Anchors Aweigh – 1945
This movie was nice and fluffy, but not Best Picture material. There was no substance to it. The plot was vapid and predictable, the characters were shallow and two-dimensional, and the costumes were simplistic and laughable. All that being said, I liked it well enough.
This film was nothing more than an excuse for Gene Kelly to dance, and for Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson to sing. But when it comes to that, if you like to watch Kelly dance and listen to Sinatra sing, then you’re going to enjoy the film. The two men were masterful in their respective art forms. Just don’t expect any deep drama or funny comedy.
The plot was cute enough and it must have appealed to an America that had just come out of World War II. Everyone was feeling very patriotic, which the military loved, of course. So, why not continue to paint the picture of handsome and wholesome sailors in their Navy blues? Kelly and Sinatra play decorated war heroes, Joe and Clarence, who are on leave in Hollywood, California. Clarence is terminally shy, and Joe is a lady’s man.
Together, the two of them get ridiculously roped into taking care of a little nine-year-old boy, played by Dean Stockwell, who ran away from home to join the Navy. Hmmm… dangerously close to breaking the cardinal rule… While taking the truant home, they meet his Aunt Susie, played by Grayson. She is an aspiring singer with dreams of getting an audition with world renowned pianist, Jose Iturbi.
Clarence falls instantly in love with her and manipulates Joe into helping him to get a date with her. So what is their solution? Why, to lie to her, of course! They tell her that Clarence is great friends with Iturbi and has gotten her the audition she wants. But Clarence is so shy that he can’t talk to her on their date. Joe, on the other hand, finds himself falling for her as well. In comes the beautiful waitress from Brooklyn, played by Pamela Britton, who is enraptured by Clarence’s singing…
OK, so the movie isn’t even half way over at this point. There is still more than an hour and twenty minutes to go. Can you guess how the movie ends? I could. Joe ends up with Susie, Clarence ends up with “The Girl from Brooklyn” (that’s the only name she is given in the credits), Susie gets her audition with Iturbi, and she is an instant success! Yay! Happy ending!
But like I said, the singing and dancing were incredible. Gene Kelly always looks like he is really at home on the dance stage. His moves are free and easy, and he make it all look so simple. Here are a few things about his dancing in Anchors Aweigh that caught my attention. First, was the ridiculous dance sequence with Jerry Mouse.
Yes, that’s right. Tom and Jerry were in the film. It was an early example of a composited sequence that gave us Gene Kelly dancing with animated cartoon characters. Of course, the entire dance number, interesting as it was, and technically impressive for a film that came out in 1945, had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the plot of the film. It was 100% gratuitous.
One other little thing I noticed was during a dance sequence when Joe and Susie finally admit their love for each other. Kelly, dressed in a Spanish bandito costume, is dancing on a polished red floor. What caught my attention wasn’t the dancing, but the fact that you could see the scuff marks all over the floor that showed you exactly what his next move was going to be. The marks must have been made during rehearsals or previous takes. But there they all were, clear as day. The floor should have been re-polished between each take.
Sinatra’s singing was superb, especially if you like his style. His voice was velvety and smooth, though to be honest, I think Bing Crosby had a better voice. Grayson’s singing was alright, though in her upper range, she sounded a little shrill.
But the performance that truly impressed me was the pianist, Jose Iturbi. You could easily tell that he was actually playing his instrument, as compared to other films where an actor plays a guitar without moving his fingers along the frets. Iturbi was the real deal, and he was incredible. There was one number where he is the lead pianist on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl while 18 other grand pianos, all played by children between 10 and 16 years old, accompanied him. They played the technically demanding Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 by Franz Liszt. That was impressive. Again, it had nothing to do with the plot, but it was impressive.
But I hold a Best Picture nominee to a higher standard. A film should have something more than just impressive song and dance numbers to make it to that level. Anchors Aweigh just didn’t have it.