I’ve been watching the 1001 movies you must see before you die, and it’s a list that starts in 1906. As you’ve seen over the past few years here, and earlier on Livejournal, there are a LOT of good, and a lot of great films in this list.
However, there are very few that make you stop in your tracks and say “this is something completely new which will change everything”. The Wizard of Oz. Birth of a Nation. Metropolis.
I certainly wasn’t expecting a random musical comedy that I’d never heard of to land on that list. But as I watched On the Town, that was exactly the feeling I got.
Of course, all the ingredients for a great film were there. Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in a musical. The city of New York itself and, of course, the magic of color, growing ever more popular at the end of the 1940s.
But groundbreaking? Innovative?
On the face of it, it certainly didn’t seem it should.
But… it FELT brand new compared to the 1940’s films I’d been watching, even when contrasted to the colossal greatness of The Third Man.
Fresh, new, modern… subversive, even, which is not something I was expecting from a film on the cusp of the 1950s.
The reasons are several. Most obvious is the sexual innuendo that skirted right along the edge of the Hays Code while thumbing its nose at the censors. Anyone with half a brain knows exactly what was going on while couples who’d only met hours before were offstage, and that is wonderful…
The musical score, as well, sounds a decades in advance of Hollywood’s production to date, despite its somewhat hybrid origins (Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens combined in such a way as to make Bernstein boycott the film).
In addition to this, the female characters are portrayed as New Yorkers, modern women just out of wartime jobs (or not) and sexually liberated, making them much more engaging… and unexpected if your idea of a 1950s woman is a suburban housewife wearing a checkered apron.
The frenetic pace is also hyper-modern, and an ode to the pace of the city. This also helps the overall feel.
Anyway, it isn’t often I sit up and take notice of how much a film seems to break from tradition. I didn’t see this one coming, and if there were currents, minor films that led up to it, none of them were on the list (and, if they existed, they probably didn’t have quite the same balance as this one, which is why they didn’t make the list).
When all of that comes at you in glorious technicolor after decades of black and white film… well, it opens your eyes.
Oh, and it’s also fun to watch. Recommended.
Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book, Jungle Lab Terror is neither musical nor a comedy, but it would make a massively good Hollywood creature feature if they’d only buy the rights. You can buy your own copy here.