Musical Monday: On the Town

Posted on March 19, 2007

The Harvey Girls today, but fate (in the form of an ice storm) kept us from getting to the videostore this weekend to rent it. Never ones to let our readers down, we went with On the Town, since we picked up a copy last month in a two-for-one deal with Brigadoon. Unfortunately…well, this movie kind of sucks.

Oh, we can already feel the ire of the theater queens in the audience. Listen, we’d seen it before but it’s been years and when we watched it again this weekend, we sat there bored and by the end, annoyed. This made it on to the American Film Institute’s top twenty musicals of all time? For a film heavy with the weight of some of the greatest film dancers of all time, the choreography was wholly uninspired and except for the justifiably well-known “New York, New York,” there is not one decent song in this entire film. If it weren’t for Gene Kelly’s ass, the whole thing would have been a waste of time.

Feh. Let’s give it the GayBoy treatment anyway.

Yes, It’s On the Town! The musical extravaganza that answers that important question “What do three sailors on leave do when they apparently don’t want to hire hookers?”

The film opens with a trio of sailors with unlikely names on leave for one day in New York City. Frank Sinatra plays Chip, Jules Munshin plays Ozzie, and Gene Kelly plays Gabey. Do they look like a Chip, Ozzie, and Gabey to you?

Anyway, they run from one end of the island to the other, singing their lungs out about what a wonderful town New York is. After apparently several hours of this, they figure out that Manhattan actually has a subway and they don’t have to dance through the streets to get from place to place.

On the subway, a dirty old man shows them a picture of that month’s “Miss Turnstiles,” and if ever there was a sadder beauty pageant title than that, we don’t know it.

Dumb and horny, they try and sound out the words on the poster. Gene’s the best-looking out of the three and in a musical, that makes him the smartest. He manages to figure out the gist of it and imagines what Miss Turnstile must be like.

Gene’s quite the enlightened, sensitive guy, since his imaginary woman runs the gamut from “happy slave,”

To “glamorous slut.” Guess which one we liked best.

The other dimwits tell Gene that there’s not a chance in hell that they’ll ever meet Miss Turnstiles in a city like Manhattan, so of course…

…she’s at the next stop. Gene drools on her a bit but you don’t get to be Miss Turnstiles without a couple trips around the block, so Vera hightails it out of there, sensing a lack of commitment on Gene’s part.

The boys all hop in a cab – taking a moment to grunt their surprise that a girl can drive a cab – and try to track Miss Turnstiles down. Betty Garrett was an energetic and talented performer, but the character of Hildy is so grating, the songs she’s given are so bad and the outfits she’s forced to wear are such eyesores, that we kind of wanted to hate her by the end of the movie. We’re not the biggest Sinatra fans in the world, but even we wondered what he saw in her.

Anyway, the boys figure since Miss Turnstiles is all cultured-like, they should head to the first museum they can find – the Museum of Natural History.

Ann Miller – and just look at that outfit, kittens – spies Ozzie and takes a shine to him because she’s an anthropologist (in tap shoes, no less) and he looks like a caveman.

God bless her, Ann can raise any movie from the depths. She always wound up playing slightly slutty characters to great effect and she does no less here.
Actually, that’s not quite fair to her. She didn’t so much play sluts as she played women who both wanted and enjoyed sex (and liked to flash their underwear in museums). Anyway, she sings a truly awful song here about how she’s hot for prehistoric men because she likes it rough.

No, seriously.

To make matters worse, while Ann’s begging to be fucked like a cavewoman, the rest of these morons decide to vandalize the museum so they can portray racist caricatures in her little song and dance. This is like the time we were halfway through Seven Brides, when we realized that the entire cast was nothing but a bunch of assholes.

Anyway, these assholes destroy a dinosaur skeleton during their number and am-scray it out of there before they’re caught.

Gene, not realizing that at this point, he’s a total fifth wheel, agrees that the gang should split up to look for Miss Turnstiles in every museum in Manhattan. Sure, that won’t take long. The others, desperate to get away from this self-centered loser and mimic sex to their hearts’ content, quickly agree.

