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On The Town

Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller, Betty Garrett, Vera-Ellen and Alice Pearce, color, 98 minutes, blu-ray, 1949



By Carter B. Horsley

On The Town is a joyous 1949 film adaptation of the 1944 Broadway musical that was a stage adaptation of the Jerome Robbins' 1944 ballet Fancy Free.  Leonard Bernstein is the music for the ballet and the stage production, but only four of  the film's 10 musical numbers were by him.  According to Turner Classic Movies, Roger Edens, who wrote the new songs for them  film, "disliked the majority of the  Bernstein score for being too complex and operatic," adding that  Bernstein  boycotted the film. 
According to Derek Winnerts, who has a movie website, after MGM bought the film rights to the musical,
"Louis B Mayer and other studio executives then went to see stage show and disliked it, regretting their involvement in it, hence the dumping of Bernsteinís songs and the stage director George Abbott."

The film opens with one of the Bernstein songs, "I  Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed  Yet."  It is glorious and sung resonantly by a stevedore at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, heralding the start of on-site location in major movies.

Rockefeller Center

Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin and Gene Kelly cavorting on the rink at Rockefeller Center

Next we see three sailors bounding off their ship for a day in New York City.  The trio is played by Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin and Gene Kelly and their excitement is barely contained by "New York, New York," another Bernstein song that became a great anthem for the city.  (Bernstein would later in his career write all the music for the play and movie West Side Story, but that was a grittier and more troubled urbanity.)

Sinatra's sailor is named Chip.  Munshin's sailor is named Ozzie.  Kelly's sailor is named Gabey.

In the cab

Sinatra, Kelly, Munshin and Garrett in her cab

They take a subway to Manhattan and Gabey falls in love with Miss Turnstiles, who is played by Vera-Ellen.  Gabey thinks she is a big celebrity. They hail a cab that is driven by Brunhilde "Hildy" Esterhazy, played with immense gusto by Betty Garrett, who sings a
nother Bernstein song, "Come  Up To  My Place" in her attempt to woo Chip.  She gets him back to her apartment where her roommate, Lucy Schmeeler, is played with infectious sneeze by Alice Pearce, the only cast member who was in the stage version. 

Frolicking at the museum

The boys frolic at the museum with Ann Miller

They go to the Museum of Anthropological History (The American Museum of Natural History) where Ozzie is "studied" by Claire, an anthropologist played by Ann Miller because he resembles a statue of a "Pre-historic Man."  Miller has a great dance number and they all agree to meet atop the Empire State Building where the ensemble has another marvelous and exuberant dance number.

The casting is superb and all the principals perform memorably.

The film won an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical.

Gabey runs into Miss Turnstiles who just finished a camera shoot but she leaves him to get to her evening job as a "cooch" dancer at Coney Island.

Gabey is consoled by his friends who sing "You Can Count On Me," and they go to "On The Town" to some nightclubs where Claire tips the maitre-d for a good table and a bottle of champagne and pretending that Miss Turnstiles is a v.i.p.

Dawn comes and the women escort the boys to their ship and kiss them...just as another trio of sailors race off the ship to explore "New York, New York"....
Click here to order the Blue-ray edition of this film from Turner Classic Movies for $16.95, 15 percent off its list price

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