This really takes me back to my early teens. I remember randomly watching parts of this on Turner Classic Movies while growing up, but as it was with many other movies such as Fame, The Wizard of Oz or Clash of the Titans, I never seemed to be able to actually watch the damn thing from start to finish. I’d usually miss the first fifteen minutes or they were on so late that I couldn’t stay awake all the way through. So there’s certainly a lot of satisfaction in finally being able see On the Town completely in one go.
One of the first things that spring to mind when thinking of the picture is just how hilarious it is to watch Kelly, Sinatra and Munshin (all well into their mid-thirties at this point) play a trio of naïve sailors who have never been to a big city before, and act as if they were all barely over eighteen from the looks of it. They’re full of energy, adorably singleminded, from the word ‘go’ onwards ready to seize the day and spontaneously fall in love, all this while constantly marveled by things they encounter in the big apple. In Kelly’s case, it even goes as far as being completely enamored by a gal he meets briefly at the subway station that the gang then ends up trying to track her down for most of the first half of the movie, basically trying to find a needle in a haystack the size of New York City.
Over all, On the Town does live up to all my expectations and vague memories of it. It’s fun, light-hearted, quirky at just the right places and above all, it’s awfully adorable, in that fun, sweet syrupy way. It’s an entertaining traditional musical but not particularly grandiose, which is why it perhaps is a bit overlooked today, due to how plain the story is. Three sailors having a 24 hour shore leave in New York City, where they see the sights and fall in love with three gals they meet up, with boatload of shenanigans keeping the story moving? It’s admittedly a bit generic, but it’s got heart, damn it.
The song and dance numbers are all rather terrific. There’s plenty of gay (you know, happily exciting, not homosexual) energy and variety to them and everything is appropriately humorous and grand but not outlandishly too extravagant that it would break character. The more Broadway stage show style number in the middle, recapping the entire story so far through dancing, admittedly is a bit out there, but it kinda managed to find a way to organically segway itself into the movie, and it did look great. I also liked how the movie comes a full circle at the end, by ending exactly as it started: Gene and the gang have arrived to the ship at dawn, just as a new batch of sailors run out of the ship with their new 24 hour shore leave starting and three friends re-create the same “New York, New York” song routine that we saw in the opening of the movie done by Sinatra and co.
On the Town might not make it to my top three all time favorite musicals, but it is absolutely fun to watch and a bundle of joy for anybody who enjoys Gene Kelly or Frank Sinatra. There are chase scenes with the cops, the boys dressing up as women and then doing disastrous attempt at a dance routine, there’s uplifting songs and hilarious antics and budding romance around each corner. It’s pure entertainment and wonderfully amusing all the way through.