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Experiencing as much New York as One Can
bkoganbing22 September 2006
On the Town is one great fast moving musical, one in which the dance is supreme. Not surprising because this is the first film that Gene Kelly had total creative control over.

On the Town ran for 462 performances on Broadway from December, 1944 to February, 1946 and it's score was composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Naturally the book included some topical war time references for 1944 which were eliminated in 1949. So was about half of Bernstein's score, but Comden and Green wrote the lyrics for the new songs also with Roger Edens. That certainly helped keep the continuity.

Of course the signature song of the Broadway score, New York, New York was kept. The rest of the score is really not all that great in terms of marketability. But Kelly was interested in giving the dance center stage in this film and he succeeded admirably.

Of course of the six principals in the cast he had both Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen, a pair of very good dancers to help.

The plot of On the Town is threadbare. Three sailors, Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin get 24 hour shore leave and they are determined to experience as much New York as they can. That opening number with the men pouring out of the ship on the Brooklyn Navy Yard dock is unforgettable and then Kelly, Sinatra, and Munshin singing and dancing New York, New York.

Munshin attracts the attention of Ann Miller who finds his resemblance to a caveman recreation astounding. Her big moment on the screen is tap dancing to Primitive Man ending with Munshin destroying one of the dinosaur skeletons in the Museum of Natural History.

This was Munshin's third film after MGM signed him up for a small role in Easter Parade. He was a borscht belt comedian who got his big break on Broadway in Call Me Mister. With Sinatra and Kelly in Take Me Out to the Ballgame before On the Town, he was a pretty funny fellow. He spent his career equally between the stage, screen, and later television. Perhaps it's why he's not really remembered today by film fans that much.

Sinatra catches the eye of cabdriver Betty Garrett. One big reason for rewriting the score was in the original play there was no ballad for Sinatra's character. Besides the ensemble numbers, Sinatra and Garrett sing Come Up to My Place from the original score and You're Awful, Awful Nice to be with. Nothing terribly memorable, in fact Frank never recorded any of the material from On the Town. But to have in the film and not give him one ballad would have been ridiculous.

It's the dance numbers that make On the Town. Besides the ones previously mentioned, Kelly and Vera-Ellen do a salute to their common small town in Main Street and there is the lengthy A Day in New York ballet. The year before Kelly had shown what he was really capable of creating in the Slaughter on Tenth Avenue ballet in Words and Music. Now that he had complete creative control and he made maximum use of it. Of course this was nothing compared to what he was to create in later films.

Vera-Ellen probably is best known for being Rosemary Clooney's sister in White Christmas. But she's shown to far better advantage here. I'm surprised Kelly did not team with her more often.

On the Town is really helped a lot by the location shooting in New York. Director Stanley Donen very skillfully blended his shots of well known New York landmarks like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, Columbus Circle with the later interiors done on the MGM soundstage. Really great job of editing.

To see New York in 1949 you couldn't ask for three better guides than those sailors on a 24 hour pass.
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"The Bronx Is Up and the Battery's Down--"
jhclues5 December 2001
Here's an idea: Get a group of exceptionally talented performers together, sketch in an outline of a story based on a successful Broadway show, then supply the score, songs and setting in which they can individually and collectively showcase their respective gifts, turn them loose and see what happens, see if it works. Of course, by the time this film was made in 1949, MGM knew it would work, as it had for them many times previously; there was no guess work involved. The result this time around was `On The Town,' a lively musical which marked the directorial debut of co-directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with Kelly starring and also doing the choreography. The plot is simple: Three sailors get twenty-four-hour shore leave in New York and set off to make the most of it. Chip (Frank Sinatra) wants to see the sights; Ozzie (Jules Munshin) wants to play; and Gabey (Kelly) immediately falls into an obsession over a girl he sees on a subway poster, `Miss Turnstiles' of the month, Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen), and vows to find her. Along the way they run into a quirky cab driver, Brunhilde (Betty Garrett), and a young woman, Claire (Ann Miller), doing some research at a museum. But what this movie is really all about is entertainment, and it delivers it by the songful.

Kelly and Donen bring it all to life through the words and music of Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein, and the score, which earned an Oscar for Roger Edens and Lennie Hayton. it kicks off with Sinatra, Munshin and Kelly doing `New York, New York,' in which they enlighten you to the fact that `The Bronx is up and the Battery's down, and people ride in a hole in the ground--' a dynamite opening that sets the stage for all that comes after. And it's pure entertainment that just sweeps you away with it while you hum along with the six stars of the show as they do what they do best, and it's a delight from beginning to end.

Without a doubt, Kelly emerges as the star among the stars, and his solo numbers and the ones he performs with Vera-Ellen are especially engaging; but this is one of those musicals in which one memorable number follows another, with each of the principals getting their own moment in the spotlight. Vera-Ellen has a great number early on in the film, in which Miss Turnstiles is introduced; Ann Miller taps her way through a rousing routine in the museum (in which she is joined by Sinatra, Munshin, Kelly and Garrett) that really gives her a chance to show her stuff; and Sinatra and Garrett engage in a memorable bit in song, as she attempts to get him to `Come Up To My Place.' Through it all, Sinatra exudes a certain boyish charm while Garrett and Munshin provide the comic relief. All of which makes for a fun and thoroughly entertaining movie experience.

