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On the Town

On the Town(1949)

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teaser On the Town (1949)

Gabey, Chip and Ozzie have exactly 24 hours' shore leave in New York and are determined to see all the sights and find some romance along the way. Chip is pursued by Brunhilde, an aggressive taxi-driver. Ozzie hits it off with Claire, an anthropologist, while visiting the Museum of Natural History. Gabey, on the other hand, has his hopes pinned on a seemingly impossible dream: "Miss Turnstiles," whose poster he sees on the subway. However, this is New York and a lot can happen in one day.

On the Town (1949) is undoubtedly one of the key works in the development of the Hollywood musical. Up to that time, musicals were entirely studio-bound, with rare exceptions such as the Brooklyn Bridge sequence in It Happened in Brooklyn (1947). Directors Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly wanted to use extensive locations, but the studio allowed only one week of shooting in New York. It proceeded at a breathless pace, often using hidden cameras to avoid crowd problems. Another innovative feature, also part of the Broadway stage production, is their use of modern dance to advance the plot in sequences such as "Miss Turnstiles" and "A Day in New York." Kelly's interest in using modern dance would develop further in the climactic ballet of An American in Paris (1951) and Invitation to the Dance (1956).

In fact, the two aforementioned dance numbers, along with the songs "New York, New York" and "Come Up to My Place," were the only musical numbers retained for Bernstein's original score. Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who wrote the book and played Claire and Ozzie in the Broadway production, were hired by MGM to write new lyrics. Roger Edens composed six new songs, receiving an Academy Award (along with Musical Director Lennie Hayton) in the process. The Breen office forbade the use of "helluva" in the song "New York, New York," which MGM eventually changed to "wonderful." Alice Pearce was the sole holdover from the Broadway cast. Produced for $2,100,00, On the Town grossed over $4,400,000, reflecting the continuing profitability of the musical genre at that time.

Sinatra, who was 34, resented having to wear hairpieces and special padding in the buttocks to fill out the sailor outfit. After playing a sailor previously in Anchors Aweigh (1945), also starring Gene Kelly, he is said to have vowed never to wear such an outfit again; we should be thankful that he changed his mind. It's Always Fair Weather (1955), a later Kelly/Donen effort, was intended as a sequel to On the Town, but Sinatra and Munshin weren't available for the production.

For the record, Sinatra gets to sing on five numbers in On the Town and they include the two previously mentioned songs - "New York, New York" and "Come Up to My Place" - as well as "You're Awful," "Count on Me," and the title song.

Director: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Producer: Arthur Freed
Screenplay: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editing: Ralph E. Winters
Music: Roger Edens and Leonard Bernstein
Principle Cast: Gene Kelly (Gabey), Frank Sinatra (Chip), Jules Munshin (Ozzie), Vera-Ellen (Ivy Smith), Betty Garrett (Brunhilde Esterhazy), Ann Miller (Claire Huddesen), Alice Pearce (Lucy Schmeeler).
C-98m. Close captioning. Descriptive video.

by James Steffen

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