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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

ON THE TOWN -- Movie Review by Porfle

Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly took their sailor act from ANCHORS AWEIGH into their next collaboration with 1949's ON THE TOWN, an exhilarating screen adaptation of the Broadway hit.  This time it's three gobs on leave--Jules Munchin adds his cartoonish comical talents to the mix--while Vera Ellen, Betty Garrett, and the incredible Ann Miller play their delightful love interests. 

Frank is once again the reserved, bookish type who wants to see all the tourist sites in New York, while Gene and Jules are ready for action.  Gene falls for Vera-Ellen when he sees her on a subway poster as "Miss Turnstiles", and his friends are forced to join him in his desperate search for her.  Along the way they pick up aggressively amorous cab driver Betty Garrett, who has eyes for Frankie, while anthropologist Ann Miller spots Jules in a museum and is instantly attracted to his caveman cranium. 

This time the story is not only fun, but it serves as a springboard for a breathless succession of breezy, eye-pleasing, and downright fun song-and-dance numbers, some of which are performed against a backdrop of real New York locations.  Frankie doesn't get any solo numbers this time, but the ensemble stuff is riotous fun as are his two duets with Betty Garrett, "Come Up to My Place" and "You're Awful." 

Gene Kelly, who co-directed with Stanley Donen as he would later on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (all musicals before that seem to lead up to it), saves a large chunk of the latter half for one of his extended dance fantasies containing a steamy, sultry interlude with Vera-Ellen, set to Leonard Bernstein's evocative score, that is surprisingly erotic. 

But my favorite numbers are the museum piece "Prehistoric Man"--which manages to achieve Tex Avery-level silliness while showcasing what an utterly astounding performer Ann Miller was--and the joyous "On the Town."  The latter sequence, which takes place on the roof of the Empire State Building before spilling out onto the street, builds to such a rapturous conclusion that it literally brought me to tears.

The supporting cast also features Alice Pearce (later to become famous as Mrs. Kravitz on "Bewitched") in an endearing performance as Betty Garrett's homely roommate, who at one point becomes a blind date for Gene in place of "Miss Turnstiles."  Alice joins the others for the breezy number "You Can Count On Me" and is a delight as she blunders into a romantic apartment interlude between Frank and Betty, sneezing with a head cold. Keep a lookout also for Bea Benaderet and Dick Wessel.

I first saw ON THE TOWN back in the mid-70s when it was shown on the fondly-remembered "CBS Late Movie", and it immediately struck me as one of the most enjoyable musicals I had ever seen.  Watching it again many years later, I'm happy to say that it has lost none of its happy-go-lucky appeal and has, in fact, become a strong contender with SINGIN' IN THE RAIN as my favorite musical of all time.



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