On the Town (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly / U.S., 1949):

Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen take the MGM musical outdoors, the New York minute is stretched to 24 hours. The brief prelude has the hard-hat tenor at the dock if not yet quite out of bed, a lovely sleepy note before the allegrissimo Big Apple ode by a trio of sailors eager to "paint this town pink, green and yellow." (The slaphappy montage from a camera car, punctuated with a 360 turn on the RCA Building observation deck, anticipates the Nouvelle Vague of Malle and Lester.) The Indiana dreamer (Kelly), the sightseer (Frank Sinatra) and the goofball (Jules Munshin), out of the battleship and into the subway, "a comedy in three acts with music." Their guide is the brassy cabdriver (Betty Garrett), at the Museum of Natural History waits the reformed nympho (Ann Miller) with a yen for troglodytes, finally Miss Turnstiles (Vera-Ellen) the Cinderella who turns into a hoochie-coochie odalisque at the stroke of midnight. "Ladies and gentlemen, we're off on a lark!" Bernstein's metropolitan decathlon becomes a simultaneous advance in realism and stylization, location filming from Dassin's The Naked City yields to Vera-Ellen's balletic transfiguration against a mustard backdrop. "Prehistoric Man" unfurls as an Ann Miller cyclone capped with a cameo from Bringing Up Baby's collapsing dinosaur, "Come Up to My Place" harmonizes Sinatra's lounge honey with Garrett's libidinous salt, a Chinatown nightclub accommodates "You Can Count on Me" ("As the adding machine once said...") along with Alice Pearce's honking tango parody. ("A Day in New York," by contrast, is pure Kelly and a dry run for the impressionistic pantomime of An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain, plus a rare glimpse of the young Carol Haney.) Scorsese has a flashing memory of the Brooklyn Bridge chase in Mean Streets, from the top of the Empire State Building to the Coney Island fairground is one long carnival. The ascending crane at the close contemplates an industrial cityscape transformed by music, and perhaps the It's Always Fair Weather hangover on the horizon. Cinematography by Harold Rosson. With Florence Bates, George Meader, and Hans Conried.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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