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Three sailors - Gabey, Chip and Ozzie - let loose on a 24-hour pass in New York and the Big Apple will never be the same! Gabey falls head over heels for "Miss Turnstiles of the Month" (he thinks she's a high society deb when she's really a 'cooch dancer at Coney Island); innocent Chip gets highjacked (literally) by a lady cab driver; and Ozzie becomes the object of interest of a gorgeous anthropologist who thinks he's the perfect example of a "prehistoric man". Wonderful music and terrific shots of New York at its best. Written by
Grand, sure-fire musical entertainment courtesy of MGM, "On the Town" brings euphoric life to the 'Big Apple' like no other piece of celluloid, comedy or drama, before or since. More than just a breath of fresh air, this breezy souffle of a movie is like taking a huge whiff of pure oxygen, leaving you so exhilarated you'd swear you were on some kind of substance-induced high. Drenched in old-fashioned innocence and loaded with dazzling footwork, it gave a tremendous boost to the careers of all involved and helped to create a whole new style of musical film.
Three swabbies on a 24-hour shore pass during WWII bask in the sights and delights of NYC while running into new lady loves in the interim. That's all there is to it. The first musical to actually shoot on location, the viewer has the surreal-like thrill of a first-time vacationer as the movie juxtaposes every tourist trap imaginable, plus some, while capturing the pulse and heart of the City to endless effect.
Briskly co-directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, the movie would initially appear to have everything going AGAINST it. The plot is so thin and flaky it almost evaporates into thin air. Moreover, the directors made the seemingly unwise choice of dumping nearly all of the charming Leonard Bernstein score and Betty Comden/Adolph Green libretto for newer, untried songs by Roger Edens. Well, in good reliable hands, this not only works, it dances circles around the original!
There's so much going for this movie in the name of talent that its hard to know where to begin. Gene Kelly prepped his choreographic talents here for the later landmark musicals "An American in Paris" and "Singin' in the Rain." He is sheer delight as the lovelorn sailor who pines for "Miss Turnstiles," a billboard fantasy. Jules Munshin unleashes pure Ed Wynn buffoonery as the sailor with the least animal magnetism. Even Frank Sinatra, allows himself to get caught up in all the fun.
And the girls are irresistible too. Betty Garrett shoots with both barrels as the man-chasing cabbie and proves she is quite capable of stepping up to the plate in the dance department. Lithe and lovely Vera-Ellen, who never won the attention she fully deserved, is poetry in motion as Kelly's dream come true. In particular, her adagios with Kelly are imbued with such unsullied passion that it can't help but tug at the ol' nostalgic heart-strings. Peppy Ann Miller is, as always, a revelation as the toe-tapping anthropologist, taking full advantage of the zingy score's newer songs and embellishing them with now-classic dance routines.
As a special treat, my favorite character actress, Alice Pearce, offers side-splitting comedy relief as Kelly's impromptu blind date managing to steal one song from the star ensemble while finding a touching moment of pathos in her final scene. The homely comedienne went on to play nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz in the "Bewitched" TV series to Emmy-winning acclaim. Florence Bates also makes the most of her patented huff and scowl as a tipsy ballet mistress, and see if you can scout out an unbilled Bea Benadaret (Kate in "Petticoat Junction") as a subway tootsie.
Still the highlight, and there are many highlights, is the infectious title tune atop the Empire State Building with Kelly & Company. Nowhere in the history of filmed musicals will you find such barn-storming talent and exuberant fun packed into one simple little tune. That sequence is a natural tape-rewinder.
You know the old saying, "They don't make 'em like this anymore?" Oh, they are so right.
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