MOVIE REVIEW | On the Town (1949)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s the kind of thing that I can only describe as good clean fun, before immediately hating myself for using the phrase ‘good clean fun’ with zero sarcasm.”

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“You know, somewhere in the world there’s a right girl for every boy.”

There are movies I definitely had to age into.  As a young kid, I assumed black and white meant boring.  As a teenager I discovered the awesomeness of the 70s, but was still a decade or so away from the realisation that embracing older movies, from Hollywood’s golden age and earlier, just meant I had more great ones to discover.  Even then, I was still opposed to the idea of classic musicals.  There was a corniness factor I just couldn’t get past. Until I saw Singin’ the Rain.  It really was the watershed moment where I realised that the corny campness, when done well, was exactly what made old school musicals so entertaining.  And it was exactly that kind of corny camp that I was hoping for with On the Town.

Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) are three sailors on 24 hours leave from the navy when their ship docks in New York City.  Singing and dancing their way across a few familiar landmarks, these small town boys are fascinated by the big city.  But one sight in particular grabs the eye of Gabey, a Subway poster for Miss Turnstyle (Vera-Allen as Ivy), a local beauty contest winner.  When he coincidentally meets her in person leaving the subway station, he is officially smitten.  As she rushes away, Gabey decides the only way to make the most of his short leave is to spend it with her.

Convincing Chip and Ozzie to help find Ivy, they hail a cap, driven by Hilde (Bette Garrett), who immediately takes a shine to Chip.  Based on a clue left by Ivy, Gabey is convinced she was headed to a museum.  The first one they try leads to the man hungry anthropologist, Clair (Ann Miller), who straight away hits it off with Ozzie.  Now the women join the search as they split up, casting a wider net.

Gene Kelly isn’t the only connection On the Town shares with Singin’ in the Rain.  There’s a similar energy and fun attitude to both movies.  There’s nothing edgy or subversive or boundary pushing about these movies.  It’s the kind of thing that I can only describe as good clean fun, before immediately hating myself for using the phrase ‘good clean fun’ with zero sarcasm.

And while that general feel was nothing unexpected from a Gene Kelly musical, there was one real surprise.  The depiction of Hilde and Clair is the kind of thing that would be applauded today as progressive and not seen often enough.  In fact, it was applauded just last year when Amy Schumer did something similar with Trainwreck.  In 1949, it must have been revolutionary and even a little risky.  Hilde and Clair are both beyond assertive when it comes to leading the way with the men they’re attracted to.  They’re also totally unapologetic about it, and On the Town never tries to paint them as loose women or amoral because of it.  They’re all adults, out for a good time, who all make it very clear what they want.
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But, because this is a Gene Kelly musical, there is one downside; The prerequisite, artsy fartsy ballet sequence.  It’s the longest, dullest part of Singin’ in the Rain.  I haven’t seen An American in Paris in years, but from memory, the ballet sequence in that goes for like 20 minutes.  In On the Town, it’s technically brilliant and physically impressive, but it just takes away a lot the momentum built up by the 80 odd minutes of fun that precedes it.

On the Town
Directed By – Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Written By – Adolph Green, Betty Comden

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about On the Town?
The New York Times
Turner Classic Movies
Twenty Four Frames

2 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW | On the Town (1949)

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