' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: On The Town

Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday's Old Fashioned: On The Town

Three U.S. Navy sailors set loose on a 24 hour leave in New York City are at the Museum of Anthropological History where they run into a striking anthropologist who explains she is doing a study on modern man. Or as she puts it, "Modern man? What is it?" What is it? For real? Come on, that's easy, and "On The Town", a 1949 film based on the Broadway musical of several years earlier, proves it.


Chip (Frank Sinatra) is intent on seeing the sights once he's released from his ship but his two pals, Gabey (Gene Kelly) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin), don't seem quite as keen on the idea, and Gabey especially doesn't once they board the subway and spot an evocative poster for one Miss Turnstiles (Vera-Ellen), who Gabey becomes determined to track down. "Do you know how many women there are in New York City?" asks Chip. "Do you know the law of averages?" Except, sure enough, the second they disembark the subway they run smack dab into - who else?! - Miss Turnstiles. Except she gets away! Blimey! And so the three sailors will go after her by using clues imposed on the poster from the subway, enlisting an ornery female cab driver (Betty Garrett) for whom Chip will fall and the aforementioned striking anthropologist (Ann Miller) in their quest.

Will Gabey find Miss Turnstiles? And if Gabey finds Miss Turnstiles will it turn out that she's less a celebrity than someone with the plain-jane name Ivy Smith? And will Ivy Smith be harboring a "shameful" secret that causes her to disappear right when it seems all is right with the world? And if she disappears will Gabey and his cohorts track her down to assure a happy ending? Such pointless questions, dear reader.

But, of course, "On The Town" doubles as a musical - music by Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green - and the songs are best when they work as an expression of how the characters are feeling at any given moment. Best of all is Miss Turnstiles' initial song & dance number which portrays her as a "home-loving girl" who "loves high society" and "studies and dancing and painting" and puts this all against a blank background as if to suggest the entire thing is an overheated projection of Gabey's imagination which, you know, is the way males often consider attractive females. A couple other numbers, closer to the end, almost come across as padding, a vehicle to show off the true talents of its stars, which can be good or bad depending on your point of view and/or your mood.


In the end, though, it all comes back to that one question: "Modern man? What is it?" Well, here Chip, Gabey and Ozzie are in the breadth of Manhattan, so many places to go, so much to see, so much to do, but the film, despite shooting actual scenes at places such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Rockefeller Center when such location filming was against the norm, ignores the locales to focus, simply, on the guy trying to get the girl. There's your modern man.

In 2007 I was in New York with my sister. We were in Midtown, having the classic Manhattan lunch of hot dogs on the street, when suddenly, as if by whimsical chance, a whispy, Sienna Miller-esque blonde in sunglasses and smoking a cigarette and listening to her iPod ("The Execution Of All Things" by Rilo Kiley, or so I like to imagine) walked right past me in the manner of a classic take-no-shit New Yorker. I fell in love in .000447 seconds. I stammered to my sister, "Did you see that girl?" My sister, knowing me all too well, replied with a minor roll of her eyes, "The blonde with the iPod?" There I was in the heart of it all, the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park and Carnegie Hall and The Met and the Flatiron Building and St. Patrick's Cathedral and The World's Most Famous Arena and so forth.

But the blonde won.

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