Movies do a lot for us. Like books, they take us to new, unexplored lands. But unlike books, they also dazzle us with visuals, leaving images imprinted in our eyelids long after we’ve seen them. Movies entrance us, unseat us, make us laugh, make us cry. And then there are the movies that make us forget the bleak world around us.
“Many times, I remember being down in the dumps and then I saw a movie that took me away for a few hours and I was completely restored.”
“People associate me with a time when movies were pleasant, when women wore pretty dresses in films and you heard beautiful music. I always love it when people write to me and say ‘I was having a rotten time and I walked into a cinema and saw one of your movies, and it made such a difference.'”
There are many people I wish I could write to, telling them about my rotten times that have been alleviated by one of their movies. Sadly, they’re not with us anymore. But this is why I write; to tell everyone else.
I used to hate musicals that weren’t Disney animated films. (And I sometimes hated those too, I was just a mean, fun-hating teenager). I thought musicals were pointless and cheesy. Then I discovered classic Hollywood and did away with my horribly misguided opinions. Technicolor musicals, particularly the large scale, glossy MGM ones, are the surest way to my heart. Anchors Aweigh (1945) is my forever favorite, (for now anyway I think, haha!) but this post will focus on another musical about sailors on leave.
On the Town (1949) made me smile for the first time in weeks back in 2014. On that day two years ago, I was just miserable. I needed something to restore me. So on a sticky summer night, I found this musical on the DVR. It was directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Kelly also starred, sharing the screen with Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller, Betty Garrett, and Vera-Ellen.
This was the third film in which Gene and Frank appeared, and it was their second time playing sailors. As in Anchors Aweigh, Frank is once again a wide eyed man child in a sailor uniform. And he excelled at playing innocent, awkward guys. It’s interesting when you think about his later roles, which were definitely much more demanding and not as sunny. Here’s some handy dandy trivia about the film. Francis Albert Sinatra was clearly a bit of a dweeb!
Frank and Gene, along with Jules Munshin, make up a trio of sailors on 24 hour shore leave in New York. Gabey (Kelly), Chip (Sinatra), and Ozzie (Munshin) are in the city for the first time and they’re just bursting to see all the sights and to meet girls, of course.
They break out into the rousing “New York, New York” once they step off the ship. It’s impossible for the song to not get stuck in your head. Right away it’s pure, unadulterated joy only a few minutes in. This first number is great too because of the location photography. (This was the first musical to be shot on location). What better way to see this wonderful toooooooooown than with famous city landmarks in the background as the three sing? And it’s only the first of the beautifully staged numbers in the film.
|Doesn’t Vera-Ellen just look like the world’s best cheerleader? I can’t get over her smile.|
Now Gabey is determined to find her again, with Chip and Ozzie in tow. From here on out, there’s no way to predict what happens next and who else they’ll meet.
Outside the station, they hail a taxi and meet the cabbie. “It’s a girl!” Chip exclaims. And whaddya know, she takes an instant liking to Chip. Her name is Brunhilde Esterhazy (!), Hildy for short, and she’s so aggressive in her pursuit of Chip. He’s powerless once she’s got him in her cab. Hildy insists on Chip sitting up front with her. A wonderful reversal of gender roles? You betcha.
|Betty Garrett as Hildy.|
Their party of four head over to the Museum of Natural History, hoping to find Ivy, but instead they meet Claire Huddenson (Ann Miller), an anthropologist. When she notes the striking resemblance between Ozzie and a caveman, she’s completely awed.
|This is a real movie!|
But it’s ok, Ozzie should totally take it as a compliment because Claire is just wild about prehistoric men. She longs for their refreshingly uncomplicated approach to life, the way they were unburdened by psychological complexities. She even gets to sing a song about them, and it’s one of my favorite numbers in anything, all because of the gloriously irrepressible Ann Miller.
“To sum it up, I’d say they were the two greatest dancing personalities who were ever on screen. But it’s like comparing apples and oranges. They’re both delicious.”