Thursday, June 13, 2013

Anchors Aweigh

Because there was absolutely nothing on TV last night, and I'd run out of steam to just sit and do more work (I'm adding an accompaniment to some pre World War I songs at the request of a customer) we watched Anchors Aweigh againNot what my wife would prefer to watch, but she acquiesed on this occasion!

It's a bit of a muddle as far as the songs go: some of them plainly belong to the storyline, others have been thrown in, and of course, there's Jose Iturbi playing anything that looks spectacular on the piano, and taking up screen-time.  He was a brilliant musician, though he plays the piano with an almost claw-like hand position, which seems odd.  He also conducts in the movie, several times, and, as part of the storyline, frequently hops onto his motorbike and scoots off to his next appointment.  Apparently that was the case in real life too.  (At one point he and thirty other youthful pianists play a version of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody.  That must have taken some recording!)

There's a reasonably conhesive story, for once: Gene Kelly (Joe) and Frank Sinatra (Clarence Doolittle!) are buddies on a naval ship (the film was released in 1945, so it has overtones of the war, but not many); on shore leave, Kelly is the 'sea-wolf', a whiz with the girls, supposedly, and Sinatra is the ex-choirboy who gets tongue-tied in front of a girl. Kelly is supposed to be meeting up with a hot date, but keeps getting forestalled by other matters. The police pick them up in order to deal with a boy (Dean Stockwell, absolutely delightful) who's been found wandering the streets late at night, wanting to join the Navy, and order Kelly and Sinatra to deal with him and get him back home. They do, and meet up with Aunt Susie (Kathryn Grayson), who's the boy's guardian, his parents both being dead. Sinatra falls for Susie, but so does Kelly, gradually, and then there's a bit of untangling to do, especially as later in the movie Pamela Britton turns up as a waitress and falls for Sinatra. She's from Brooklyn, and that's all the name she's known by in the movie (the credits list her as 'Girl from Brooklyn'), though her accent is about as genuine as ours were in The Sunshine BoysIn fact ours might have been more credible. 

Grayson wants to get an audition with Iturbi, but is stymied at every turn.  Kelly and Sinatra aim to fix one up for her, but that gets stymied too.  It all works out in the end, of course. 

Sinatra and Kelly are at their best - Sinatra, around thirty when the movie was made, plays naivety very well, and gets some lovely moments to croon (courtesy of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne). Kelly gets some superb dancing in: the famous dance with Jerry, from Tom and Jerry cartoons (Tom has about 15 seconds of screen time; Mickey Mouse was to be have been the star, but Disney refused to let his animators work for MGM); the stunt-filled Spanish style dance when he plays a bandito serenading his lady, and the wonderful, joyful dance with the serious little Spanish girl (Sharon McManus, who was around seven at the time, and is credited only as the 'little girl beggar').  Kathryn Grayson sings a couple of up-in-the-top-register soprano songs, and performs well enough as Aunt Susie, but she's no real match for the guys.  Her energy levels are considerably lower than theirs, and when she's singing, she obviously doesn't like moving too much; nor does she convey much in her singing: there's a kind of 'I'm concentrating on the vocals' look about her.  It perhaps doesn't help that the plot shifts her feelings from Sinatra to Kelly three-quarters of the way through, without too much explanation. 

There's a crazy parody rendition of If you knew Susie by the two guys when they're trying to ward off a possible suitor (Grady Sutton, playing a stuffy well-heeled opera-lover), though it's hardly complementary to the character of Aunt Susie in the movie.  And something that shows how times have changed: Aunt Susie leaves the nine-year-old Stockwell with a babysitter (whom we never see - presumably she's someone who lives close by).  The reason Stockwell is found on the streets in the first place is because the babysitter's gone home after leaving him asleep in bed.  He's climbed out the upstairs window, apparently.  On a second occasion, the same 'babysitter' is employed to look after him, and again she leaves him alone once he's asleep. It's hard to credit this even in the 40s, though of course it suits the plot!

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