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On the Town

Just a trifle forced, like Gene Kelly. And stolen by a tapping whirlwind named Annie Miller, flying through the Museum of Natural History in a blaze of green gingham. But New York City never looked more beautiful or exciting on screen than in ON THE TOWN, a breakthrough film that, for the first time, took the musical out of the claustrophobic sound stages and onto the streets for on-location shooting. Perfectly fusing story, songs, and dances, with no production number staged merely for its own sake, ON THE TOWN is so energetic and vital that the screen barely contains it; the actors seem ready to leap off and dance up the aisles. The slim story follows sailors Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) during their 24-hour pass in New York. In the subway, they note the picture of this month's "Miss Turnstiles," with whom Gabey is especially taken; later they meet Miss Turnstiles--one Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen)--in the flesh, but she vanishes into the rush-hour crowd. Chasing after her, they enlist the help of cabbie Brunhilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett), who takes a fancy to Chip. Continuing their search, they meet anthropologist Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller), who sets her sights on Ozzie. The group splits into three units--Brunhilde and Chip, Claire and Ozzie, and Gabey--to look for Ivy, agreeing to meet on the Empire State Building's observation deck that night. After a day of romantic adventures and misadventures, they rendezvous at the appointed site, Gabey squiring Ivy, whom he mistakenly believes to be a big star in her position as Miss Turnstiles. By the time she gets around to telling him she's really just a no-name dancer from a tiny town (as it happens, the same tiny town he's from), it makes no difference to the smitten Gabey, and, after a run-in with the cops that forces the gobs to pretend they're girls, they return to their ship exactly 24 hours from the time they left. Loius B. Mayer didn't want the film to go on location, while Kelly wanted to shoot the entire picture in New York, leading to a compromise in which Kelly was allowed one frantic week of location shooting, filming the Bronx, the Battery, Coney Island, Brooklyn, the Empire State Building, Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Fifth Avenue, Radio City, the Bronx Zoo, Central Park, Carnegie Hall, the subway, Wall Street, Grant's Tomb, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Perhaps it was the short shooting schedule that contributed to the frantic pace of the film, a jampacked tour without a wasted second. There may have been better songs and even better performances in other musicals, but for effervescent energy nothing has yet come close to the joyous, influential ON THE TOWN. One quibble: Leonard Bernstein's innovative Broadway score is here diminished by Hollywood-style orchestration and much tinkering.