On the Town

"Excellent"

On the Town Review


In the 1949 musical On the Town, you'll find a lot of things that might seem familiar from other musicals - big set pieces and a whimsical, can-do attitude - but at least one or two that will seem completely foreign. Top of the list: Frank Sinatra himself playing a detail-oriented nerd of a guy more interested in seeing the sights than he is scoring with a big-city dame. Also up there: the women in the film are much brassier than just about any actresses you'd see on screen these days, but more on that later.

Starting with the beyond-iconic framing number "New York, New York," which blasts out with unalloyed gusto just as the film's three sailors come tumbling off their boat with a mere 24 hours' shore leave to take in all the sights and sounds of New York, the film is an unapologetically muscular toe-tapper of a show. This is most clearly due to Adolph Green and Betty Comden's script and songs that come piling out in quick succession, practically elbowing each other out of the way with the help of Leonard Bernstein's score. The intended effect is to convey the feel of a bustling American city during all its phases (from the quiet, just waking-up opener "I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet" to the nightlife epic "On the Town"), and it's nearly perfectly conveyed.

The story behind On the Town is tissue-paper-thin, even for a musical. The trio of sailors are a bright-eyed, small-town bunch who want to see it all and do it all before they're due back on the boat the next morning. As Gabie, Gene Kelly (who co-directed with his Singin' in the Rain collaborator Stanley Donen) plays the smooth but somehow still sincere operator to Sinatra's stick-in-the-mud Chip, who can barely put down his guidebook long enough to ogle a skirt. Sadly sandwiched between the two is Jules Munshin as Ozzie, trying to grab some screen time from the megastar leads by mugging it up like the Catskills vaudevillian that he was. After a manic sightseeing blitz that has them covering essentially the entire city during the first "New York, New York," Ozzie and Gabie get down to the serious business of hunting dames. Gabie becomes particularly obsessed with Ivy (Vera-Allen), who he sees posing for a "Miss Turnstiles" poster, assuming that she must be a local celebrity. Once he finds Ivy, she doesn't point out that she's just a working dancer as that would ruin his puppy-eyed affection and also put the kibosh on the gorgeous ballets she then dances with him.

For his part, Chip does his best to stick to sightseeing, but female cabbie Brunhilde (Betty Garrett) takes a shine to him and won't take his cold shoulder for an answer. Like the anthropology student who gets paired up with Ozzie, Brunhilde is the embodiment of a confident postwar urban woman. However, the film's extraordinarily modern treatment of its female protagonists' sexuality is still something to behold, with Brunhilde practically clubbing Chip over the head and dragging him off to her apartment. (It goes without saying that the women are also clearly quite a bit brainier than their clueless male counterparts.)

On the Town is also forward-thinking in its look, which marries a number of cartoonish but still graceful big dance numbers with numerous scenes shot on location in Manhattan (one of the first musicals ever to do so), providing at least a glimpse of street life reality rarely seen in the studio musical. It's a film aware enough of its own geography that when the sailors disembark in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the following sequence makes sure to show them crossing the Brooklyn Bridge before getting down to some Manhattan sightseeing. While the film's sarcastic humor is also well-tuned to the city, it marries that ironic sensibility to a solidly romantic clutch of music that still comes off as fresh as the day it was minted.

The DVD re-released by Warner Home Video as part of its Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly collection is a pretty basic package, with not much in the way of extras. While the picture quality is perfectly serviceable, some may be disappointed by the fullscreen presentation, though apparently this was done to more properly reflect the film's original aspect ratio.



On the Town

Facts and Figures

Run time: 98 mins

In Theaters: Friday 30th December 1949

Distributed by: MGM

Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: Roger Edens,

Starring: as Gabey, as Chip, Jules Munshin as Ozzie, as Brunhilde Esterhazy, as Claire Huddesen, Vera-Ellen as Ivy Smith, as Daisy - Simpkin' MGM Date (voice) (uncredited)

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Trumbo Movie Review

Trumbo Movie Review

An entertaining film about sobering true events, this is the story of notorious screenwriter Dalton...

Goosebumps Movie Review

Goosebumps Movie Review

Mixing the action, comedy and horror from novelist R.L. Stein's books into a family-friendly package,...

Dad's Army Movie Review

Dad's Army Movie Review

The beloved 1970s British sit-com gets the big screen treatment, although there's been very little...

Spotlight Movie Review

Spotlight Movie Review

This film demonstrates that you don't need guns to make an exciting thriller. Based on...

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

Not the subtlest director working in Hollywood, Michael Bay brings his surging machismo to this...

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

There's nothing clever about this deliberately rude and vulgar comedy, but certain audiences will find...

The Big Short Movie Review

The Big Short Movie Review

Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using...

Advertisement
The 5th Wave Movie Review

The 5th Wave Movie Review

Also based on the first in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic teen novels, this thriller feels...

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reteam for a sequel no one really asked for, following...

Room Movie Review

Room Movie Review

One of the most extraordinary films of the year, this drama cleverly weaves in events...

Creed Movie Review

Creed Movie Review

While this film is basically Rocky VII, it's also much more than that, and perhaps...

A Perfect Day Movie Review

A Perfect Day Movie Review

An irreverent comedy in the style of the original M.A.S.H., this wartime romp takes an...

Partisan Movie Review

Partisan Movie Review

With his feature debut, young Australian filmmaker Ariel Kleiman tells a creepy story about a...

The Revenant Movie Review

The Revenant Movie Review

A wrenching saga of survival and revenge, Alejandro G. Inarritu's new epic is just as...

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who simply can't be ignored, especially when he lobs a...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.