Hildy tries to sex Sinatra right there on the hood of her cab, but he wisely suggests that they go back to her place. We don’t see Ann and Ozzie for another hour, which means they must have really been getting down and dirty.

Of course, in a city of 8 million people, Gene finds Vera within minutes. They dance like monkeys and she agrees to meet him for a date on top of the Empire State Building that night.

Later, Chip and Ozzie and their gals meet up. The boys high-five each other for getting some action and the girls compliment each other’s clothes even though they don’t really mean it and each girl thinks the other is a whore.

Vera and Gene show up and their big night on the town is on, bitches. But first, they have to dance.

…and dance…

…and dance…

and – oh, would you just get on the damn elevator already?

Finally, they make it down to the street for more…

…you guessed it, dancing. Eventually, they manage to dance their way into a series of clubs, where we get to see just what passed for nightlife in NYC in 1949. Apparently, over-the-top racism was the order of the day.

First, there’s the “South American” nightlife…

…then, there’s the “Dixieland” version (and we’re pretty sure that not ALL of those ladies were born with that skin color, if you know what we’re saying), and finally, to wrap things up,

…there’s the “Shanghai” version.

To recap, when they’re not destroying museum exhibits, this group likes to pay minorities to entertain them in culturally inappropriate fashion.

Like we said, assholes.

So Vera runs off unexpectedly without explanation and Hildy sets Gene up with her ugly roommate. Many jokes are made at this poor girl’s expense and he finally puts her out of her misery and sends her home.

Oh, blahblahblah. Other things happen. The upshot is, Vera works on Coney Island and didn’t want Gene to know that, but then the group runs into her dance teacher (because there are only about 15 people in Manhattan) and she fills them in. They head off to Coney Island with the cops suddenly in hot pursuit (something to do with that destroyed dinosaur and oh yeah, they stole a taxi).

Gene finds her in the middle of a pole dance. He’s all “Score!” and she’s all “Oh shit, busted.” There’s a lot of yakyakyak and all is forgiven and we’re just waiting for the wrapup when the cops show up.

Which means we get to see the worst drag performing of all time. Why is it that in so many old movies, people seem to think that putting on a wig and a dress is a great way to escape the law? Especially since it never works?

The boys are captured and taken back to their ship. The girls all wave their hankies, knowing that they’ll never see them again and cursing themselves for giving it up to a bunch of illiterate sailors, but deep down, they know they’ll do it again with the next batch heading down the ramp. The end.

Listen, we are in dire need of a healthy dose of fabulosity and songs that we know the words to, so we’re putting The Harvey Girls on the back burner. Next week, it’s My Fair Lady. Won’t that be loverly?


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  • valpal

    Bill??? This one clearly needs input from you. Any interesting tidbits to redeem the miserable hours that the boys spent on our behalf?

  • winged_sheep

    You’re skipping the Harvey Girls? I’ve never heard of it and long to be enlightened by you guys! I know all the other ones too well. The idea of being introduced to a new musical by you would be, as Ms Doolittle says, lo-ver-ly.

  • The Scarlett

    Good call on My Fair Lady next week. I’ve been dying to see your take on that one. The hats alone have been a great inspiration to me.

  • Anonymous

    That caveman reminds me a lot of Victor Mature when he played Samson in, of course, Samson and Delilah.

  • Gorgeous Things

    “Why is it that in so many old movies, people seem to think that putting on a wig and a dress is a great way to escape the law? Especially since it never works?”

    Whaddya mean, never works? It works for Bugs Bunny every single time! Speaking of which, can I make a request? How about “What’s Opera Doc?”

  • Jason

    The MTA tried to revive Miss Turnstiles with a new title: Ms Subways. It’s just as sad…

  • Jules

    Can’t wait for MFL. Buuuut, I did watch The Harvey Girls this weekend in anticipation of today’s review. Every time I see Angela Lansbury in an old movie, I am stunned by what beautiful eyes she has. So, Boys, do set a date to “do the girls”.

