Wednesday, December 26, 2012

We're goin' On The Town (1949)!

On the Town is one of the first musical films I latched on to when my obsession with classic movies began years ago.  This was likely due to the fact that I was convinced that Gene Kelly was actually my boyfriend (never mind that he was dead) and that Frank Sinatra was my beau on the side.  Jules Munshin -- I'm sorry.  There is apparently no romantic place for you in my heart.  This film also features a slew of beast females -- Vera-Ellen (who I first knew as Judy Haynes in White Christmas), Betty Garrett (who I first knew as Mrs. Babish from "Laverne & Shirley"), and Ann Miller, who I didn't know at the time, but became mildly obsessed with.  This is one of those lavish MGM musicals that came out of "the Freed unit" -- that is, a production under the dictatorship of the extraordinary Arthur Freed.  The script is by the fantastic Betty Comden and Adolph Green.  A scant few songs (by none other than Leonard Bernstein) from the original stage production have been allowed to remain, but the majority of the music for the film is new (and written by MGM composer/arranger mackdaddy, Roger Edens). I have a lot of thoughts about this movie and am not sure exactly how to organize them.  So bear with me.

 The Actors:
  •  Gene Kelly: Kelly, having been at MGM for seven years by now, was a complete and total pro.  He co-directs with Stanley Donen, something he would do again three years later in Singin' in the Rain.  Gabey is typical of Kelly's characters -- brash and bold, but charming.  And let's face it: Gene Kelly was a beautiful man whose dancing was such a romantic extension of himself that I can't even handle talking about it. 
  • Frank Sinatra: Ol' Blue Eyes is at his most adorable in MGM musicals of the 1940s.  He's so tiny and precious, and his slightly-naive Chip works well opposite his more worldly cronies.  Seriously, how do you not love a man who would apparently rather go sight-seeing than hit on dames?  He's just so innocent.  For the record, I love all of the movies that paired Sinatra with Kelly.  They have a great on-screen chemistry as buddies. 
  • Jules Munshin: I'm pretty sure Jules Munshin (Ozzie) was cast in this film for three reasons.  1) He worked well opposite Kelly and Sinatra, as had already been evidenced in Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949; also with Betty Garrett).  2) They needed a male who was taller than Ann Miller in heels.  Heck, they needed a male who was taller than Kelly and Sinatra.  3) His resemblance to the Cro-Magnon man really is uncanny.  But he does have the best lines of all the males in the film.  Well done, Mr. Munshin.
  • Ann Miller: Poor Annie.  I have so much fun at her expense all the time, even though I openly adore her and give her props for being one of the greatest dancers of all-time (second only, in my opinion, to Eleanor Powell).  She's fantastic in this film as Claire; she's funny, she sparkles on screen, and she plays a strong female who apparently enjoys men. A lot.  I dig.
  • Betty Garrett: Betty Garrett had already played opposite Frank Sinatra in Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  I suppose MGM loved them (as did I), because they paired them again.  And yet again, he was the mild-mannered innocent and she was the insanely-aggressive female. She makes a wonderful Hildy and is a shining example of what this film is secretly all-about: sassy, man-eating females. (Side note: pretty sure Betty Garrett was 50 for at least forty years.  She looked as old in 1949 as she did in 1979.)
  • Vera-Ellen: VERA-ELLEN, WHEN SHE STILL ATE SANDWICHES!  She's so painstakingly thin in White Christmas due to her eating disorder and it's quite sad simply because you know some studio schmuck probably told her she was fat.  (I hate you, studio schmuck.)  In this film, however, she is quite shapely, her face slightly rounded and youthful (versus the more sophisticated, chiseled look she has in later films).  She makes a perfect Ivy Smith aka "Miss Turnstiles" and is a delightful dance partner for Kelly.  (Even though her acting continues to be kind of atrocious.  It's okay.  I love her so.)

