Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, Jules Munshin, and Vera-Ellen in On the Town (1949)


(director: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen; screenwriters: Betty Comden and Adolph Green/based on play book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: Ralph E. Winters; music: Roger Edens and Leonard Bernstein; 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), Florence Bates (Madame Dilyovska), George Meader (Professor); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Freed; MGM; 1949)
“A lively and brash musical comedy spectacle.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lively and brash musical comedy spectacle about three sailors on a 24-hour pass — Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) — who aim to meet dames and soak up the sights, nightlife and culture of New York City. The highlight song is the opening “New York, New York” number shot on location at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and moves up to Rockefeller Center as the sailors tour the city (most of the film was shot in the studio); it’s a song that has since become a signature song for Sinatra and the Big Apple. The other songs include “Main Street,” “Come Up to My Place,” “On the Town,” “You Can Count on Me,” “You’re Awful,” “Miss Turnstyles Ballet” and “Prehistoric Man.”

It was a hit when it played on Broadway five years ago, but it dropped a few popular songs from the show and added six others written by Roger Edens to make it more suited for a movie audience (most who have seen the show, say the songs dropped were superior than the replacements). The Leonard Bernstein songs kept were “New York, New York,” and “Come Up To My Place.” Writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who also penned the book part of the play, keep it snappy with wisecracking dialogue and codirectors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen enliven it further with plenty of entertaining song and dance numbers.

Riding the subway Gabey gets blown away over a subway ad featuring “Miss Turnstiles,” whose real name is Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen). He’s so smitten with her that he spends much of the day looking for her and locates her studying ballet with her instructor Madame Dilyovska (Florence Bates), and makes a date with her in the evening to meet on top of the Empire State Building. Ivy passes herself off as high-brow celebrity New Yorker but is really an exotic dancer at Coney Island and from the same small town in Indiana as is Gabey. Chip relates to sassy cabdriver Brunhilde (Betty Garrett) who has the hots for him and Ozzie connects with the sexually forward anthropologist Claire (Ann Miller). There’s a cruel subplot with Alice Pearce (the only holdover from the show) as Lucy, Brunhilde’s homely roommate, who is in the way when the couple are necking in the apartment and soon disappears. Another subplot has the professor at the Museum of Natural History hunting down the sailors for knocking down the dinosaur while dancing at the museum and the police are after Brunhilde for not returning the cab to her boss and speeding. But the story is irrelevant, a romance based on an unreal fantasy; what it’s all about are the song and dance numbers and that is grand throughout.