offer visually as it does sonically. It’s a near perfect harmony between pictures and music.
Kathryn Grayson really stole the show for me. She looked like a Disney Princess come to life, with her incandescent beauty and thrilling operatic voice. Her singing voice actually reminds me of Mary Costa’s, who voiced Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. You could definitely place Grayson in any Disney animated musical, but it’s as if she stepped out of one!
My favorite song of the film isn’t any of the more colorful numbers, but “I Fall in Love Too Easily”, sung in a very sweet, and slightly sad way by Frank Sinatra. The song’s existence doesn’t even feel out of place in an otherwise buoyant film.
But with such a joyous diversion like Anchors Aweigh, can you really blame me?