3 July 2002 | gaityr
Hard to resist going out 'On The Town' with *this* cast!
I've rewatched both these movie musicals in the space of a week, and ON THE TOWN is no SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. I mean, what is? By 1952, the sheer technical mastery of Gene Kelly had melded perfectly with an entire soundtrack of classics and a clever, satirical plotline with some of the best film characters ever created (Lina Lamont, anybody?).
Having got *that* out of the way, however, there is simply no denying that ON THE TOWN is essential viewing in the Kelly oeuvre. It tells the story of three lonely sailors who finally get shore leave in New York for 24 hours. Of course, they're on the prowl to paint the town red, preferably with girls on their arms. (Though for a brief while Sinatra does charmingly play a skinny little geek bent on seeing the sights of New York, flinging facts from his guide book and appearing unaffected by Betty Garrett's streetwise cabbie flinging herself at him.) Gabey (Gene Kelly) falls for 'Miss Turnstiles' or Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen), and spends the day trying to track her down from information on the poster. Chip (Frank Sinatra) meets cabbie Hildy (Garrett) who teaches him how to have a little fun while they romp gaily through two great duets together ('Come Up To My Place' and 'You're Awful'). Ozzie (Jules Munshin), in the meantime, gets entangled with the Claire Huddesen (an absolutely delightful Ann Miller), who likes how much he resembles her ideal 'Prehistoric Man'. They dance and sing their way through a series of misunderstandings between Gabey and Ivy, but all comes right in the end as the girls bid their fellows farewell from the dock.
So what's so good about ON THE TOWN, you ask? Well, first of all, it's brilliant fun and very amusing--from the dancing to the singing to the snappy dialogue. It takes a while to get used to the *very* forward New York women (played with marvellous wit and charm by Garrett and Miller), but once you get over their throwing themselves at Chip and 'Specimen' respectively, you really appreciate ON THE TOWN for what it is: pure, unadulterated, and unpretentious entertainment.
Granted: The songs aren't as catchy as in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. But there are definitely some minor classics to be heard here--'You're Awful', Frankie's serenading of Betty, and 'Count On Me' being among them. I thought it was a really nice touch to have Bern Hoffman singing a lazy-morning song, 'I'm Feeling Like I'm Not Out Of Bed' to bookend the film beginning and end, to give the sense of a full day having passed.
It should probably also be granted that there isn't quite enough dancing, especially not from Gene Kelly (who is always a delight to watch, even when mostly playing the bystander as he was in the 'Count On Me' number) and Ann Miller, who got the chance to show off her amazing tap-dancing skills and gorgeous gams in the wildly energetic 'Prehistoric Man'. (It only whetted my appetite to see *more* of her dancing and singing! I'd have liked it if Miller's role was expanded, period. She gave her character an indescribable life and vivacity in the limited screen time she had and overshadowed Vera-Ellen easily.). I'd have loved it if Kelly had danced properly with Miller too, the latter being one of the best female tap-dancers in the business. All the same, the sweet ballad 'Main Street' that Gabey sings to Ivy is accompanied by a beautiful dance routine that shades naturally and easily from dancing to walking and back again--a perfect example of Gene Kelly's ability as both dancer and choreographer to present and capture movie magic with no special effects. I actually much prefer the 'New York Ballet' in this film to the one in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, mostly because it fits the plot beautifully, and is smaller and more intimate and more focused on Gene Kelly the dancer rather than Gene Kelly the choreographer. It gives Kelly the opportunity to shine as both dancer *and* actor: the scenes when he dances with the Miss Turnstiles poster are achingly believable in the way they could only be if Kelly were dancing in them. The shadow sequence at the ballet barre with Vera-Ellen is also something incredible to behold and perfectly-staged.
ON THE TOWN is a great night at the movies, and is time well-spent with a few characters you really get to know, an excellent cast (Alice Pearce practically steals the entire show as Lucy Schmeeler, for example--not an easy task considering who she was playing against!), and a great soundtrack. It's probably one of the best precursors you could have to Kelly's much more ambitious musical undertakings in the form of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. But on its merits, it is definitely worth watching. Perhaps again and again. 8/10.