  • Young offender

    If I had been alive in 1949 and saw this movie, I’d want to become an anthropologist just so I could wear that green dress. And to have a life-size statue of a caveman. Rawr.


  • BrianB

    It was always nice to see the dinosaur bones in “Bringing Up Baby” get the gig in this movie. It did the best prat falls in the business!

    LOVE Florence Bates, the dance teacher, in anything she was in though she’s a little wasted here. And Mary Alice Pearce, Gabey’s substitute date, seemed to have an interesting background, ending up in Bewitched.

    Much as I laughed at this review of OTT, I don’t dislike the movie as much as the PRGayboys because it’s basically fluff so it doesn’t matter that much. I’m usually looking at the vintage NYC shots and the backgrounds in different scenes. Like in the screen capture with Miss Turnstiles and Gabey, I was looking at the posters on the back wall. For some reason that seems more interesting than what’s happening in the scene.

    It’s definitely a stage musical and they play it to the back rows like they would in a theater. I don’t know how many songs were cut from the stage version but I’ve heard a song called “Lonely Town” that Gabey”s character sings that was nicely done by John Reardon.

    Unfortunately, for me no musical is more snooze inducing than “My Fair Lady”. However, I expect that I’ll have a new appreciation for it after reading PRGayboys personal spin on it!


  • Emily

    Yay! My Fair Lady! You could do a whole post on the hats alone.

  • brilliant

    he wisely suggests that they go back to her place

    LOL! That duet between Sinatra and Garrett always makes me cringe. Watching Mrs. de Fazio desperately try to get Sinatra to go back to her place is uncomfortable to say the least. After the first 30 seconds, I’m ready for them to STFU and get back to Gene.

    Nice ass indeed!

  • Anonymous

    Try and check out ‘Fancy Free’ when the ballet does it. On The Town was based on it. It’s a great story for twenty minutes or so….a full feature? meh.

  • Linda Merrill

    “Why is it that in so many old movies, people seem to think that putting on a wig and a dress is a great way to escape the law? Especially since it never works?”

    What about Gene Hackman’s escape in “Birdcage”? Speaking of “loverly”.

  • Embeedubya

    Gotta say I agree with you on OTT. So, okay, move on to My Fair Lady. I just hope it won’t be a fourteen caption Valentine to Audrey Hepburn. But I trust you boys to find the snarkiness in every situation. I hope you get around to something with Fred Astaire soon — The Bandwagon would be fun.

  • Anonymous

    can not WAIT for MFL next week Two older single gentlemen playing dress up with a girl they pay. early trivia piece, Ralph Lauren based one of his home collections on the Ascot scene from this film. If I can find a link to the collection (it goes back to the early ’90s) I will post it.

  • Bill

    Despite the ridiculously fabulous costumes on the women in this movie, I have never cared for it.

    The stage version is far superior. As with many stage to screen transfers, they have cut most of the stage numbers and had studio writers introduce new songs. This rarely works well.

    T&L – you would love the Hilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett)character if they kept her other stage song in the movie. "I Can Cook, Too" is killer.

    Nancy (Ida Morgenstern) Walker did it in the original Broadway version, Bernadette Peters in the ’71 revival and Lea Delaria in 1998. I saw Lea Delaria do the role. Seeing that bull dyke in a dress was fun enough, but bitch can sing and she stopped the show cold with this really suggestive song sung in her apartment once she gets Chip up there. She should have won the Tony that year for Best Featured Actress but was strangely not even nominated.

    The song is fantastic. A lyric sample:
    Oh, I can cook, too, on top of the rest,
    My seafood’s the best in the town.
    And I can cook, too.
    My fish can’t be beat,
    My sugar’s the sweetest around.
    I’m a man’s ideal of a perfect meal
    Right down to the demi-tasse.
    I’m a pot of joy for a hungry boy,
    Baby, I’m cookin’ with gas.
    Oh, I’m a gumdrop,
    A sweet lollipop,
    A brook trout right out of the brook,
    And what’s more, baby, I can cook!

