On The Town (1949)

on the town
Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munchen

'On the Town' was originally a theatrical production made in 1944. In 1949 it was made into a fast-moving film, full of youthful energy, starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, and it introduced a number of popular songs which have become classics, in particular, "New York, New York". It was co-directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly and the screenplay was by the team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden.

The movie was an instant critical and box-office success and was on release the second largest-grossing in MGM history, after 'Meet Me in St. Louis'. It won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, and was one of the nominations for a Golden Globe Award for Best Color Cinematography. Screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical.

On the 2006 American Film Institute's list of best musicals 'On The Town' was ranked at number nineteen.

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The fun of 'On The Town' is lightly subversive and can be summarised by an elaborate gag near the movie's beginning. Two sailors, Gabey (Gene Kelly) and Chip (Frank Sinatra), with cab driver Brunhilde (Betty Garrett), burst into an art school's life-modelling session and gasp at the sight of naked woman, glimpsed from the back. When the model turns we see she is merely wearing a backless dress. Then as the trio rushes out, a third sailor, Ozzie (Jules Munshin), and his girlfriend Claire (Ann Miller), are revealed, furtively kissing.

So the movie can be said to be basically about a hunt for casual sex: three sailors, on a 24 hour leave, are particularly interested in the female half of the city and as the movie progresses they each find a partner. Of course, on the surface, the film attempts to disavow this base impulse - there is, after all, Gabey's love for the sweet, innocent 'Miss Turnstiles,' Ivy (Vera Ellen) - but the proof is everywhere: in cultural references (surrealist art; a museum denoted to 'homo erectus'), double entendres (Brunhilde:'He wanted to see the sights, and I showed him plenty'), and above all in the high energy of the song and dance numbers, into which all eroticism is artfully sublimated - although there's nothing particularly hidden in Miller's bravura performance of 'Prehistoric Man!'

The co-directors of 'On The Town', Kelly and Stanley Donen were still some years away from their ideal of the dramatically integrated musical but the movie was a big step on their journey. Once the sailors split up, the film becomes especially busy, ranging from low burlesque ('You Can Count On Me') to high ballet, the latter via the Sinatra - Garret duet 'Come Up to My Place', a highlight of Leonard Bernstein's jazzy score. Proceedings make room for all manner of reveries (Gabey's zany imagining of Ivy as a gal for all seasons), digressions, and gags.

Yes the plot is wafer-thin but it doesn't matter. Its just an excuse to let rip with the music, the snappy dialogue and the wonderful photography of New York at its finest. 'On The Town' is certainly one of the freshest and most exhilarating of the wonderful MGM musicals.

Main Cast

Gene Kelly ... Gabey
Frank Sinatra ... Chip
Betty Garrett ... Brunhilde Esterhazy
Ann Miller ... Claire Huddesen
Jules Munshin ... Ozzie
Vera-Ellen ... Ivy Smith
Florence Bates ... Mme. Dilyovska
Alice Pearce ... Lucy Shmeeler
George Meader ... Professor


Director ... Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Producer ... Arthur Freed, Roger Edens
Music ... Leonard Bernstein, Roger Edens, Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Cinematography ... Harold Rosson
Distribution Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Format ... Color (Technicolor)
Release date ... December 8, 1949
Running time ... 98 minutes

Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture ... Roger Edens, Lennie Hayton
No Unsuccessful Nominations: