A Superficial Hollywood Musical? Say it Ain’t So!

Just another day in NYC. Image: Film Struck

You might as well know. We (as in, yours truly) are a sucker for Technicolor comedies about New York City.

We can’t help it. We love a bright, busy city full of smart, witty people, a place where Dreams Come True.

For example, look at the 1949 confection, On the Town. Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin star as three sailors on a 24-hour leave in NYC. Sinatra’s character wants to see the sights, while Kelly and Munshin want to meet women.

And women want to meet them, apparently, judging by the speed at which each fellow meets the Love Of His Life. (See what we mean? What a marvellous city.)

Betty Garrett is one of these women, a tough, no-nonsense taxi driver who immediately gloms onto Sinatra. It’s fortunate she does, because during their leave, the sailors find themselves dodging police and an angry museum administrator. She provides the get-away vehicle, plus the means to outmaneuver the authorities.

The aforementioned museum administrator is chasing the lads due to a disastrous visit to the Museum of Anthropology. It’s here Munshin’s character meets the voluptuous Ann Miller, who is conducting a study on behalf of the museum: “Modern Man: What Is It?” She has an impressive scientific vocabulary, but her passions lie elsewhere, especially where Munshin is concerned.

Then there’s Vera-Ellen, a small-town girl trying to Make It In The Big City. Kelly falls in love with her when he sees her photo on the subway. (She’s just been named Miss Turnstiles of the month.) She studies painting and dance at Symphonic Hall, but she also guards a secret: Her desperation for rent money has led to an unfortunate career choice.

Frank Sinatra wants Betty Garrett to show him the sights. Image: Gables Cinema
Ann Miller sees a resemblance between Jules Munshin and a museum exhibit. Image: YTS

On the Town is as fluffy as it sounds. It has an amusing script, famous songs (courtesy of Leonard Bernstein), and gorgeous costumes by Helen Rose.

It also offers virtual tour of NYC. We (the audience) are treated to a ride on the subway, views from atop the Empire State building, and a quick stop at Coney Island.¹

Now, you could argue this film is nothing more than a flimsy story propped up by song and dance, and you’d be right. But that would be missing the point.

On the Town has hustle. It’s pure escapism and knows it – revels in it, even, merrily brushing past any unpleasantness. Everything about it is designed to distract you, whether it’s a bad day at the office or – for audiences of the day – ghosts of WWII.

Forget all that. Here is New York, bursting with optimism. The war is over, and the Future is Here, all scrubbed and pressed, ready for whatever you want it to be. It’s humming with unstoppable, unlimited potential for every wonderful thing.

Realistic? No. Exciting? You bet.

Gene Kelly finally meets Miss Turnstiles (Vera-Ellen). Image: Cinema 52

On the Town was written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, and they based the script on their Broadway musical of the same name. The film won an Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and netted $474,000 USD for MGM ($4.9M today)².

According to Wikipedia, this film marks the first time a major Hollywood studio filmed musical numbers on location in NYC. At first, MGM refused to allow on-location shooting, but Kelly and co-director Stanley Donen were determined to give the film as much New York “flavour” as possible. MGM gave in and allowed them nine days in The Big Apple.

Wikipedia notes an unusual problem while filming on location: “The primary problem experienced by the production was dealing with crowds of Frank Sinatra’s fans, so some shots were made with the camera located in a station wagon to reduce the public visibility of the shooting.”³

The next time you need a film gushing with exuberance, try On the Town. We think you’ll find its enthusiasm contagious.

  • ¹You can see the list of NYC film locations HERE.
  • ²Wikipedia. (Retrieved May 10, 2018.) On the Town (film)
  • ³Ibid
  • This post is part of THE CLASSIC COMFORT MOVIE Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Café, to celebrate National Classic Movie Day (May 16).

On the Town: starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1949, Technicolor, 98 mins.