    ‘Cause I can bake, too, on top of the lot,
    My oven’s the hottest you’ll find.
    Yes, I can roast too,
    My chickens just ooze,
    My gravy will lose you your mind.
    I’m a brand new note
    On a table d’hôte,
    But just try me à la carte.
    With a single course
    You can choke a horse.
    Baby, you won’t know where to start!

    People to look for in the movie:

    Bea Benaderet (on the subway) – Betty Rubble’s voice, Kate Bradley (Petticoat Junction and Green Acres) and Pearl Bodine (Beverly Hillbillies).

    Carol Haney (dancer) – Great Broadway dancer whose hurt ankle put her out of her Tony award winning role in the Pajama Game. Her understudy was seen by a movie producer and brought out to Hollywood for a screen test and Shirley MacLaine was born!

    Hans Conreid (waiter)- Uncle Tonoose from Make Room for Daddy and the voice of Snidely Whiplash, Captain Hook.

  • mumblesalot (Laura A)

    Thanks for your review of On the Down. I always found this movie to be rather depressing.

    Cecil Beaton’s gowns in My Fair Lady melted my young heart years ago. They still do with the volume turned off. I would love to see a match between Beaton, Edith Head and Adrian.
    Looking forward to your review.

  • j-yo

    Thanks for making my Monday mornings brighter! As usual, you made me laugh so hard I nearly shot coffee out of my nose this morning. Haven’t seen this movie, have no intention to see it, so thank you for experiencing it for me. I must say I do love the women’s outfits in those screen shots. And isn’t Ann Margaret still dancing? Last I saw her on TV, she was about 100 and still hoofing it in those high heels and slinky red dress.

    I HAVE seen My Fair Lady (and loved reading Pygmalion) so I’m looking forward to that!

  • Kerry

    It’s so funny that you should watch this! It was on TCM last week for their Gene Kelly Mondays and I felt the same way! “New York, New York” was the ONLY good song and once that was over I was done. Channel turned.

  • thombeau

    Oh you glamorous sluts! Thanks for sitting through all that and still making us laugh. I never cared for this one, either. Simply put, the costumes sucked!

    By the way, why was Ozzie wearing a merkin?

  • Anonymous

    My high school put on a production of “On The Town”… somehow, our asshole director thought that the props people (2, effectively, with 2 druggies just written into the programs and cast shirts) should build the goddamn dinosaur skeleton.

    It’s vindicating for you to call it the crap musical that it is. THANKS, Project: Gay!!!

  • macasism

    Ann Miller is my hero. Gawd that woman could dance, and in the most fabulous clothes. And Gene Kelly’s ass is indeed the finest on a white man that I can remember.

    Yay! My Fair Lady. Good songs for a change, although not as much dancing.

  • Pamela

    I adore Ann Miller and Gene Kelly in anything! Although I agree the movie drags in places.

    Muchas gracias to Bill for the “I Can Cook Too” lyrics. Now I will have to find a recording of that song! I might even write the words on my kitchen wall.

  • Anonymous

    oh my god bitches! do you notice how in every shot, Vera has her neck covered? even in White Christmas, her neck is covered up in just about every scene. i heard it was because she lost so much weight that the skin on her neck was wrinkled and loose. so she always required that her neck be covered.

  • Young offender

    “i heard it was because she lost so much weight that the skin on her neck was wrinkled and loose. so she always required that her neck be covered.”

    –Or she’s a cutter. Or has a vampire fetish.

    I’m just throwin it out there….

  • snf in va


    All that, and no screen caps of Gene’s FGM (fabulous gluteus maximus)?!?

  • aimee

    “With a single course
    You can choke a horse.
    Baby, you won’t know where to start!”

    !!!! *I* don’t know where to start with those lyrics. Wow.

