Inspired by such films as The Man I Love(1946) and My Dream is Yours(1949), Scorsese wanted to pay tribute to the music he had grown up with in New York, New York - the big band sounds of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Louis Prima. In order to authenticate this style, every scene of New York, New York, was filmed on back lots and soundstages on the MGM lot in Hollywood, where so many of the original films were made. The artificial sets and backdrops not only honor their inspired predecessors, but also serve as a sharp contrast to the imperfect and often destructive relationship between the two main characters - Francine and Jimmy. Rumor has it that Scorsese became romantically involved with Minnelli during the filming. At the same time, De Niro was in the final stage of his marriage to co-star Diahnne Abbott, who appears in the film briefly as a Billie Holiday-styled singer.
The story of two musicians who are drawn together and then part during the commencement of WWII, New York, New York explores a relationship eroded by mutual competition, different career goals, and on-the-road touring, all set to key songs from the period. Fresh from Taxi Driver, De Niro stars as Jimmy Doyle, a tenor saxophonist full of intensity and erratic moods. Opposite him is Liza Minnelli as Francine Evans, a brilliant singer who must eventually choose between her love for Jimmy or her own career. Throughout shooting, Minnelli's voice reminded cast members of her mother; Minnelli even used Garland's old dressing room on the MGM lot. De Niro also impressed everyone with his dedication by learning to play tenor saxophone in a mere three months for his role. De Niro's teacher Georgie Auld, however, dubbed the final notes (he also plays the bandleader Frankie Harte). Authentication, by the way, was a running theme: a fight scene in a taxi between Minnelli and De Niro got so out of hand that not only the two stars but Scorsese as well ended up in an emergency room! Mary Kay Place, in her first big film break, is featured as Bernice, the replacement singer for the band.
Going over budget by two million dollars, New York, New York ultimately cost United Artists a cool nine million. Reasons for this included a largely improvised script which caused delays in the production and a lavish musical sequence entitled "Happy Days". Intended for the conclusion of the film, the $350,000 production number was cut from the original release. In fact, Scorsese's biggest disappointment about the 1977 version was the drastic editing; over 130 minutes were clipped before being screened for American audiences. When the film was re-released in 1981, the "Happy Days" sequence was restored, which led to the film's positive reassessment by numerous critics.
But in 1977, everyone was obsessed with Annie Hall and Star Wars, so New York, New York was lost in the shuffle. It also was ignored at Oscar time, receiving zero nominations, even in the Best Song category. Instead that gooey, top forty hit, "You Light Up My Life," won the Best Song Oscar. However, time will prove the true winner. New York, New York remains one of Martin Scorsese's most ambitious films and it continues to win new admirers whenever the restored version is shown.
Producer: Robert Chartoff, Gene Kirkwood, Irwin Winkler
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Earl MacRauch, Mardik Martin
Production Design: Boris Leven
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Costume Design: Theadora Van Runkle
Film Editing: Irving Lerner, Bert Lovitt, Marcia Lucas, David Ramirez, Tom Rolf
Original Music: Fred Ebb, John Kander
Principal Cast: Liza Minnelli (Francine Evans), Robert De Niro (Jimmy Doyle), Lionel Stander (Tony Harwell), Barry Primus (Wilson), Mary Kay Place (Bernice).
C-163m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Eleanor Quin