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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