On the Town [1949]

New York, New York--it's a helluva town; the Bronx is up and the Battery's down; the people ride in a hole in the ground.... Well, you get the idea. Those lyrics (by Betty Comden and Adolph Green), set to Leonard Bernstein's music, have made On the Town a permanent part of the psychological landscape of New York City. The story (inspired by Jerome Robbins's ballet Fancy Free) is pretty slight: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin play sailors with 24 hours' leave to take their bite out of the Big Apple. When they meet, and then lose, this month's Miss Turnstiles (Vera-Ellen), they scour the town in search of her, bumping into a lady anthropologist (Ann Miller) along the way. Shot mostly in the studio, but with location exteriors all over town, from Coney Island to the Statue of Liberty to Central Park, this 1949 gem was the first of three great musicals codirected by Kelly and Stanley Donen, followed by Singin' in the Rain (1952) and the underrated It's Always Fair Weather (1955). --Jim Emerson

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