The supporting cast includes Alice Pearce (Lucy), Sid Melton (Spud), Hans Conried (Francois) and Florence Bates (Madame Dilyovska). Some movies are made simply to transport you to another place for a couple of hours, put a smile on your face, a song on your lips and just make you feel good; and `On The Town' is certainly one of them. This is pure, uplifting and satisfying Entertainment, beautifully crafted and delivered and guaranteed to make your day a little brighter. The fact is, they just don't make ‘em like this anymore, and it's a shame. Because this is what the magic of the movies is all about. I rate this one 9/10.
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New York, New York -- it's a Helluva Town...
nycritic11 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Three soldiers on shore in New York City have a 24-hour romp in the city. That's it. There is nothing else to the plot of this fantastic musical, but that doesn't hurt ON THE TOWN one bit.

New York has been the focus of film since the beginning of film itself when a 10 minute short about the New York City subway system was made. Here, although not all scenes were actually filmed in New York (and according to Betty Garrett, she and the other girls never saw the city except for the final scene on the harbour, the subject and main character of the film is New York itself: bustling energy, its loud, screeching subway system complete with adverts and pin-up posters (one of Ms Turnstiles which catches Gene Kelly's attention), its (then) tallest building the Empire State Building, its urban landmarks.

As I said in the beginning, there is not much plot. What plot there is consists mainly of the three soldiers pairing off with three women: Jules Munshin with Ann Miller, Frank Sinatra with Betty Garrett, and Gene Kelly with Vera-Ellen, the only one with a back-story and a secret, one that has her slipping from Kelly's arms and leading to a remarkable chase against the clock to find her. The musical numbers are outstanding (especially Garrett's and Sinatra's frantic duet "My Place" which, if this weren't a musical-comedy, would send men running to the hills at the sight of an aggressive man-hungry cab driver) and all women dance admirably, but the only one who one remembers is Miller in the museum sequence, twirling like a Tasmanian devil and looking fabulous while doing so. Not a great actress, she could move like not many dancers-turned-actresses could, and it's a pity she decided to basically retire from movies so early and only came back for her small role in MULLHOLLAND DR. As a matter of fact, all except Kelly and Sinatra virtually stopped acting in the late 50s, possibly due to MGM-styled musicals coming to an end at that time.

As a curious note, there's a cute appearance as well by Alice Pearce who would later be remembered as the nosy neighbor Gladys Kravits in the TV series "BEWITCHED." According to facts, she is the only one from the theatrical version to reprise her role here and this role made her career move ahead as well as it gave her a chance to walk away with the movie as well.

ON THE TOWN is one of the best musicals of all time, up there with SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and WEST SIDE STORY.
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"Gotta See The Whole Town, From Yonkers On Down To The Bay ... In Just One Day"
stryker-526 January 1999
The Bronx is up and the Battery's down, and Kelly and Sinatra are back in sailor suits, in this effervescent MGM musical. The three matelots (our two heroes are joined by Jules Munshin for this caper) have a 24-hour shore leave in which to savour New York City. "What can happen to ya in one day?" asks a shipyard worker, and the guys answer the question by picking up girls, destroying a dinosaur and getting chased to Coney Island by the cops... in just one day.

Leonard Bernstein composed the tunes, and the writers of the stage show (Green & Comden) provided the lyrics, supplemented by Bernstein himself and the associate producer, Roger Edens. Of the songs, "On The Town" and "You Can Count On Me" are nerve-tingling showstoppers. "Prehistoric Man" is much weaker, but saved by crisp, playful choreography. The two expressionist ballets, "Miss Turnstiles" and "A Day In New York" bear the hallmark of Kelly's directorial style, which first reached its maturity in this picture. Kelly's slide on his knees towards the 'Miss Turnstiles' poster is a piece of cinema magic.

Kelly plays Gabey, a supposedly worldly-wise lady's man who turns out to be a Mid-Western innocent in the big city, and who falls in love with a struggling hoofer(Vera-Ellen), a girl he takes to be a celebrity. Sinatra is the serious-minded Chip, the enthusiastic sightseer who gets snapped up by Hildie Esterhazy (Betty Garrett), a knowing cabbie who has one aim - to get Chip alone in her apartment. Ann Miller sings and dances impeccably as Claire Huddesen, the bluestocking who gets turned on by Ozzie's primitive quality.

"On The Town" has a daffy story, as musicals often do, but it fizzes with flirtatious youthful energy. Each of the three couples has its own song and/or dance, and these are sensitively tailored to suit the individuals' personalities. The Empire State Building observation platform set is a knockout, and the film's sense of fun even extends to a sly Ava Gardner joke at Sinatra's expense. Notional time runs from 6am at the start of the boys' leave ('boys', or 'kids' as they are twice described, is not quite accurate - Kelly was 37 and the other two 34 at the time of filming) until 6am the following morning, as it ends. Three new sailors come charging down the gangway to start their 24 hours in the Big Apple, reminding us that love and youth are eternal, and New York's a wonderful town.
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New York IS a wonderful town!
gbrumburgh20 February 2001
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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Hard to resist going out 'On The Town' with *this* cast!
gaityr3 July 2002
I've rewatched both these movie musicals in the space of a week, and ON THE TOWN is no SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. I mean, what is? By 1952, the sheer technical mastery of Gene Kelly had melded perfectly with an entire soundtrack of classics and a clever, satirical plotline with some of the best film characters ever created (Lina Lamont, anybody?).

