I love a good old fashioned musical, and while On the Town is far from one of the best, it still packs a punch. Having seen both Kelly’s and Donen’s later work, like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, this feels like an exercise. The film feels like a model of An American in Paris, the same simple story, the same affectionate portrayal of a city, and the same extended ballet sequence. They all pale in comparison to the later work, but that does not diminish the quality and energy of the performers.
Though, there is no doubt that Sinatra is a talented singer, he cannot hold his own against Kelly’s magnetism and masculinity. The film is sold because he manages to make a song and dance affair masculine. It’s perhaps his greatest asset as a dancer, and why he edges out Fred Astaire as a favourite dancer among most modern audiences. He’s rippling with muscles, choosing dance moves that highlight his athleticism… he always makes sure to have a good number of pelvic thrusts too, not that I’m paying that close attention… but they’re there, yea. They’re nice.
The music itself, is on the weak side, despite it’s iconic number, “New York, New York“. I did enjoy the “Prehistoric Man” sequence, mostly because of the sexual energy of Ann Miller. I’ve never been particularly fond of her, but she proves here she’s a force to be reckoned with. On the politically correct side, this is the first of many sequences that’s really problematic. I’m usually very forgiving, but this film does push some limits that become irksome. What surprises me more, in my mind, envisioning a remake I don’t see them cutting out any of it… strange way the world works I guess.
The next step in my musical journey will probably be Minnelli’s (a more competent director than Donen) Brigadoon. At the very least it will be opulent and beautiful, one thing that lacked in On the Town. The creativity and adventurousness of making a musical on location is admirable, but as a first entry, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. The melding of magic, reality and technical facets don’t quite work together yet.