    And squeeeeeee! Ascot hats, next week.

  • mike

    From “Happy Slave” To “glamorous slut.” Guess which one we liked best.

    oh oh.. pick me! glamorous slut????

  • Cat

    SNF in VA – this isn't the first time T&L have swooned over Kelly's ass without giving us a screencap. Just sayin'. (*Ahem*. I may be on the dykier side of things, but a cute butt's a cute butt.)

    And Bill – Lea Delaria as Hilde? OMG. I had no idea.

  • jlp

    No decent songs? What about Lonely Town? I love that song! Not to mention I Can Cook, Too.

    Speaking of which, did you guys catch Lea de Laria as Hildy in the extremely (and deservedly) short-lived George C. Wolfe revival several years ago? She was the only excuse for seeing it, and was totally awesome. Belted out the aforesaid number in a way that probably had Ethel Merman turning green in her grave.

  • jlp

    Just saw Bill’s post, and he’s correct. I Can Cook, Too wasn’t in the film, just the stage show.

    For those who missed it, Lea Delaria in a dress. (She’s the one in fuschia.)

  • Vera

    As I’ve said here before, Ann Miller’s “Too Darn Hot” routine from “Kiss Me, Kate” is the reason I went into the theatre, so I was so excited when I found On the Town in the 5 dollar bin at my local used CD/DVD retailer (also because Lea DeLaria’s rendition of “I Can Cook, Too,” complete with jazz scatting, was a big favorite on my music player at the time). And bitches, did I ever want my 5 bucks back after watching it. I almost fell asleep and then finished it cranky. NOT how a musical is supposed to make one feel. This one felt very commercially manufactured. I had to watch “Kiss Me, Kate” about 5 times before I was able to get the bad taste out of my mouth,

  • Anonymous

    Can’t wait for MFL. Love the music and the costumes, hate the political message – the damn play ends with the line “woman, go get me my slippers!”

  • potty mouth princess

    The first time I saw the dinosaur dissmebling at the museum, probably in my early teens, I was aghast. That is when I really got that ethics don’t exist in musicals from that period.

    I’m currently watching one of my favorite Gene movies: An American in Paris.

    This one MUST be done. If it has, please direct me. Gene Kelly, all 5 foot 7 of him, pwned (intentional) those taller guys, and did metro/homo/masculine at the drop of a hat.

    The dance scene with Leslie Caron that I’m watching now is perfection (the slow piece)…as is Gene’s ass.

  • mumblesalot (Laura A)

    Thanks Bill, I found that very interesting.

  • potty mouth princess

    Apologies for split infinitives (my last main point) and unclear ideas:

    I knew musicals were fantasies, but even as a kid, I hated that they fucked up a dinosaur in a museum, even if it was fake.

    That scene still bothers me to this day, probably more since I know a good number of anthopologists.

  • Neverwhere

    I am SO excited for your treatment of My Fair Lady I just don’t know what to do with myself. *giddy with anticipation* 😀

  • annabelle

    “My Fair Lady” was one of my first musicals, or at least one of the first ones I remember. Anyway, I’m throughly excited for that.

    Yes, “On the Town” is lame. But back to Audrey Hepburn musicals, you guys will do “Funny Face” eventually, right? I mean, the clothes are so fabulous. How can you ignore a musical with that great of a wardrobe?

  • Suzanne

    If it weren’t for Gene Kelly’s ass, the whole thing would have been a waste of time.


    I was never an Ann Miller fan. Her arms on her turns make me crazy.

    Hey – what would we do with out big mouth dance teachers from Coney Island?? (OK so I’m not from EXACTLY Coney Island but a couple of more exits down the Belt Parkway…..)

  • Anonymous

    Yesterday’s Gene Kelly night on TCM also featured the Pirate. Another really terrible musical, but there is that big stylized pirate dance where our Gene wears the really tight really tiny black shorts. It ain’t just the ass that’s hot. Makes me mad at all those damn sailor suits with the bell bottom pants. They are hiding some set of legs.