Having got *that* out of the way, however, there is simply no denying that ON THE TOWN is essential viewing in the Kelly oeuvre. It tells the story of three lonely sailors who finally get shore leave in New York for 24 hours. Of course, they're on the prowl to paint the town red, preferably with girls on their arms. (Though for a brief while Sinatra does charmingly play a skinny little geek bent on seeing the sights of New York, flinging facts from his guide book and appearing unaffected by Betty Garrett's streetwise cabbie flinging herself at him.) Gabey (Gene Kelly) falls for 'Miss Turnstiles' or Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen), and spends the day trying to track her down from information on the poster. Chip (Frank Sinatra) meets cabbie Hildy (Garrett) who teaches him how to have a little fun while they romp gaily through two great duets together ('Come Up To My Place' and 'You're Awful'). Ozzie (Jules Munshin), in the meantime, gets entangled with the Claire Huddesen (an absolutely delightful Ann Miller), who likes how much he resembles her ideal 'Prehistoric Man'. They dance and sing their way through a series of misunderstandings between Gabey and Ivy, but all comes right in the end as the girls bid their fellows farewell from the dock.

So what's so good about ON THE TOWN, you ask? Well, first of all, it's brilliant fun and very amusing--from the dancing to the singing to the snappy dialogue. It takes a while to get used to the *very* forward New York women (played with marvellous wit and charm by Garrett and Miller), but once you get over their throwing themselves at Chip and 'Specimen' respectively, you really appreciate ON THE TOWN for what it is: pure, unadulterated, and unpretentious entertainment.

Granted: The songs aren't as catchy as in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. But there are definitely some minor classics to be heard here--'You're Awful', Frankie's serenading of Betty, and 'Count On Me' being among them. I thought it was a really nice touch to have Bern Hoffman singing a lazy-morning song, 'I'm Feeling Like I'm Not Out Of Bed' to bookend the film beginning and end, to give the sense of a full day having passed.

It should probably also be granted that there isn't quite enough dancing, especially not from Gene Kelly (who is always a delight to watch, even when mostly playing the bystander as he was in the 'Count On Me' number) and Ann Miller, who got the chance to show off her amazing tap-dancing skills and gorgeous gams in the wildly energetic 'Prehistoric Man'. (It only whetted my appetite to see *more* of her dancing and singing! I'd have liked it if Miller's role was expanded, period. She gave her character an indescribable life and vivacity in the limited screen time she had and overshadowed Vera-Ellen easily.). I'd have loved it if Kelly had danced properly with Miller too, the latter being one of the best female tap-dancers in the business. All the same, the sweet ballad 'Main Street' that Gabey sings to Ivy is accompanied by a beautiful dance routine that shades naturally and easily from dancing to walking and back again--a perfect example of Gene Kelly's ability as both dancer and choreographer to present and capture movie magic with no special effects. I actually much prefer the 'New York Ballet' in this film to the one in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, mostly because it fits the plot beautifully, and is smaller and more intimate and more focused on Gene Kelly the dancer rather than Gene Kelly the choreographer. It gives Kelly the opportunity to shine as both dancer *and* actor: the scenes when he dances with the Miss Turnstiles poster are achingly believable in the way they could only be if Kelly were dancing in them. The shadow sequence at the ballet barre with Vera-Ellen is also something incredible to behold and perfectly-staged.

ON THE TOWN is a great night at the movies, and is time well-spent with a few characters you really get to know, an excellent cast (Alice Pearce practically steals the entire show as Lucy Schmeeler, for example--not an easy task considering who she was playing against!), and a great soundtrack. It's probably one of the best precursors you could have to Kelly's much more ambitious musical undertakings in the form of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. But on its merits, it is definitely worth watching. Perhaps again and again. 8/10.
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Enjoyable Enough for Anyone in the Mood for Soft-centred Escapist Entertainment
JamesHitchcock8 July 2005
This film has a very simple plot. Three sailors have 24 hours shore leave in New York. They met three attractive girls, and three romances blossom. And that's about it. The characterisation is really no more advanced than the plot development. The sailors and their sweethearts are each given their own idiosyncrasies, but none of them really emerges as a rounded individual. Fortunately, however, a complex plot and well-developed characters are not always essential to the musical genre, and "On the Town" manages to succeed reasonably well without these elements.

The film's most important quality is the energy and vivacity of its song-and-dance numbers. It was shot on location in New York itself, and the city is portrayed as a vibrant, exciting place, a new world as far as the sailors, who are all country boys, are concerned. There is also plenty of humour, such as the scene where Frank Sinatra wants to go sight-seeing, unlike his new-found girlfriend, a man-hungry female cab driver, who would rather take him back to "my place", Gene Kelly's search for "Miss Turnstiles", whom he imagines to be a glamorous and famous beauty queen, and the scene where the three men manage to demolish a dinosaur skeleton in the city's Museum of Anthropology. (Jules Munshin's girlfriend is described as a lady anthropologist, although the scriptwriters seem to have blurred the difference between anthropology and palaeontology). The songs are tuneful, although with the possible exception of "New York, New York" none of them are particularly memorable. Some have criticised the more formal balletic sequence near the end, but as far as I was concerned this was one of the best parts of the movie. After all, if you are going to make a film starring a dancer as talented as Gene Kelly, you might as well use his talents to the full.

This is not really my favourite musical. It lacks, for example, the indefinable magic of "Singin' in the Rain", which also starred Kelly, or the depth and social comment of "West Side Story", Leonard Bernstein's other New York musical made twelve years later. (The contrast between these two films shows just how far the genre had progressed in just over a decade). Nevertheless, it is enjoyable enough for anyone in the mood for soft-centred escapist entertainment. 7/10
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New York New York! It's a wonderful town!
Sweet Charity26 December 2000
Another Comden-Green triumph! Although it may not be as good as "Singin' In The Rain", it's truly a masterpiece that no home should be with out!

