Pros:cast, choreography, sets, humor
On the Town is a musical with much to its credit. It is loaded with strong production numbers. Except for hard-working Frank Sinatra, the leads were played by veterans of Broadway musicals. (Even Sinatra had made several musicals by then, and of course he had an excellent voice.) The melodies are memorable, and the choreography (supervised by Gene Kelly) is energetic and entertaining. One can almost forgive that the plot can be summarized in a single sentence: Three sailors on shore leave for a day in New York City chase girls.
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The sailors are Gabey (Kelly), Chip (Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munshin). Their newly found girlfriends are taxi driver Brunhilde (Betty Garrett), museum researcher Claire (Ann Miller) and subway pin-up girl Ivy (Vera-Ellen). Alice Pearce shows up later as Ivy's sickly, frumpy roommate. (Pearce was the only member of the cast recruited from the Broadway play "Fancy Free", upon which the film was based.)
Some attempt is made to build Ivy's character. She is given a roommate, and a bossy, blackmailing dance instructor (Florence Bates). The other characters are threadbare: Sinatra wants to go sightseeing (many famous NYC landmarks are shown), Kelly is again cast as a hopeless romantic, Ozzie is like a caveman. But, they sure can sing and dance, and it is during the musical numbers that the film takes off.
The Broadway play featured compositions by Leonard Bernstein. Some of these survived the transition to film, but most were considered too sophisticated for public consumption. They were replaced by new songs by Roger Edens, Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Comden and Green also cowrote the screenplay.
On the Town is very similar to an earlier Kelly vehicle from the same year, Take Me Out to the Ball Game. The cast is largely repeated, including the leads Kelly, Sinatra, Garrett and Munshin. Garrett is boldly man hungry for Sinatra in both films. The story for each film is weak, but this is made up for by the energy of the musical numbers, and the quality of the cast, sets and costumes. The two films shared the same producer, Alan Freed, but had different directors. Legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley directed Take Me Out to the Ball Game while Stanley Donen directed On the Town. I may be the only person who prefers the earlier film, but they are both better than the much praised Kelly vehicle An American in Paris (1951). Kelly and Donen would team up again for their masterpiece Singin' in the Rain (1952), with Kelly directing the musical productions. Like both "Paris" and "Rain", there's a play within a play, which has Kelly again searching for, and finding, and dancing with his dream girl.
There are several movie 'in jokes' scattered in the script. One of the characters says to Sinatra, "Goodbye Mr. Chips!" when she leaves the room. Kelly is asked during a drinking binge if he'd seen The Lost Weekend. "Seen it?", exclaims Kelly. "I thought I was in it!" There's not much in the way of character development present, but at least there's plenty of humor. (67/100)