Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, containing the legendary number New York, New York, and innovatively shot on location as well as in the studio, a rarity for a musical at the time, On the Town, is undoubtedly one of the landmark Hollywood musicals of all-time.
This film is one of our Staff Picks! Read on to find out what HOME’s very own have to say…
Musicals! HOME Staff Pick: Vicki Ciaputa, Volunteer Programme Manager
“New York, New York! It’s a helluva town!
When I was at university, the Music Society decided to put on a musical: On the Town. I was lucky enough to play Ivy Smith, the naive debutante caught in the bright lights of New York City in a whirlwind of fleeting stardom as Miss Turnstiles! It was a brilliant show full of the vibrant boom and brash of Bernstein, and a real company effort with each of the 6 main characters dragging the audience through the chaos of 24 hours in NYC.
The film is no different. In fact, with the addition of the legendary Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, it’s even better. It’s a perfect example of the golden era of musical cinema and a love letter to the Big Apple.
Although it’s a simple plot, the weaving storylines are character-led, making the most of this stellar cast, and punctuated with musical nuggets and stunning choreography. The story begins with three spunky sailors arriving in New York for 24 hours of shore leave, and they all have different ambitions for the day ahead. But the whole thing gets sidetracked pretty quickly when Gabey (Kelly) sees a photo of ‘Miss Turnstiles for the month of June’ and his buddies agree to help him track her down over the course of the day. The gang split up and embark on hilarious and risqué adventures, meeting their own sweethearts, and their baggage, across the buzzing city. You’re always aware of the sands of their shore leave slipping through the sailors’ fingers which contributes to the frenetic energy of the whole film.
It might not be a masterpiece like some of his other musicals (you won’t remember half of the songs) but Bernstein’s score is FUN! The songs are cheeky and brimming with character for the fabulous cast. The dance numbers are huge in scale and spectacle. Overall the music lifts a farcical storyline to a musical epic with no inhibitions. And for the musos — you can even hear some sneaky ideas starting to form that would later appear fully formed in West Wide Story.
It’s a cliché now, but New York City really is the extra character in this romping adventure. The plot pulls you to every inch of New York and its diverse backdrops, from the Natural History Museum to the backseat of a yellow cab, to glitzy Coney Island to a sleazy jazz club. You can’t help be overwhelmed by the scale and exoticism of the city, just like our awestruck sailors! On the Town captures the American post-war lust for life, and will leave you feeling both exhausted and optimistic.”
Screening as part of BFI Musicals! The Greatest Show on Screen, a UK-wide film season supported by National Lottery, BFI Film Audience Network and ICO.