8 July 2005 | JamesHitchcock
Enjoyable Enough for Anyone in the Mood for Soft-centred Escapist Entertainment
This film has a very simple plot. Three sailors have 24 hours shore leave in New York. They met three attractive girls, and three romances blossom. And that's about it. The characterisation is really no more advanced than the plot development. The sailors and their sweethearts are each given their own idiosyncrasies, but none of them really emerges as a rounded individual. Fortunately, however, a complex plot and well-developed characters are not always essential to the musical genre, and "On the Town" manages to succeed reasonably well without these elements.
The film's most important quality is the energy and vivacity of its song-and-dance numbers. It was shot on location in New York itself, and the city is portrayed as a vibrant, exciting place, a new world as far as the sailors, who are all country boys, are concerned. There is also plenty of humour, such as the scene where Frank Sinatra wants to go sight-seeing, unlike his new-found girlfriend, a man-hungry female cab driver, who would rather take him back to "my place", Gene Kelly's search for "Miss Turnstiles", whom he imagines to be a glamorous and famous beauty queen, and the scene where the three men manage to demolish a dinosaur skeleton in the city's Museum of Anthropology. (Jules Munshin's girlfriend is described as a lady anthropologist, although the scriptwriters seem to have blurred the difference between anthropology and palaeontology). The songs are tuneful, although with the possible exception of "New York, New York" none of them are particularly memorable. Some have criticised the more formal balletic sequence near the end, but as far as I was concerned this was one of the best parts of the movie. After all, if you are going to make a film starring a dancer as talented as Gene Kelly, you might as well use his talents to the full.
This is not really my favourite musical. It lacks, for example, the indefinable magic of "Singin' in the Rain", which also starred Kelly, or the depth and social comment of "West Side Story", Leonard Bernstein's other New York musical made twelve years later. (The contrast between these two films shows just how far the genre had progressed in just over a decade). Nevertheless, it is enjoyable enough for anyone in the mood for soft-centred escapist entertainment. 7/10