On the Town (1949)

“You know, somewhere in the world there’s a right girl for every boy.”

On the Town Poster

Synopsis:
Three sailors on leave for the day in New York City become romantically involved with a trio of girls: Ozzie (Jules Munshin) encounters a sexy scientist (Ann Miller) in a museum; Chip (Frank Sinatra) is aggressively pursued by a cab driver (Betty Garrett); and Gabey (Gene Kelly) falls for the girl of his dreams (Vera-Allen) when he spots her on a poster as “Miss Turnstiles”, not realizing she actually hails from a small town.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that this “irresistible, cheer-you-up Betty-Comden-Adolph Green musical” — “directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen” — features “lively” songs and “exuberant” dancing. He points out that Kelly’s character “is extremely likable” (note how sweet he is to his “ugly blind date” [Alice Pearce]), and notes how nice it is “to see how well the three female characters get along”, despite having just met each other hours earlier. Of the female leads, Garrett is especially memorable — and “really appealing” — in a hilariously aggressive turn as a “spunky cabbie” who immediately knows what she wants from Sinatra’s “initially shy” character. As for Vera-Allen, while Peary argues that she “makes a good dancing partner for Kelly because she also has an athletic style”, he complains that she lacks the “‘star power’ of some of his other partners”; I agree that she’s well-cast but not all that charismatic in the role.

Peary complains that the wonderful “Bernstein-Edens score could use a couple of more standards to go with ‘New York, New York'”, but I heartily disagree; there are enough clever, memorable songs strewn throughout this one (“Come Up To My Place”, “You’re Awful”, and “Count On Me”, to name just a few) to satisfy most musical lovers, and the accompanying choreography is consistently enjoyable. Meanwhile, the film’s fabled location shooting — particularly during the opening sequence — is deservedly noteworthy; one wishes for even more. Although the storyline is incredibly simple and straightforward — the biggest conflict revolves around Miss Turnstiles’ hidden identity, which we know won’t be a problem for amiable Kelly — this allows us to simply sit back and enjoy the show, which remains enormously entertaining up until the tiresome final chase sequence (but who’s quibbling).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine location shooting in the charming opening musical sequence, “New York, New York”
    On the Town New York New York
  • Many enjoyable musical numbers and dance sequences
    On the Town You're Awful
    On the Town You Can Count on Me
    On the Town Prehistoric Man
    On the Town Miss Turnstiles
  • Betty Garrett as Hilde
    On the Town Garrett
  • Alice Pearce as Lucy Schmeeler
    On the Town Pearce
  • A memorable score by Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens (with fun lyrics by screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden)

Must See?
Yes, as a genuine musical classic. Nominated by Peary as one of the Best Films of the Year in his Alternate Oscars.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “On the Town (1949)”

  1. A once-must, for its place in cinema history, its exuberance…and for Ann Miller! 😉

    I hadn’t seen this in a long time – and, in going back for another look, I find I’m not as big a fan of it as I thought. In a way, this is a forerunner to ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, since significant creators of that film are on-board here and one can detect a similar style – esp. in the “cheer-you-up”-ness of it all (as well as certain specific sequences). ‘OTT’ has a consistent high-level energy throughout so, even when the film sags a little (as it tends to do when Kelly and V-E are falling in love and the film turns ordinary), chances are your interest is probably going to be held regardless. The film starts out on a high note, its opening sections have a lot of punch and there are many sequences that will put a smile on your face.

    One of the surefire things about ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is its score: there’s not a song in it that doesn’t hit right on-target. ‘OTT’ has plenty of memorable tunes in it, but it also has some falling into a lackluster area: the slower love songs, in particular, hurt the film’s rhythm since they’re a little under-par; ‘You’re Awful’ is a cute idea for a song but, unfortunately, once the first line of the song is over the rest of the repetitive idea doesn’t really work because the element of surprise in the lyric is gone.

    As many ffs know, Kelly insisted that most of the filming needed to be done on New York City streets, and this innovation pays off big time, giving the film an added plus of a pulse – and making the city almost a character in itself.

    For me, the real reason to check the film out is Ann Miller – she’s a bit like the comic version of Cyd Charisse. They are two of cinema’s top dynamite dancing ladies and a viewer really can’t go wrong when either of them wows us with style and charm before the camera…which is pretty much whenever they set their feet to rhythm. In ‘OTT’, Miller doesn’t really get to set off fireworks the way she does, for example, in ‘Kiss Me Kate’ – with the phenomenal ‘Too Darn Hot’. But her romp through ‘Prehistoric Man’ is still a major highlight.

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