Thursday, May 11, 2017

Anchors Aweigh (1945)

Director: George Sidney


By the summer of 1945 Americans had experienced victory in Europe, the conflict in the Pacific theater was moving towards a destructive end, and the world was on the course of change. Even the arts were affected by how the world had transformed, and yet Hollywood had a unique way to entertain only their motion pictures seemed to do. Out of Hollywood’s greatest studio of the era, MGM, comes a film that embodies many aspects of what makes the movies so wonderful in the picture Anchors Aweigh. From its humorous comedy, enjoyable music, awe-inspiring dancing, glorious Technicolor, and all around charm, this movie supplies over two hours of pure Hollywood entertainment.

Anchors Aweigh is a musical comedy about two Navy sailors on four day leave in Hollywood who help an aspiring singer gain an audition with MGM. The cocky Joe Brady (Gene Kelly) and shy Clarence “Brooklyn” Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) are two Navy buddies that earn a four day leave and plan on living it up with the beautiful Southern California ladies. In hoping to learn to be a lady-killer like Joe, Clarence tags along with his friend while he planning to meet up with one of his many female companions when they meet aspiring singer Susie (Kathryn Grayson). Clarence, stricken by this young beauty, has Joe attempt to aid him in impressing Susan for him, which includes many fabrications including saying Clarence could get her an audition with the MGM composer Jose Iturbi (played by himself), much to her delight. The problem is they both do not have connects to Mr. Iturbi as they scurry around the MGM lot and other famous Hollywood spots in attempt to garner her the audition before Susan discovers the truth.
It becomes apparent that Joe’s work to win over Susan for Clarence has her falling for him, an unexpected result for the man that does not look to settle down with one woman. Meanwhile worrisome Clarence finds interest in a waitress from Brooklyn, and the two romantic couple appear to point to happiness. Our heroes end up running into Iturbi, Susan gets her audition, garnering a start in her singing career, while each man get the girl they never knew they wanted until it was right in front of them.

The picture is bright, colorful, filled with humor, with glorious song and dance. This in one of those motion pictures that epitomizes what Hollywood was during this era of cinema. It is pure entertainment that audiences could not get anywhere else. Sure you could see Gene Kelly dance or Frank Sinatra sing by other means, but here they take you on a whimsical race through Hollywood and even to a land where Gene Kelly and cartoons interact, something only the movies could provide. If you wanted to break it down into jokes or story, this film is far from the best in those fascists, but as a whole the picture is just plain fun and enjoyable.

George Sidney, a veteran direct going back his days at the Hal Roach Studios who had found a home in MGM, was the guiding mind from the director’s chair in this picture.  His experiences in past works were good, but with the means and budget that MGM could provide his filmmaking qualities shine. With his past primarily in comedies Anchors Aweigh would help push the director in the course of musicals with his keen eye for interesting shots and angles that make his films feel grander in fashion. Right away in the feature we see inspirations of Hollywood’s musical past as Sidney uses his musical extras to perform rather Busby Berkley style pattern captured in aerial shots, choreographing their movements into patterns or even words. Sidney’s future saw many popular movie musicals as he would become one of the more respected directors in the industry.

It would not be wrong to say that there were in fact two directors on this picture as Gene Kelly was very integral to the production on the side of choreography and staging for most all musical scenes.  Having danced and sang his way through many smaller MGM pictures with generous reviews, Kelly had earned himself the right to choreograph his own routines in picture, which he practiced meticulously. For eight weeks her worked co-star Frank Sinatra to practice their dance numbers, then on set use over 70 takes in certain scenes to get everything to Kelly’s liking, being he was a stickler for detail.

The film benefits harmoniously from having two stars from the world of music. Frank Sinatra at 29 years-old had already made himself into one of music’s top names while making brief appearance in a handful of pictures. Kathryn Grayson was a classically trained operatic singer discovered by MGM in 1940 in hope to replace their young musical star, Deanna Durbin, who left for Universal. After years of training and slowly working her way into features Grayson began to appear in her first starring roles. Both Sinatra and Grayson were young and yet to reach their heights, and to have them team together with Gene Kelly would make for a very talented cast of stars.

The most iconic scene in the picture happens to be Gene Kelly number where he dances with the animated Jerry the Mouse of “Tom & Jerry” fame. This fanciful sequence originally was set going to be Kelly dancing with world icon Mickey Mouse, but when Walt Disney was approached about the idea he ultimately turned down having his star character servicing to the benefit of an MGM feature. Instead Jerry, from the famed Hanna-Barbara animation partnership, would take his place, producing one of the most memorable scenes of mid-1940s cinema.

The near seamless animation was memorizing for audiences and critics alike, winning great favor for Gene’s ingenuity and classy dancing style, while gaining MGM great attention for the technological feat. Despite use of animated characters alongside human actors was nothing new, going back to Walt Disney’s first studio ventures, seeing Kelley dancing along with an animated Mouse caught audiences up in the marvel of the movies.

Another joy of the movie is its tribute to the entertainment industry itself. No one loves Hollywood more than Hollywood, and from time to time audiences love to get a peek behind the scenes of the movie making factories. Here MGM uses its own studio as a setting for a portion of the picture. Despite there being numerous shorts that took audiences behind the scenes of MGM in the past, here we get a more fanciful look as Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra run in and around the soundstages, recording studios, and offices of Hollywood’s most famous studio in their capricious race against time and MGM security.

Not to go without mention is a scene filmed at the landmark Hollywood Bowl. While still in pursuit of the Jose Iturbi, Kelley and Sinatra sneak into the famed musical venue nestled in the Hollywood Hills in all its Technicolor beauty with hopes of meeting the composer.  The scene concludes with a Sinatra singing alone in the beautiful amphitheater, giving the audience its own private concert with “old blues eyes” in his younger days.
Immediately Anchors Aweigh was a hit. Critics praised it as box offices reaped the rewards. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Actor for Gene Kelly, ultimately winning its only prize for George Stoll’s score. Anchors Aweigh, simply put, is a wonderful piece of classic Hollywood celluloid bliss. It is entertaining and fun, pure reasons as to why people love the movies. The film has nothing to say about the war or society in a time where it may have been relevant, but delivers on the simple joys of what it is like to sit down and be entertained for two hours, lost in a world of cinematic amusement.

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