Sunday, October 2, 2011

Location-Based Musicals Double Feature: On the Town (1949) and On the Riviera (1951)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, both from my personal collection.

I was in a serious musical mood the other day and was so pleased to re-discover my On The Town dvd. I realized it goes well with a recent surprise gift from my totally awesome grandma, On the Riviera. And so a double feature was born! Both films are musicals from around the same time, though they approach the genre differently, with spontaneous singing and dancing in the former and stage numbers only in the latter. Both also utilize their locations quite specifically, with beautiful shots of On The Town's New York City and On the Riviera's Southern France setting the tone for their respective story lines. Plus they both have mistaken/confused identities! I love that!

When three close but totally-not-gay sailors are given 24 hours of shore leave in New York City, they each have different priorities. Chip (Frank Sinatra) wants to see the sights, Ozzie (Jules Munchin) wants to see some ladies, and Gabey (Gene Kelly) wants to stalk the lovely "Miss Turnstiles" (Vera-Ellen), a nightclub dancer he mistakes for a celebrity. The three team up with Hildy (Betty Garrett), a cab driver with moxie, and Claire (Ann Miller), a sensual anthropologist, to track her down. Various hi-jinks and musical numbers ensue.

Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, On the Town is an earlier pairing of the dream team behind Singin' in the Rain. It's got the trademark wit and smarm paired with lively dance numbers and a lot of great NYC locations (this is possibly the first musical to be filmed outside of a studio set?). The songs are fun, though I'd say "New York, New York" is the only really memorable one. Well, that and "Come Up to My Place", Sinatra's hilarious duet with Garrett. The cast is what makes this one, with just an absolutely stellar group of 6 leads who all play off one another remarkably well. I love me some Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller, but Betty Garrett is the one who stands out the most (and has the most fun) as the brassy Hildy, a working girl who knows what she wants and doesn't care who knows it. I liked her spunk. And Miller gets a surprisingly sexual number in her intro scene, which I appreciated. Both of these women are really quite forward and in control of their romantic situation, which is pretty cool for a fluffy 1949 musical I'd say.

The film as a whole is a bit too dated for me to really love, and the story is laughably thin, but it's one of the first classic musicals I ever watched, plus my high school did it for the spring play when I was in stage crew, so it certainly holds a lot of nostalgic enjoyment for me.


Based on the play The Red Cat (with a screenplay co-written by Nora Ephron's mom!), On the Riviera stars Danny Kaye as both American stage comedian Jack Martin and famed philandering French pilot Henri Duran, both living along the titular French coast. When it becomes clear that the two look almost exactly alike, Martin is employed by Duran's friends to impersonate the pilot at a party, hoping to fool a man he owes money to. Martin's romance with his stage partner Colette (Corinne Calvet) and Duran's strained marriage to Lil (Gene Tierney) are both at risk when the switch takes place.

Seemingly incapable of playing only one person, Kaye is yet again able to shine in multiple roles as both the charismatic, stuffy pilot who seems to have inexhaustible luck with the ladies (where does he find the time!?), and the goofy, talented stage comedian. He gets to make out with both Gene Tierney and Corinne Calvet, so I guess that was a big incentive as well. The story is loose and predictable, but it showcases its stars well (though Calvet doesn't get much to do) and there are some great musical numbers. I especially like Kaye's soft-spoken rendition of "Ballin' the Jack". The film as a whole isn't the most memorable, but it has some very funny and enjoyable moments, including various mistaken identity jokes and digs at Duran's stamina. You know me, if Danny Kaye is around I'm satisfied.



  1. Hi Alex,

    Catching up on some of your reviews. I just recently watched and reviewed On the Town as well. I actually loved it! One of my top 25 musicals methinks. Loved the location shooting and you're right, the ladies are the sexual beings here! Great stuff.

  2. Jon: Yes great to see more ON THE TOWN love! It's a fun one. Not sure if it'd be in my top 25 musicals, but I'd have to think about it! I've seen and loved so many, it'd be tough to narrow down.