On the Town
I can’t say this, the first collaboration between Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen as co-directors, really did it for me. Their follow-up film together, Singin’ in the Rain, has a strong plot to anchor it. Here, the premise is wafer thin, and the dramatic beats barely register.
Based on a Broadway musical of five years previous, much of the comedy business still manages to amuse, but the songs and dance numbers are mostly fairly forgettable (New York, New York aside). I’ve said before that I’m not the easiest sell on musicals; they need to be of robust construction to fully engage me. On the Town’s numbers mainly consist of bare-bones set-ups and no-frills routines (featuring the six main cast members). The New York location shooting is of note, but the rest is fairly anonymous.
The plot, such as it is, sees three sailors arrive in New York on shore leave, looking to pull; Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin). Well, Chip’s more interested in sightseeing (not the butchest role for Sinatra, there). It isn’t long before they’re paired off; Ozzie with anthropologist Claire (Ann Miller), Chip with a cabbie Hildy (Betty Garrett) and, with love running less smoothly, Gabey with the subway’s Miss Turnstiles, Ivy (Vera-Ellen). There’s a random subplot involving the police pursuing Ozzie for interfering with a dinosaur exhibit, but mostly it’s a case of songs interspersed with humourous incidents and romantic entanglements in their night “on the town”.
Kelly’s got great poise, of course. And Sinatra essays the likable innocent surprisingly well. As for chump Ozzie, his best moment comes when Claire notes the similarities between him and a caveman exhibit. They all don drag at one point, but the comedy honours consistently go to Garrett’s man-eater and her sickly roommate Lucy (Alice Pearce).
Claire: I was just doing a bit of research.
Hildy: Dr. Kinsey, I presume.
If you love musicals, I suspect you could add an extra star onto the rating; many of the lines are quite witty (and zeitgeist-y), and the performers all have boundless energy. It’s just a little too expectant of your appreciation.