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Monday, December 14, 2015

ANCHORS AWEIGH -- Movie Review by Porfle

In 1945, the King of the Crooners joined forces with the King of the Hoofers (not counting Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, that is) to give us ANCHORS AWEIGH.  This frothy Technicolor romp from director George Sidney (VIVA LAS VEGAS, BYE BYE BIRDIE, several MGM "Our Gang" shorts) tells the story of Clarence and Joe (Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly), two recently decorated sailors on a glorious 4-day leave in Hollywood. 

Playing against type, Frank's character is a shy nerd who can't score with the ladies so he decides to tag along after notorious wolf Joe to see how he does it.  This seriously cramps Joe's style and he's constantly thwarted in his attempts to get together with dream date "Lola", especially when the two swabbies get saddled with a young orphan named Donald (a cherubic Dean Stockwell) who wants to run away from his Aunt Susie and join the Navy. 

Aunt Susie turns out to be the lovely Kathryn Grayson (KISS ME KATE), an aspiring singer with whom Clarence is immediately infatuated.  The script then takes us down a twisted path when wolfish Joe ends up falling for prim Susie while Clarence falls for a waitress from Brooklyn but is afraid to hurt Susie's feelings by dumping her, which is just what Joe wants except he doesn't want to hurt Clarence and Susie because he thinks they're in love, unaware that Susie is actually in love with him.

With all this tedious "love" stuff going on, ANCHORS AWEIGH benefits from the sparkling personalities of its stars and really takes off when they stop to sing and dance.  With Gene Kelly at the helm during the musical numbers, this film yields several of the beloved sequences we often see in retrospectives like THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, including Gene's celebrated fantasy duet with Jerry the Mouse (MGM originally wanted Mickey but Disney said "no way") and another dream sequence in which he plays a Latin bandit serenading lovely senorita Kathryn in a dance filled with amazing acrobatic stunts. 

Frank, of course, gets to croon a few numbers as well as show off his own dancing skills as he hustles to keep up with Kelly.  Kathryn Grayson sings in her shrill operatic style (she sounds like Snow White) and the great José Iturbi, as "himself", displays his dazzling virtuosity on the piano keyboard in several instances.  A charming interlude with Gene and a little beggar girl (Sharon McManus) seems a bit shoehorned in, but in a musical such as this it hardly matters.

A rich supporting cast includes Grady Sutton (IT'S A GIFT, THE BANK DICK) as a would-be suitor for Aunt Susie, familiar screen comics Billy Gilbert and Edgar Kennedy, Leon Ames, Rags Ragland, and Pamela Britton as the waitress from Brooklyn. 

Not quite the constant delight from start to finish that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN would be (all musicals that came before seem to be leading up to it), ANCHORS AWEIGH is still the sort of colorful confection musical lovers crave.  And it served as proof that Frank Sinatra wasn't just some skinny singing idol, but a bonafide multi-talented movie star.



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