Academy Awards 1949 -
Best Adapted or Musical Song/Score: Lennie Hayton & Roger Edens
USA Today - 10/19/1994
"...An energetic romp..."
Total Film - 02/01/2004
"[T]here are some great film-fan jokes."
Co-directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen (SINGIN' IN THE RAIN) also choreographed this musical classic following three sailors docked in New York City for 24 hours. New to town and ready to see the sights--and the girls--Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin search for adventure in the Big Apple. Wooing the ladies with their singing and dancing and being charmed in return, the trio finds various degrees of romantic success. But as all good things must come to an end, the navy men return to their ship, leaving behind them a city briefly brighter and taking with them a heartful of memories.
Dancing by the marvelous and masculine Kelly and singing by heartthrob Sinatra (looking very young!) add punch and pizzazz to the musical numbers, including the famous "New York, New York" scene. ON THE TOWN was one of the first movies filmed on location in New York--a wild extravagance in those days--and the extra effort taken shows in every shot of the film.
Eager to experience it all, three sailors are determined to find love and adventure during their 24-hour leave in New York City. Carrying with them good hearts, great voices, and delightful dance steps, the navy men encounter and charm lovely ladies and colorful characters. ON THE TOWN is a classic musical that perfectly balances song with story, love with camaraderie while showing off the remarkable dancing of Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra's unforgettable voice.
The film contains remarkable location footage of New York City. Shooting outside of the studio was a rarity at that time, and Gene Kelly had to fight for permission to do so. As it was, the crew had to be careful about when and where they shot given the stars' fame--especially Sinatra's.
The film is based on the Broadway musical, which premiered in December 1944; that show, in turn, was inspired by Jerome Robbins's short ballet, "Fancy Free." Among the stars of the show were ballerina Sono Osato (as Ivy Smith), the play's writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green (as Claire and Ozzy), and Nancy Walker (as Hildy). It was a first for most of the show's young cast and creators, the majority of whom had not yet celebrated their 30th birthdays: It marked the Broadway debut for choreographer Robbins, composer Leonard Bernstein, and playwrights Comden and Green. Only director George Abbott was a theater veteran.
ON THE TOWN was also a first in other respects--most importantly, as the first Broadway musical to have an interracial chorus and to employ a black conductor/musical director. Reportedly, when Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, saw the show (which he had already bought the movie rights to), he considered it "communist" because of a duet danced by an interracial couple.
Much of Leonard Bernstein's Broadway score was scrapped for the film, which ultimately contained only four of his original songs. New songs were written by Roger Edens.
MGM was not alone in wanting the film rights to ON THE TOWN. In fact, Mayer and the other executives had to wrench them from another studio, which had already purchased them. This was the first time that a bidding war had erupted prior to a Broadway show's opening; most of the interest was generated by the popularity of Jerome Robbins's ballet.