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Anchors Aweigh (1945), a quintessential Forties song and dance extravaganza about two sailors on leave in Hollywood, remains the penultimate example of the MGM confectionery machine at its peak. The seamless team chemistry of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly proved so sensational that the duo would be paired in two subsequent (and legendary) Metro releases, Take Me Out to the Ballgame and, most notably, On the Town (both 1949). Their reel camaraderie paralleled their real lifetime friendship, an enthusiasm evident in every frame they share together. For Sinatra, a devout movie buff, co-starring at MGM was a dream come true - and this picture, showing him as a girl-shy gob in love, firmly cemented him as a member of the studio's more-stars-than-there-are-in-Heaven club. Importantly, it was the singer's first appearance in Technicolor - and the sight of Ol' Blue Eyes'...well, blue eyes brought untold millions of "oohs," "ahhs," and sighs of "Frankie!" from the ever growing female public, many of whom returned to their respective Bijous two, five and even ten times to see the movie.
Aside from the spectacular Technicolor (whose radiant bright hues turned Southern California into a kaleidoscopic paradise), Anchors Aweigh was expertly helmed by George Sidney, beginning his feature film tenure after apprenticing in the studio's shorts department. Sinatra, never one to forget a key player in his career, heartily approved when Sidney was slated to direct Pal Joey in 1957.
Of course Gene Kelly was no slouch either - nor was female lead Kathryn Grayson or the cute little urchin playing her kid brother, Dean Stockwell. Kelly's imaginative dances, resulting in the masterful live action/animation set piece, wherein the star cuts a veritable rug with MGM's cartoon luminary Jerry the Mouse, is probably the most famous sequence in the picture.
In The Films of Gene Kelly by Tony Thomas, Kelly recalls the origin of this dance which took two months to complete: "Stanley Donen and I sat around for a couple of days trying to think of something and after one long period of silence Stanley suggested, "How about doing a dance with a cartoon?" This was it. The MGM brass didn't think it could be done, but [producer Joe] Pasternak went to bat for us and got a budget of $100,000, to do it as an independent production, warning us that it likely would not appear in the movie. Stanley and I went to Walt Disney, to get his advice and possibly hire some of his men to work for us. But this wasn't possible because the Disney studio was so busy it couldn't accept any extra work. Disney was himself experimenting with live action and animation at that time although he had nothing as difficult in mind as what we hoped to do. But he gave us his blessings, and the fact that Disney considered the idea feasible helped us persuade the MGM cartoon department to do the job. I get all the credit for this, but it would have been impossible for me without Stanley, he worked with the cameraman and called the shots in all these intricate timings and movements. It wasn't easy for the cameraman - he was being asked to photograph something that wasn't there."
Indeed, the Jerry the Mouse/Gene Kelly dance is a unique novelty but it is probably the magnificent Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn songs (including "What Makes the Sunset" and "I Begged Her") that the flick's legions of fans take closest to heart. A top favorite is "I Fall in Love Too Easily"; as sung by a lonely Sinatra in the empty Hollywood Bowl, the ballad, in its elegant simplicity, remains one of the movie musical's greatest moments.
Director: George Sidney
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart, Natalie Marcin
Cinematography: Robert Planck, Charles Boyle
Editor: Adrienne Fazan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell
Music: George Stoll, Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn
Cast: Frank Sinatra (Clarence Doolittle), Kathryn Grayson (Susan Abbott), Gene Kelly (Joseph Brady), Jose Iturbi (Himself), Dean Stockwell (Donald Martin), Rags Ragland (Police Sergeant).
C-140m. Close captioning.
by Mel Neuhaus