Jules Munshin is energetic in the role of Ozzie! Gene Kelly plays the part of the lovesick Gabey absolutely perfect! And although I am a die hard Kelly fan, I must say that the best male performance given in this film was from Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Mr. Frank Sinatra! In the role of Chip, he brings a certain innocence as well as that sailor spunk and vitality! And the three of them crooning songs such as "New York, New York", "Let's Go To My Place" and "On The Town" is absolutely wonderful (especially Kelly and Sinatra)!

Ann Miller is fantastic as the leggy anthropologist, Claire! She brings a lot of zest to her role! (It's hilarious to hear her refer to Ozzie as "Specimen"!) Vera-Ellen also is WONDERFUL in the role of Ivy, or "Miss Turnstiles"! She is a highly underrated actress... and her dancing is truly DIVINE! However, another highly underated actress is Betty Garrett, who portrays the female cabbie, Hildie! She makes the role zippy and sassy... and she and Chip singing "Let's Go To My Place" is an absolute knee-slapper that will have you laughing and singing with it every time! Alice Pearce is also rather funny as Hildie's roomate, Lucy Shmeeler.

I recommend this movie to anyone who is a fan of musicals, especially the older ones, such as "An American In Paris", "Singin' In The Rain" and "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." This carefree frolic of a film will leave you laughing and singing for days!
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Classic musical that set Kelly on the path of true stardom
funkyfry28 October 2002
Great score by Bernstein and awesome dancing (of course) by Kelly and company. Nice color and photography, engaging and amusing story lags only at the end. Sinatra is pleasingly pursued by Betty Garrett (much as in the previous "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"). Only 4 songs from the original musical by Bernstein, MGM pulls another "Roger Eden" (a man whose mission in life seemed to have been to ruin good stage musicals.... as witness his atrocity of "Funny Face").

Comden and Green's wonderful sparkling words are often missed, but this musical did fortunately bring their talents to the attention of MGM, Freed, Kelly and Donen. They scripted "Singing in the Rain" and I guess the rest is history, although Comden and Green should be better remembered for their outstanding broadway hits: "On the Town", "Wonderful Town", "Bells are Ringing" and so many more.
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'On the Town' paints the town red!
hshreve15 February 2003
I have found that On the Town is one of the best movies from the 1940's. It has the perfect chemistry for a movie. From the all-star cast of Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Ann Miller, Vera Ellen and others to the script itself written by the wonderful Betty Comden and Adolph Green, it is no wonder that this movie is still around. When 3 sailors have a leave in NYC, and their main objective is to pick up girls, you know that you are in for some laughs. From the dinosaur to the cab drivers, this movie is a score on my list. The dancing is also great. Ann Miller taps her heart away and Gene Kelly amazes us yet again. This movie is here to stay!
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Even If You Hate Musicals, You'll Love This Movie
Putzberger8 July 2010
because it's just a big, silly MGM confection with no (okay, very few) pretenses towards art. Three sailors on shore leave in New York meet three girls. That's the entire plot. However, two of those sailors are a couple of the 20th century's greatest entertainers, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, so MGM builds an extravaganza around them complete with ballet sequences, love duets and then-current digs at popular culture (you might have to explain the dinosaur/Dinah Shore joke to younger children). Along for the ride are some venerable MGM contract players like Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller, not to mention a couple of future TV sitcom wacky neighbors, Alice Pearce (the paranoid Gladys Kravitz from "Bewitched") and Betty Garrett (the liberated Irene Lorenzo from "All in the Family"). How can you lose? It's easy to loathe Gene Kelly. He's smarmy and egotistical (those massive close-ups in "Singin' in the Rain" remain scorched onto my retinas) but he's also a great dancer and a brilliant choreographer, and here co-director Stanely Donen manages to keep his personality flaws in check. In "On the Town" he plays Gabey, an Iowa hick, and his unusual willingness to not be the smartest guy in the room makes him much more tolerable. Kelly spends a big chunk of his shore leave tracking down Vera-Ellen, whose image on a subway poster inspires a comic fantasy sequence. When he finally meets her, the rest of the cast spends a lot of time and money protecting him from the truth, which is that she's a two-bit hoofer and not a celebrity. Sinatra plays Gabey's buddy Chip, another wide-eyed yokel in the big city. Frankie doesn't create much of a character, but he looks pretty and sounds great so it doesn't really matter. Ol' Blue Eyes hooks up with Garrett, a lady cab driver (scandal!) with average looks but great comic timing. She's also blessed with a decent singing voice and a hysterically frumpy roommate played by Pearce. The third singing sailor is Jules Munshin as lovable big lug Ozzie, who provides adequate but unnecessary comic relief and is mightily upstaged by his romantic interest, the very funny, sexy, and graceful Ann Miller as manic rich girl Claire. Miller was such a mega-talent that she was impossible to classify -- she could sing, dance, act and tell jokes -- and that very versatility might have kept her from becoming a bigger star. But she's magnificent here, outshining her better-known co-stars with bits like the hysterical "Prehistoric Man" number ("Bearskin! Bearskin! I love bearskin!").

