“On The Town,” the 1949 musical starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, is a charmer, an aggressive charmer. It’s filled with so much good cheer and wink-filled fun that you’ll walk away with a toothache.
The plot is simple enough; Gabey (Kelly), Chip (Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin), three of the greenest sailors to ever grace the silver screen, are on leave for 24 hours in the Big Apple. It’s the first trip for all three, and they all have different ideas of how to spend their day in paradise.
And like all good sailors, the ladies play a big part in their plans; Gabey spots a poster for a Miss Turnstiles (Vera-Ellen), decides that this is the girl for him, and leads his buddies and the women (Ann Miller and Betty Garrett) they pick up on a cross-town search for his lady love.
And being a musical, they get into some singing and dancing (excellent fancy footwork but the songs are terribly dated) and dancing-related mishaps, but it’s all in good fun. Sure, this New York never existed, but they have a good, PG-rated time frolicking across a land of make believe.
It’s hard not to like “On The Town.” On one hand, the movie is so ridiculous, so fake, so unbelievable that it becomes a feel-good fantasy that’s almost too hard to resist.
On the other hand, the musical sequences are mostly filler and too long, and the characters are more quirks than people. The whole is certainly more than the sum of its parts, but “On The Town” is the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy; bright and delicious at the time, but it will do nothing but rot your teeth and give you a stomachache. “On The Town” might have been exactly what a post-war America needed, but it’s too light and fluffy for this viewer.
If you can accept “On The Town” on its own terms, than by all means see it and you’ll no doubt walk away happy. But if you want to see a musical with some emotional heft, check out Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg;” here’s a film that embraces the surrealist nature of musicals (every line in the film is sung), but manages to keep the straightforward story grounded in reality, which makes the ending all the more painful. It may look like candy, but ‘Cherbourg’ is a full, satisfying meal.