    • This musical is so much fun. I really hope you get the chance to see it – you might find the NYC footage interesting from a historical point of view. Plus, there are some famous songs, such as “New York, New York”.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m a big fan of On the Town, it’s such a fabulous combination of talents working together and producing such terrific fun. This formula wasn’t as easy as it looked, but for fans of fun, romantic musicals On the Town is the cream.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Why do you find it necessary to apologize for enjoying this wonderful film?
    Obviously, the filmmakers’ objective did not entail delivering a great profound message other than that fun is fun, so why apologize when the plot fails to reach Shakespearean heights? Anyhow, aren’t most MGM musicals considered to be escapist fare?
    Dreyer’s Ice Cream doesn’t issue a disclaimer on their cartons of ice cream that says, “Hey, folks, this isn’t broccoli.”


  3. Ok, this one is one of my absolute favorites. It’s just so much. It’s got everything. It’s silly and sentimental and hopeful and romantic. The colors and the costumes…I am sure we could find fault with the sort of women that hook up with sailors for a one nightstand, But this movie! I own this one and have my made my kids watch it more than once.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The musical numbers are certainly bursting with energy! I love Vera-Ellen and wish she had been given the shine to truly shine on her own. And one should never pass on a opportunity to see Ann Miller dance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a shame Vera-Ellen didn’t become a bigger star. One source said she wasn’t the greatest actress, but I think she’s quite likable on screen – and not every big star has a wide acting range…

      As for Ann Miller, she’s a real firecracker!


  5. One of my all time favorite musicals with one of my all time favorite opening sequences. I always loved Jules Munshin and Gene Kelly (not so much Frank Sinatra) also Ann Miller and Betty Garrett were SO super talented. I always thought Vera-Ellen kind of a bland screen presence, but she was okay. I love the exuberance of this film and of course, I love the location shooting. And that dance sequence in the muserum is a total hoot! A terrific review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the on-location scenes in New York, too. It feels like like an extra treat. And yes, I love that opening sequence! There’s so much to enjoy in this film that I forget any of my troubles. Thanks for dropping by!


  6. You betcha! Such good times and energy and fun people to spend a few hours with. I notice this is the 3rd Gene Kelly film so far that has made the blogathon list. The man must be very comforting! Great post. It brought a smile to my face.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A couple of years ago I did the TCM bus tour in NYC (a city that I also love) and saw some of the highlighted locations from the film, which made me think perhaps I need to see this one! I hope the TCM/Ball State course will feature this movie next month. Thank you for highlighting the fun in the film while also being up front about its ultimately frothy core!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love NYC too. Of course, I’ve never lived there…I’m speaking as a tourist. But when I first arrived in NYC, I felt exactly the same way as the sailors, with time on my hands and a great big city to see. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂


  8. I first watched On the Town when I really needed escape, and it worked marvelously. I still hold affection for the movie, because it is silly and sweet and it knows it – it doesn’t try to be something else. Well, we can’t live only with gritty noirs, can we?
    Happy Classic Movie Day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. It would be a fine movie without the music, but the music makes it legendary. After I watch it, I’m humming “New York, New York” for the next two days…much to the consternation of everyone around me…


  9. Confession time: this film has always left me feeling a little cold. *ducks*

    I’m not sure what the problem is. I love all of the people involved. The music is great. Kelly’s choreography is lovely. I just have some kind of mental block, I guess.

    Anyway, I can still appreciate your wonderful review! Maybe one of these days I’ll come around.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Have seen this one several times (it pops up on TCM every once in a while).I’d place it just a tad below my all-time favorite musicals, but I don’t mean that as a knock — it’s a knockout!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a cast! What dancing! What music and scenery! They don’t make ’em like this anymore. Not just for comfort but for just a good old good fashioned time – watch On the Town. I saw the remake on Broadway a few years ago and that was great but it just reminded me of the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is such a joyful film. One of my favourites. I love the colours and the dance numbers. My grandmother used to record the Sunday afternoon musicals off the tv when I was a child so that I could enjoy all the lovely shows that she and Grandad grew up watching. This and Look For the Silver Lining we’re firm favourites.

    Liked by 1 person

Start Singin', Mac!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.