So that's the plot, which is, of course, tertiary to the song and dance. Leonard Bernstein composed the score, and some of the songs are magnificent -- here Sinatra takes on a "New York, New York" with a rousing chorus and silky verse that's far superior to the plodding nursery rhyme he would popularize in the 70s. Frankie's love duet with Garrett, "You're Awful," is a riot, and the title song is nice and lively. Kelly warbles a couple of dirges but they're blessedly short. The dancing, when it's integrated with the plot, is loads of fun but Kelly stops the action cold for a ballet sequence called "Three Sailors and a Girl," which is dull, but to its credit nowhere near as disruptive or self-indulgent as the "Broadway Melody" number from "Singin' in the Rain." (To its debit, it doesn't have Cyd Charisse and those six-foot legs of hers.) So pop this one in the DVD player and enjoy.
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"The Bronx is Up and the Battery's Down..."
theowinthrop26 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is a really great musical, and that is an odd thing to admit. Because, for a great musical it has little in the way of great music.

The reputation of Leonard Bernstein as a composer is one of the stickiest points about his career to discuss among lovers of American music and musicals. Bernstein was a great conductor. He was also a great teacher of music appreciation, as his series of "Young People's Concerts" on television showed. But was he a great composer? He tried to be, composing serious music that was for the concert hall, most of which has never caught on with the public.

As for his music for the theater, the results are mixed. "On The Town" (based on the music for his ballet about sailors in New York, "Fancy Free"), "Trouble In Tahiti", "Candide", "Wonderful Town" and (best of all)"West Side Story" were popular hits of the 1940s and 1950s. But how successful do they remain. Forgetting "West Side Story" - which has his best, truly memorable score, "Candide" manages to get revived, but there are problems with the book (will they use Lillian Hellman's version or Hugh Wheeler's). "Come and be Gay" is a semi-standard, but how frequently does one hear "This is the best of all possible worlds". Same problem happens with "Trouble In Tahiti", which is revived even less than "Candide". "On The Town" had a successful revival in New York four years back, but it's sole semi-standard (hardly sung by singers in concert or nightclubs) is "It's a Wonderful Town". "Wonderful Town" has a good book (based on "My Sister Eileen") but the tunes like "That's the Way to Lose a Man" and "Ohio" are serviceable but not permanent repertory. Those are the memorable musicals. His last one about the Presidency, "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue", was a flop from the first day (care to hear "The Thomas Jefferson March"?).

The music in "On The Town" is, again, serviceable. Some of it is sprightly - like the duet between Sinatra and Betty Garrett, "Come to My Place". But it is basically music that was written for the purpose of dance numbers (which it serves quite well - especially for Kelly and Vera-Ellen). Note the number about "Miss Turnstyles", wherein Kelly is reading Vera-Ellen's biographical information, and we see her dancing in matching sequences to the descriptions. Or the ballet where Kelly finds himself abandoned by her when she fails to show up for a date (which I suspect influenced him and maybe Vincent Minnelli in the better ballet at the end of "An American In Paris" where Kelly dreams of the loss of Leslie Caron).

The story of three sailors on shore leave in New York City for twenty four hours, and how they each meet the woman of their dreams is quite enchanting (if impossible) to watch. The parings are fascinating: Kelly and Vera-Ellen both dancing into each other's life. Garrett (as "Brunhilde Esterhazy") as a man hunting cab driver, pursuing and winning a frightened Sinatra (still in that annoying naive dimwit series of roles - though less annoying than in "Anchors Aweigh"). Miller as an anthropology student attracted to the Neanderthal looking Munshin is quite funny. Yet there is a missing element here from the musical not found in the film.

Miller has a boyfriend, mentioned once or twice but never seen in the film. He is financing her education. In the musical, he does appear - a judge named Pitkin. Pitkin is a sweet, nebbish, who lets Miller's character "Claire" twist him around his finger for much of the musical. They are supposed to be going out to dinner that night, and she keeps putting him off, telling him to meet her later (she is busy with "Ozzie" (Munshin's character) at a variety of nightclubs). At the same time, in the musical, Alice Pearce's character Lucy Shmeeler is being pulled around by Gabey (Gene Kelly's character) while he is trying to romance Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen's character).

But after the fourth time, Pitkin gets tired of this mistreatment. He sings a song (cut with his character in the movie) showing that the hidden lion in his personality has been aroused in anger at Claire's selfishness. He has been always too docile (with his mother, his brother, Claire) and he has suffered for too long as a result. But the only person who hears this is Lucy (the other six have gone off together). Grabbing Lucy, Pitkin chases the sailors and the three girls, and is there at the conclusion - to help humiliate Claire and to renounce her. The lion has arrived. And there is a hint as he leaves with Lucy that possibly they might become a fourth couple. Pity this was not in the movie version, as Alice Pearce's character is treated by Kelly and the others as a good sport, but sent home alone.

My comment may seem a trifle harsh, but in fact the musical is terrific as an entertainment for all the flaws I point out. But rarely has a great movie musical had so little reason to have been so successful.
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A HUGE disappointment
PatrickH-228 May 1999
ON THE TOWN is probably one of the best musicals ever written. Leonard Bernstein's score is truly astonishing, and Comden and Green's book is quite good. You'd never know it from this movie, which shreds the score, adding far inferior songs, and totally ruins the spirit of the source. This should never have even been a movie. A shame.
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Pity about the music
jpscanlon-124 November 2008
It is surprising how many people don't seem to realise (or don't care) that a large fraction of Leonard Bernstein's music score, written for the original stage musical of 1944, was dropped when this film was made. Only four of the original numbers were retained. The replacement music, credited in the titles to Roger Edens, is serviceable enough but simpler and decidedly more brash, and as such it detracts somewhat from the character of the original. In particular the absence of such numbers as 'What's more I can cook' and 'Some other time' is highly regrettable. It seems odd to me that that having done the maestro such a disservice the film was still awarded a music Oscar in 1950. Nevertheless it remains a highly entertaining romp – how could it fail with a cast that includes Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen. It's just that it could have been even better.