  • Marius

    Yes, “My Fair Lady!” Now I have something to look forward to. Thanks, Project:Gay.

  • KingRoper

    I now plan my Monday evenings – a scotch, a smoke, and your weekly musical flicks!

    As for On The Town… I agree with you guys on this one. About the only things here to recommend are (once again) Gene Kelly’s ass in sailor whites and the location shoots. Some trivia: Sinatra’s ass was padded (too skinny to fill out the uniform), the censors made them change the line from “It’s a hellava town” to “It’s a wonderful town”, and this was the first musical to be partially filmed on location (though the women are only in NY in the final goodbye shot!).

    Yes, the stage version is vastly superior – the last revival notwithstanding (if ONE MORE sailor jumped up on a lamp post and spun I was going to scream – and someone should tell Lea Delaria that loud does not equal funny). Only a few of Bernstein’s songs from the stage show were used in the film – the opening/NY,NY, Come Up to My Place, and the ballet music… as you know, the rest suck.

    Interesting how the women are far more interested in sex than the men who just got off the ship…

  • Anonymous

    You guys are awesome, but ease up! It’s a musical, not “Schindler’s List.” Next time you want to write such a cranky recap, take a deep breath, remind yourself that it’s supposed to be fun, mix a fab drink, and start over!

  • Suzanne

    Re: the above poster…dontcha love the newbies??

    Just to clarify, Ann, when doing those lightening fast turns in a circle she was famous for , held her arms in a bizarre, bent elbow, limp wristed, one high/one low position. We as dance teachers would nail ANY of our students if they ever did that in class.

    We usually ask for either a rounded postion (think of holding a beach ball in front of your belly button), or holding them closer to the body, kind of folded in toward you.

    Far be it for me to criticize the great Ann Miller, but…..well….I guess I just did- did’t I?

    Gene Kelly on the other hand is STILL TO THIS DAY the standard that we hold every male dancer to- along with Barishnikov.

    He danced like an athlete….his technique , even for those days was- and still is- impeccable. My male students would give their left arm to dance like that.

    An aside…one of my tap teachers, the great Ronn Daniels, dubbed Gene’s tap sounds in for him back in the day- I guess they didn’t actually tape the sounds at the time they filmed those scenes, they would go back in and dub them later on.

  • Anonymous

    I almost died laughing when they parodied this on “The Simpsons”

    Springfield, Springfield
    It’s a helluva town
    The school yard’s up
    and the shopping mall’s down
    The stray dogs go to the animal pound
    Springfield, Springfield
    Springfield, Springfield
    New York, New York,
    New York City’s that-a-way man,
    Thanks kid!
    It’s a helluva town

  • BigAssBelle

    THAT was the best ever. Oh my god, the guy with the merkin standing over the wench craving some caveman fucking. divine, truly.

  • Anonymous

    This is actually one of my favorite musicals (with the disclaimer that I don’t usually care for the genre … and I’m gayer than gay). I tend to overlook the rampant racism and sexism because it was so common in pop culture back then (even Bugs Bunny had something to offend everyone) — it’s so funny to watch now because it’s hard to believe how unbelievably blatant it was back then without anyone batting an eye.

    As Suzanne said, Gene Kelly is the gold standard … nobody could move like him. And that ass in sailor whites is to die for.

    I can’t believe you totally glossed over the fantasy sequence, A Day in New York. Gene and Vera are smokin’ hot — I am totally surprised it got by the censors.

    I love the museum sequence … Ann is on fire … and angling to be a bit pre-feminist by going after Ozzie purely for his caveman “club”. She’s not really husband-hungry like Hilde and definitely not an ingenue, but she knew what she wanted.

    Would have loved to have seen the stage version … I think it takes place during WWII instead of the post-war period where the movie is set.

  • Boys, you should know that I visit all of the Musical Monday series periodically, and this one always just about kills me with laughter. Well done, sirs. Well done.