Movie Critique – On the Town

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: New York is indeed a wonderful town, specially when shown through the musical moves and romantic eyes of three sailors who fall head over heels not only with the city but their women as well. There is romance, comedy, music, and color. What more one wants in a movie. 

On the Town is a 1949 American technicolor musical film with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller in the lead cast. This is directorial debut for Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, based on the 1944 Broadway stage musical of the same name.

Three sailors - Gabey (portrayed by Gene Kelly), Chip (portrayed by Frank Sinatra), Ozzie (portrayed by Jules Munshin) - begin their 24 hours of shore leave to New York City. As they have fun and adventure traveling through New York City, watching the sights, they find love, as they sing and dance along.

Music composed by Leonard Bernstein - who composed for the stage show as well - and Roger Edens to the Lyrics penned by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Kelly also choreographed the dance sequences. Roger Edens and Arthur Freed produced the film. It won an Oscar for Best Music—Scoring of a Musical Picture, a critical and commercial success for the debut directors too.

Contrary to most films made in the 1940s, Kelly and Donen used actual locations in New York City as well, along with studio. This was the first time any studio did such a feat, although the crew faced major hurdles due to weather and Frank Sinatra's fans. The filmmakers did a lot of incognito ways and ideas for their shooting. 

Despite that in the musical number "New York, New York", when it was being shot at Rockefeller Plaza, you can see hundreds of spectators lined up behind the statue watching the shooting.

We get to see the Columbus Circle, American Museum of Natural History, Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, among others. Someone watching this movie almost 70 years later is getting a first-hand history lesson on how New York looked like back then.

Our heroines - Vera-Ellen as Ivy Smith, Miss Turnstiles for the month of July; Betty Garrett as Brunhide "Hilde" Esterhazy, the cab driver; and Ann Miller as Claire Huddesen, an anthropologist - are pretty girls who can dance, sing, work and also do the every day chores at home. Each of the guys falls for each of the girls while they go around New York City.

Although the leading men are just in their sailor suit all through the movie, the women wear beautiful and colorful clothes.

Some of the cast members had their uncredited debut also in this film. Carol Haney, Kelly's assistant, performed with him in Day in New York sequence; Bea Bernaderet has a cameo as a girl from Brooklyn on the subway, her first speaking role (the woman in red print dress in the picture below); Alice Pearce as Lucy Shmeeler, as Hilde's roommate, who was the only Broadway cast member to reprise her role.

First time in film history, four of the lead actors were subbed by four ballet dancers for one dance sequence - Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin (subbed by Mickey Miller), Betty Garrett and Ann Miller. This was the Day in New York song. 

The first time I heard the song "New York, New York" was on my very first flight to United States way back in 2001. Back then I didn’t know that New York was a city in the state of New York as well. I wondered for a long time why they repeated the word in the opening line of the song, if not for the rhythm.

Jules Munshin performed the song "New York, New York" on tiny rooftop despite his fear for heights. You can see him constantly touching a wall or a prop or his co-actors all through the song. This forms the final of the three movies that paired Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. 

Most of the MGM studio releases that released in 1949 opened their films with an embossed card on a silver dish reading "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Silver Anniversary Picture". This film opened the same way.

Just like the line in the title song "On the Town" says "we're going to paint it red. We'll fill them up and then take them down.", the six of them do paint the town red indeed. Very reminiscent of any typical Bollywood film for me with dances, songs and lots of color. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it a lot. 

New York is indeed a wonderful town, specially when shown through the musical moves and romantic eyes of three sailors who fall head over heels not only with the city but their women as well. There is romance, comedy, music, and color. What more one wants in a movie. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Miss Turnstiles contest in the film is based on the real-life "Miss Subways" contest run by the New York Subways Advertising Company from 1941 to 1976.

b. Judy Halliday dubs for an actor, Daisy, for one line "The grass is always greener, if ya know what I mean." to evoke laughs by the audience.

c. Another musical that Sinatra and Kelly did together was the 1945 Anchors Aweigh!, which was considered dull.

d. Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, and Betty Garrett were also in the 1948 Take Me Out to the Ballgame. While Gene Kelly, Betty Garrett, and Vera-Ellen had all worked on 1948 Words and Music.

e. Bern Hoffman as the shipyard worker starts the film with an opening song which he reprises at the end to finish the film as well.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. The Miss Turnstiles poster doesn’t give any likes and dislikes of Miss Ivy Smith, who is showcased as Miss Turnstiles for the month of July. How does Gabey, Chip and Ozzie know so much about her from just looking at that poster? They read out from the poster but there is nothing of that sort on the poster. 

b. The tour guide at the Museum of Anthropological History mentions that the dinosaur shown on the screen roamed the world 6 million years ago. But dinosaurs were extinct 65 million years ago.

c. When the dance sequence for the song "Prehistoric Men" moves in front of the dinosaur, you can see the dancing mark on the floor for Claire where she is supposed to dance.

d. Chip's guidebook is said to be from 1905, yet he says the book includes the Woolworth Tower which only started to be built in 1910, finishing in 1912. How did the guidebook have the name of a place that hadn't existed yet?

e. When the guys dance on a bench atop Empire State Building, the blinds on the wall keep wobbling, indicating that the entire scene was done in a set.


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