For anyone who wants to find out what Bernstein's original score was like, there is a live recording of a semi-staged performance of the musical made in London in 1992 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas and a magnificent cast of singers including Thomas Hampson and Frederica von Stade. The only thing you don't get is the dancing! It is available on CD and hopefully a few copies of the video may be knocking around. Unfortunately it seems that no DVD was ever released.
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Mostly a grating bore
cutter-1227 December 2005
This plot less and structureless musical has somehow reached classic status despite the fact that, aside from the main number, it features one song and dance number after another that are awful.

It does have some good points - the image of the three Sailors on leave is iconic and the opening sequence is always fun and promising, Ann Miller is her usual saucy and sexy self, Jules Munshin turns in a performance that actually pips Kelly and Sinatra, the 7 minute Gene Kelly fantasy dance is masterful unto it's own (but doesn't fit in the narrative the same way his similar sequences in Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris didn't really fit). Also, much of this was shot on location which documents 1949 New York City interestingly.

But as a film, a story, and as a musical, it is decidedly below average, and overrated. As hard as you pull for it to be as entertaining as other MGM musicals from the period, it just isn't. It's arduous, shallow, underwhelming, very often nerve damaging, and pointless. You just get the feeling all the scenes were scripted the night before they were shot, or Kelly and Donen as Directors were just making it up on the fly.

It's a worth a look of course for the pluses mentioned above. But it's hardly a great musical and Kelly, Sinatra, Donen, and Miller all did much better work in other films.
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One of the Best Musicals Ever
drednm12 December 2005
On the Town bristles with energy and humor and terrific performances by a great cast.

Three sailors on a one day pass in 1949 New York City meet three girls, fall in love, and go back to sea. That's about it for plot but this great musical is filled with top songs and dancing.

Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin are the sailors; Vera Ellen, Ann Miller, and Betty Garrett are the girls. Vera Ellen is Miss Turnstiles whom Kelly thinks is a swanky society girl. In reality she's a dance student who works at Coney Island to pay for lesson to despotic teacher Florence Bates. When the three couples go "on the town," Vera Ellen has to leave to go dance. Garrett calls her roommate--hilarious Alice Pearce--to fill in. Kelly is despondent and the gang's attempt to cheer him up leads to one of the best numbers, "You Can Count on Me." While the Leonard Bernstein tunes are not exactly top 40 hits, they are wonderful and lively. Great dancing (of course) from Kelly, Miller, and Vera Ellen, and Sinatra gets a few songs for himself. Garrett may be the big surprise for those who only know her from "Laverne and Shirley." Film buffs will recognize Carol Haney and Jeanne Coyne as the dancers in Kelly's big dance number. Also notable are Bea Benaderet on the bus, Sid Melton as Spud, George Meader as the professor, Tom Dugan as the cop, Hans Conried as the club manager, Bern Hoffman is the singing dock worker, and Claire Carleton is the red-headed floozie.

Kudos to writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green as well as co-directors Kelly and Stanley Donen. Haney and Coyne assisted Kelly in choreographing the film. Haney and Coyne were also featured dancers in Kiss Me Kate's "From This Moment On" number.

Not to be missed.
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Terrific talent in search of worthy material
Cincy5 April 1999
Seldom has a film had a more talented cast and crew of supporting talent than "On the Town," yet the result is just a mess of Average. One good number - the eponymous "On the Town" - has to carry a frail storyline which is pushed to exhaustion by the overacting of the cast, who seem to be on amphetamines. I love the musical genre and generally look forward to seeing any of these people's work, but this was a real disappointment.
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A description of New York City, a survey of the United States.
ilpohirvonen28 March 2010
On the Town was directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. It was the first film they directed. So which director can you thank for this spectacle New York musical? Both. As we know Gene Kelly today, he's probably responsible for all the cheer, spectacle dance scenes and Stanley Donen was most likely more intimate as a director. He makes the pauses in between of the dancing, which are very important. They're the pauses to the actors and to the viewers. That's where the reality happens. So this was a great idea: to combine two talented filmmakers, because you need both of those elements for On the Town.

The story reminded me of another musical starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, Anchors Aweigh (1945). In On the Town three sailors Chip, Gabey & Ozzie get a one-day long break to spend in the city of New York. The three boys want to hook up with some good looking NYC girls, even that Chip wants to go sight-seeing he also understands the fine art of dating when he meets a woman taxi-driver, Brunhilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett). When Gabey (Gene Kelly) sees a poster of the Miss Turnstiles of the Month AKA Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen) he gets a sudden urge to find her. Along the searching process, Ozzie (Jules Munshin) also finds a girl of his own, Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller) from the museum of anthropology.

The three main characters (Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin) are wonderfully created. They represent American men, who lived in a world where WWII was over and whose minds hadn't yet been depressed by the Korean War, a peaceful era. The three supporting female characters were great too (Betty Garrett, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen), maybe though a little oppressed by men. Men make them dance and through that, forget their troubles. That's maybe the negative side of the film, it shows women as people oppressed by men who are just waiting to be found and whose only job is to bring happiness to men. But all together, great characters!