The Memorable Quotes:
  •  "Get him!  Mr. Particular.  Who you got waitin' for you in New York, Ava Gardner?!" - Ozzie to Gabey.  While Chip (Sinatra) stands right there in the middle of them.  Irony.
  • CHIP: Hey!  Why do you have to run into girls all the time?!
    GABEY: I'll tell ya when your voice changes, Junior!
  • GUY ON RADIO: Report to Museum of Anthropological History.  Investigate collapse of dinosaur. 
    COP: Collapse?  Why that's terrible!  She's my favorite singing star, that Dinah Shore.  
  • CLAIRE: How'd you feel if someone broke your dinosaur?
    OZZIE: I never had one.  We were too poor. 
  • HILDY: (after having practically forced her out of the apartment) Thanks, Lucy.  I'll do the same for you someday. 
    LUCY: When will you ever get the opportunity?
  • CHIP: Goodbye, Miss Schmeeler.
    LUCY: Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  
  • "BUT I DON'T WANNA BE LIKE MARGARET O'BRIEN!" - random Shirley Temple-esque child
  • "Hildy can tell you I'm just a 'Streetcar Named Repulsive'!" - Lucy
  • LUCY: (after being kissed by Gabey) Oh, you bad boy.  Now I won't wash my cheek for a year.

The Favorite Musical Numbers: 
  • "Prehistoric Man."  This is Ann Miller's big chance to showcase her machine-gun taps and great gams and it's such a fun number.  It's slightly bizarre and probably mildly socially unacceptable with all of the stereotypical caveman moves and costumes, but that's also probably why I love it so much. 
  • "Come Up to My Place." This song has such a great patter and is just so witty.  In real life, no one would say, "What stop for did you hey?" (except for, perhaps, Yoda) but in this song, it makes complete sense.  Watching Betty Garrett practically devour Frank Sinatra is thoroughly entertaining.  
  • "You Can Count On Me."  Maybe it's the beautiful harmony, or maybe it's corny jokes ("As the adding machine once said ... you can count on me"), but everyone looks like they're having a blast during this number.  Particularly Gene Kelly while being seduced by Alice Pearce.  What a temptress. 

The Random Thoughts Swimming in My Head: 
  • I am OBSESSED (do you hear me? -- OBSESSED!) with the fact that Bea Benaderet is a passenger on the subway.  BEA BENADERET, PEOPLE.  She may be Betty Rubble or Cousin Pearl to many, but she will always be Blanche Morton and Kate Bradley in my heart.  And I love her for it.  Kudos to whomever decided to stick her in this film.  Her five seconds are laugh-out-loud funny. 
    Bea Benaderet (L) in On the Town.
  • So THIS is where Ann Miller got started with the blue eye shadow, red lipstick, and copious amounts of blush.  Jack Dawn, I have such a bone to pick with you ...
  • Betty Garrett's roommate, Lucy Schmeeler (whatta name!), is Alice Pearce, better known as the first Gladys Kravitz on "Bewitched."  And, reprising a role she originated on Broadway, she is a hoot!  But I still can't get over the fact that it's Gladys Kravitz. 
  • Mme. Dilyovska.  Drunk.  Drunk all da time.
  • I'm going to start referring to people as "specimen." I'm also going to become a "Cooch Dancer."
  • Betty Garrett ordered Frank Sinatra a beer.  That's what's up.
  • The presence of Carol Haney.  For most people, this name means next to nothing, but if your love of classic movies runs parallel to a love for the theatre, you will know that Carol Haney originated the role of Gladys in The Pajama Game.  She was married to game show enthusiast Larry Blyden until her death in 1964 at age 39.  She was Fosse's precursor to Gwen Verdon and is a spectacular dancer in the ballet sequence at the end.  As a side note -- it's because of Haney that Shirley MacLaine became a star.  Hal B. Wallis was at The Pajama Game one night with the intent of seeing Haney.  Haney, who had a reputation for never being out, happened to be out that night and her understudy, Shirley MacLaine, had to go on.  Wallis took MacLaine to Hollywood and the rest, as they say, is history.  Carol Haney does the balletic work as Ann Miller's counterpart.
    Carol Haney (R) dances in On the Town.

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