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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

ON THE TOWN (1949)

The big takeaway from this good-natured M-G-M musical about three sailors on a 24-hr pass in NYC lasts only six minutes. It’s the opening prologue, daringly filmed on location all around the city as our trio of tars extol the sights & sounds of ‘New York, New York, a wonderful town.’* You can still feel the charge of generational change in it. After that, boilerplate stuff back in the studio (another unofficial iteration of SHORE LEAVE) with the Leonard Bernstein score largely shoved aside for mediocre substitutes by associate producer Roger Edens.* And Gene Kelly (co-directing with 25-yr-old Stanley Donen) replacing Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking choreography with tedious enthusiasm. His dream ballet in the third act stops the film cold. (The year before, WORDS AND MUSIC/’48 found Kelly doing similar damage remaking George Balanchine’s SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE ballet.) On B’way in 1944, the gags & camaraderie of three gobs hunting up dates for the night, and finding girls twice as horny as they, gained texture & enough gravitas to hold the stage with WWII looming in the background. You knew the boys were shipping off to war in the morning. But here, after that great opening, the film has nothing to use as an emotional springboard. So, it’s fun and foolish, with a cute trailer done up as a fake travelogue, but no classic.

DOUBLE-BILL: In some ways, Donen & Kelly did more striking work taking over the reins from a failing Busby Berkeley on TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME/’49. And it’s fun trying to spot their stuff. OR: The fascinating Donen/Kelly end-of-the-line near-sequel, IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER/’55, a strikingly sour reunion tale of three army buds. (See Write-Ups below.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *B’way’s ‘helluva town’ got tamed to ‘wonderful town’ for the movies. They also changed a lyric in the taxi-cab song, swapping out the play TOBACCO ROAD for THE FLORADORA GIRL. Presumably to keep from mentioning another studio’s film. Bizarre.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Lenny’s score didn’t have the ‘Pop’ flavor L. B. Mayer or producer Arthur Freed would have been looking for. Only a couple of songs and the ballet music were used. Now, after three B’way revivals, it’s been recorded multiple times, but Bernstein’s studio cast album from 1960 is still the one to go for. The fare-the-well number, SOME OTHER TIME, is a stunner, if deadly difficult to sing. On the other hand, why drop I CAN COOK, TOO, a knockout comic turn for man-hungry Hildy? Here’s Nancy Walker, from the original 1944 production, recreating it with Bernstein in his 1960 recording.

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