The milieu of On the Town is amazing. The film was untypically for that time, actually filmed in New York City. It's a great documentary of New York in the time between WWII and the Korean War. No movie before the year 1949 had given such a great view on the particular city. There are actually three layers of the city. The underground where Gabey finds the poster of the Miss Turnstiles, the streets, the museums and the sights where they try to find her, and then there's the sky. Where they can get by going to the top of the Empire State Building. In my opinion the latter represents the illusion, that's where everything they've hoped for happens. The streets are the reality, but also because of the musical scenes maybe some sort of a modern fantasy. The underground has no illusion at all. It is the actual reality, where Gabie sees Ivy Smith for the first time. The first time they meet is important, but I'll let the enjoyment of that to you.

So On the Town is a great reflection of the United States in a cheerful era. It's a good documentary of NYC, it has great characters and the milieus of the film are fantastic. The basic themes that it deals up with are the relationships between men and women. Maybe the view on that subject could have had a little more depth though. On the Town also wonders one's attitude to life. But basically it's a survey of the people of that time and their thoughts. First film directed by Donen & Kelly and one of the finest, if not that finest.

5-6 is my usual rating for a decent, enjoyable musical. So this clearly had something more. In addition to the fact that it's great entertainment, it works on a higher level.

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Textbook case: how to f*** up a film
david-197622 October 2006
I HATE this movie. It has everything going for it, except (1) taste, (2) music, (3 )intelligence.

Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green wrote a great musical called "On The Town." It's about three sailors with a 24-hour leave in New York City in the middle of WWII. It's still a great musical, a musical with a great book of the quality of that of "Oklahoma!" that tracks the adventures, romantic as well as touristic, of three guys who cross the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan and want to drink in the whole city at once.

MGM takes an estimable amount of talent: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Vera- Ellen (the prosecution exhibit for "Tap Thighs," but lovely nonetheless), Betty Garrett (the least well-used comedienne of the era) and Ann Miller (exploited but never really employed), and turns what could have been a landmark film into a dismal excursion that would leave the average guy wondering why anybody would want to live in NYNY.

This is one of the supreme examples of why I hate MGM, the outhouse of the movie musical.

They dump the wonderful "Carried Away" number in favor of the inane "Prehistoric Man" number for Ann Miller to dance to. Gee, thanks, Roger Edens! They eliminate Hildy's great "I Can Cook, Too!" not to mention "Ya Got Me," "I Wish I Was Dead," "Imaginary Coney Island," "The Real Coney Island," and the incredibly lovely "Some Other Time" with more Roger Edens crap.

The stars that MGM hired to do this movie were capable of making a masterpiece, but MGM, in its infinite wisdom, knew how to turn it into a colossal dump, and they did. Part of the problem was the pretentious image it decided to project for Gene Kelly (speaking of crap, what about "American in Paris*?") This is part of my prelude to "Why MGM Musicals Suck" essay; You can see my top 10 movie musicals (there are really 12 so far) in my review for "You Were Never Lovelier."

Stanley Donen went on to make some wonderful movies ("Charade" and "Bedazzled," which features Raquel Welch as one of the seven deadly sins, guess which? among them. But MGM, especially when "adapting" Broadway musicals, showed an uncanny propensity for turning great theatre into execrable cinema, piling Pelions of goo on Ossas of substance, and doing no one any good in the process. MGM certainly didn't bring out Donen's best.

*In its Ferde Grofe orchestration, the most perverted of George Gershwin's great works--but that's for another discussion!
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The best parts are sterling, but you can't quite overlook some weak writing and filler songs
secondtake31 March 2012
On the Town (1949)

There is so much going right with this movie--from the photography (yes) by Harold Rossen and the music (famously) by Leonard Bernstein, from the leading actors (Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly) to the directors (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly)--it's hard to realize how dated or almost bad some moments have become. This is delightful, fantastic, and inspired stuff, total fun top to bottom. But it also has moments that are cringe inducing.

And I like musicals.

If you don't like musicals in particular, you should start with specimens with wider appeal, and higher standards: "Singin' in the Rain" and "West Side Story" would work for me, if we're talking classics. Throw in "Swing Time" or "Top Hat" if you want an Astaire classic, too. Or a Garland singing musical.

This one is from the amazing run of polished hits by producer Arthur Freed. The choreography varies from excellent to wonderful. If it's choreographed dancing you like, check this out. Some of the format it is from the standard style of the Golden Age, where the characters break into song or dance in the middle of their normal doings--in this case, three sailors racing through Manhattan on 24 hour leave.

Other parts have choreography, probably by Gene Kelly, that becomes abstract and cinematic, a Hollywood innovation (also seen, famously, in "Singin' in the Rain" and "An American in Paris"). The scenes, whether stylized or realistic, are fabulous. The standards are high--space, light, and control of color (Technicolor, of course) inside and out.

What drags the movie down is some awful writing, both in the dialog and even in some of the songs. I know lots of musical lovers who don't give a hoot if the lyrics make sense or are especially good--they become secondary to the rest of it, and the artifice is part of the game. But I know others who, like me, prefer the clever, the lyric, the original. And there are some real wincing moments.

And in fact, the movie as a whole is awkward, a series of vignettes that do eventually string together into a chronology, but they hardly have to. They survive, or struggle, independently. Some of the acting is forced and you may or may not like the sidekicks like the third sailor, who's just too comic and goofy for my taste. Even the lead actresses, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen, are no match for Debbie Reynolds, let alone Judy Garland.

Now, let's finally add--the best of the songs, and the dancing and photography, are top notch. For all musical lovers. The great final pieces at about 1:17 into the movie is amazing stuff.

