One year, one film: 1949
On the Town, dir. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
starring Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Gene Kelly, Vera-Ellen, Ann Miller, and Jules Munshin
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE
New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town — especially when you’re a sailor on leave with two of your best buds. Chip (Frank Sinatra), Gabey (Gene Kelly) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) have been giving a 24-hour shore leave in the “big apple” and are excited to have some fun in the city.
They start out with a bit of sightseeing, but their attention soon turns to finding a bit of romance. When they come across a “Miss Turnstiles” poster featuring the lovely Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen), Gabey is smitten and enlists the help of his friends to track the gal down. While on the hunt, Chip meets a frisky cab driver (Betty Garrett) and Ozzie meets an anthropologist (Ann Miller) looking for her perfect prehistoric man, distracting them from their quest to help Gabey find Ivy.
I’m a big fan of musicals, making it hard to choose a single favorite. The genre is one of my most-watched and most-loved. But if I had to choose one favorite or narrow it down to a handful, On the Town would definitely top the list. It’s everything I love about midcentury musicals wrapped up in one film: catchy songs, delightful dance routines, a stellar cast, and bright colors to match a bright mood. You won’t find a better ensemble of lovable characters, bringing laughs and love to the screen.
Was this ensemble so lovable to the critics of yesteryear?
Even the perennially grumpy Bosley Crowther couldn’t resist On the Town and all of its charms, writing in his New York Times review that “Gaiety, rhythm, humor and a good, wholesome dash of light romance have been artfully blended together in this bright Technicolored comedy.”
Variety agreed: “The pep, enthusiasm and apparent fun the makers of On the Town had in putting it together comes through to the audience and gives the picture its best asset.”
Screenland also praised the film, writing that such a musical had not been released by Hollywood in a long time. Vera-Ellen’s toe-tapping talents were described by the mag as “a mixture of ballet, tap and personality.”
On the Town is pure delight, and the critics of 1949 agree.