Note: Bernstein's music originated in a ballet, "Fancy Free," which turned into the Broadway play "On the Town" in 1944. But when this film was made, most of Bernstein's music was replaced with new stuff--some of which is the mediocre music that brings the production down a notch.

At times the biggest star in the show is New York itself. Love it.
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A Grand Day Out
mmallon46 August 2017
On The Town is a unique beast of movie musical as MGM never followed up on it in one of the most noteworthy uses of location filming in a Hollywood movie up until that point. On the Town captures New York City circa 1949 in beautiful Technicolor as three sailors on leave spend 24 hours tearing up the town. When three men on board a ship without female interaction have leave, then dames become the ultimate aim. On the Town is also another example of Old Hollywood's idealisation of the navy, particularly in musicals. Did movies like this affect recruitment? They sure make the navy look fun and even explicitly state it during the On the Town number, "Travel! Adventure! See the world!". Likewise, MGM musicals really aren't given the credit of just how funny they are, especially those penned by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. "It's 9:30 already. The day's gone and we haven't seen a thing yet." - Just right after that montage of you exploring the entire city?

Many shots in On the Town, particularly in the opening montage have an un-staged feel to them which give an insight into the world at the time, full of regular people getting on with their lives. The sets here are more on the realistic side and less artificial compared to other MGM musicals, allowing for the transitions between locations and sets to go by largely unnoticed.

Vera Ellen couldn't be more girl next door, very pure and innocent (as reflected in the number Main Street). Ann Miller and Betty Garret on the other are the opposite to this, which gives the movie characters of both the innocent and then the sex-crazed variety. Betty Garret's nymphomaniac tendencies are on full display as soon as we meet her character of Hidly Esterhazy; she really wants to get Sinatra back up to her place, really badly.

Ann Miller, however, plays by far my favourite character is the film as the most unlikely of scientists, Claire Huddesen; a sex goddess with the personality of a weird girl - ah the best kinds of contradictions. In her own words, she states she was running around with too much of all kinds of young men and just couldn't settle down. Her guardian suggested that she take up anthropology and make a scientific study of man thus becoming more objective and getting them out of her system and being able to control herself; I love this character! Yet this has caused her to have a thing for prehistoric males over modern men. I can relate to being attracted to those alive decades ago but Ann Miller takes this further to hundreds of thousands of years.

Prehistoric Man is one of the odder musical numbers in the film history both in terms of lyrical content/themes as well as the number itself. As the caveman dancing, bongo bashing, Ann Miller being pulled along the floor by the hair madness proceeds, you have to ask yourself "what the hell am I watching?". The soundtrack of On the Town is one of the finest in the MGM library; you know a musical soundtrack succeeds when you're humming multiple tunes from it for a week after watching. The only track which falls flat for me is You're Awful; with the absence any hook it's not awful but mediocre.

The first ballet sequence in On the Town which introduces Vera Ellen's Miss Turnstiles has a similar concept to Leslie Caron's introductory sequence in An American In Paris; full of contradictory statements to describe her character. The two ballet's in On the Town are much more humble than what would come in the MGM musicals over the next few years, nor do they have the eye-popping colour and appear more washed out. The A Day In New York ballet, for example, is bound to only two modest sets but these still serve as a nice warm-up for the magnificence of what was to come.
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On The Town was one of MGM's brightest films of the post-WWII era.
khanbaliq226 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
On The Town is so exuberant that it threatens at moments to bounce right off screen. Three sailors (Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin) enjoy 24 hours' shore leave in New York.

Most of this brash location musical counts as among the best things ever to come out of Hollywood; the serious ballet towards the end slows things down, but finally it's the film's sheer joy and vitality, and its astonishingly exuberant opening sequence that stick in the memory. It was an instant success and won the Academy Award for Best Music. In 2006 the film ranked #19 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals.
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Great Dancing! Horrble songs.
LydiaOLydia7 December 2009
I've seen 1945's "Anchors Aweigh" referred to as a "warm up" for "On the Town." This is strange, since the former is better in almost every way. The former had a warmth that "On the Town" simply didn't.

"On the Town" features three sailors on a 24-hour liberty in New York City... Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and.. Jose Carerras. No, seriously, the third one was Jules Munshin, but it might as well have been Jules Verne given that his name probably lives on only in the hearts of aficionados at this point. Anyway, the film starts out smashingly with the legendary song "New York, New York" and then the boys seek to find a few hours of true love.

The basic love story between Kelly and "Ivy" is believable and of course both are incredibly telegenic. The other two haven't stood the test of time so well with Sinatra - who believe it or not was around 34 at the time of the movie but looks about 12 - appears to be on the wrong end of the "statutory" stick at some point in what appears to be a highly inappropriate relationship. The "neanderthal" song where munshin's ozzie meets his girl is quite racist by today's standards in that it basically equates modern traditional cultures with cave men. nice.

Anyway, hi-jinks ensue including near the end a tacked on chase scene but of course they are really just filler for the musical numbers. sinatra's voice is a thing of beauty, as are kelly's moves. but, the chosen songs themselves were horrible. other than new york new york, i can't remember one song from the thing, which is unfortunate given that I just watched it less than 3 hours ago. but, the dancing was something else and the choreography was excellent. again, not as good as "anchors aweigh" (well, this one had more 'ensemble' dance numbers, thus meaning kelly was often limited to moves that his costars could also do), but still excellent.

if you're in the mood, it's a nice little film. but, if you have only time for one such vanity, see "anchors aweigh."
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