Anchors Aweigh (George Sidney, 1945)

Anchors Aweigh 5It’s over-sweet and over-long – but should not be overlooked. Anchors Aweigh tends to be regarded as something of a dry run for another film featuring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as sailors on shore leave, On the Town. When the earlier movie does get a mention, usually it’s just the celebrated dance routine with Kelly and Jerry Mouse which comes in for praise. However, Anchors Aweigh has a warmth and charm going beyond that sequence and Sinatra actually gets better solo songs here than he does in the more famous movie. The gorgeous Technicolor also helps to make it all hugely watchable.

Kelly and Sinatra play the two kindest and nicest sailors imaginable.  It comes as a surprise now to realise that Kelly was actually third-billed, because his determined, slightly sarcastic screen personality dominates the film. His character, Joe Brady, blusters about his supposed relationship with a girl about town called Lola, and has several one-sided phone conversations with her – but she never actually puts in an appearance. Sinatra plays a delicate second fiddle as wide-eyed former choirboy, Clarence Doolittle, who hero-worships Joe and, at the start of the film, is seen literally following him around. The actors’ real-life friendship helps to create a convincing warmth and chemistry between them, even if it is hard to believe that any sailors serving in a war could be quite this well-behaved.

Sinatra and Kelly

Sinatra and Kelly

There is actually a lot less reference to the war in the film than I’d expected, given the fact that it was made right at the end of the conflict. At the start Joe receives an award for saving Clarence’s life, and at the end there is a military concert – but there is very little flag waving through most of the film, and there is no real feeling that the pair are going back to a conflict where they might be killed. The whole mood is light-hearted and sunny. 

Far from spending their shore leave in Los Angeles drinking or painting the town red, this pair end up helping to look after a small boy, Donald (Dean Stockwell) and both fall for his Aunt Susie (Kathryn Grayson). Sinatra sings Donald a lullaby and Kelly goes into his school to entertain the class, giving an excuse for the Jerry Mouse routine. It’s all rather domestic and small-scale compared to On the Town, with many scenes set either in Susie’s house or in the cafe where the sailors eat, so there is not much feeling of a big city. Fortunately, Stockwell, who went on to star in TV’s Quantum Leap, was a talented actor even at this age. This means his scenes are less twee than they could have been, but, even so, there is too much sugar at times.  The film’s plot complications also quickly wear thin, as a tangled web of deceit is woven after Joe rashly promises singer Susie an audition with Spanish pianist and conductor José Iturbi.

The film's two couples

The film’s two couples

However, the  plot really doesn’t matter, as the film’s main pleasure lies in its song and dance numbers. Kelly’s dance with Jerry Mouse (it was originally supposed to be Mickey Mouse, but Walt Disney refused permission!) is justly famous. It took two months to complete, with Kelly working together with Stanley Donen, and the result is still breathtaking. It wasn’t the first film to combine action and live animation, but was certainly one of the most ambitious, and showed the way forward to many later films.

Anchors Aweigh 3The great songs are also highly memorable, especially Sinatra’s haunting ballad I Fall In Love Too Easily, written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne and orchestrated by Axel Stordahl. Some reviews I’ve seen suggest that Sinatra is rather wooden as an actor in this film, but he certainly comes into his own whenever he gets a chance to sing. His down-to-earth romance with waitress “Brooklyn” (Pamela Britton) is one of my favourite parts of the film, though it is a pity that Britton, who was a singer on Broadway, never actually gets a musical number. You have to wonder if she originally did have one and it was then cut out.

After enjoying both this and On the Town, I’m keen to see the other film Sinatra and Kelly made together, Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Sadly that one is more or less unknown in the UK, doubtless because of the ball game content! Nevertheless, I will hope to catch up with it soon.

Most of the photos in this posting were gratefully taken from Doctor Macro.

 

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13 thoughts on “Anchors Aweigh (George Sidney, 1945)

  1. Looking at this film, today, it is difficult to believe that “Anchors Aweigh” was nominated for “Best Picture” of 1945 competing against “The Lost Weekend” – (Winner) “Spellbound”, “Mildred Pierce” and “The Bells of St.Mary’s”. Gene Kelly was also nominated as “Best Actor” -1945 but lost the Academy Award to Ray Milland for his incredible performance in “The Lost Weekend”. The MGM musical film was a “smash” hit both with critics and the public alike, making a considerable contribution to the M.G.M. coffers, at that time.

    How times have changed !

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    • Yes, although this film might be a lot of fun, it’s certainly hard to see it as an Oscar best picture contender! I also can’t see Kelly’s performance here as Oscar material, although he would have deserved any award going for his brilliant dancing in this film. Thanks for that info about the Oscars and the film’s success at the box office at the time, Rod. Very interesting, and, as you say, it certainly shows how judgements of films change over the years!

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  2. I’m definitely in the “it’s a lot of fun” camp, but yes hardly a film to include on any best of lists. Judy you have painted a very pretty picture here, but i would be hard-pressed to assert you went overboard. The film is a spirited entertainment, and the score contains a number of memorable tunes. “I fall in Love Too Easily” is probably the most famous song, (it is also my favorite, and I see you seem to think the same Judy)and the sequence of Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry Mouse the most celebrated. Agreed that this is not one of Kelly’s greatest performances, but his dancing as always is first-rate. Sinatra is very fine as well. It is irresistibly charming, though I must agree with you Judy, that all things considered there is little about the war here. But yes, plot means little here. Its all about song and dance.

    Terrific review. And a very Happy New Year to you and yours!

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    • Happy New Year to you and your family too, Sam! “Irresistibly charming” is just what I feel about this film – I end up enjoying it more than I really feel I should. Glad to see that we agree on the greatness of that Sinatra song. I suppose the film might get on a list of best Gene Kelly dance routines, but that’s about it! Thanks very much for the comment.

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  3. Frank Sinatra is one of my 20 faves, and I also really like Gene Kelly, so I ought to love this movie. I really don’t care for Kathryn Grayson, though, so I end up avoiding a lot of films…like this one. Her singing is just hard for me to take…as is Judy Garland’s. However, liking Gene Kelly as I do, I will need to put up with Misses Grayson and Garland if I want to watch more of his films.

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    • Patti, I’ve been realising that over 2013 Sinatra has probably become my current favourite – certainly as a singer, and my love for his music has led to a growing appreciation of him as an actor – including his non-singing roles. There are still a lot of his films that I need to see, and I was given a box set of some more for Christmas, so am looking forward to watching those. I do also increasingly like Gene Kelly, who is my daughter’s favourite – though after seeing ‘Anchors Aweigh’ she warmed to Sinatra too.

      I’d have to say that Grayson’s singing in this one isn’t really the type of music I enjoy, but, to be honest, I haven’t seen enough of her work as yet to get a feeling of her singing in general. I can’t agree with you on Judy Garland, though – I love her voice and can’t get enough of it! But we can’t like all the same stars, of course. :)

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    • Judy, my son would tell you that Frank Sinatra is his favorite classic film actor too. It used to be James Cagney, but not long ago, we were talking about Sinatra films, and he mentioned that Frank is now his absolute fave. His favorite classic film is “Man with the Golden Arm.” he also likes “Suddenly,” “Von Ryan’s Express,” and “None but the Brave.” All Sintara action dramas, of course. It brought about the question, “Was Frank an actor who could sing? Or was he a singer who could act?” That’s a hard one to answer. He did both beautifully!!

      And, no, we absolutely cannot all like the same stars. What works for one doesn’t always work for another—and that is perfectly okay!

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    • Patti, what a great further comment. I’m planning to write a general piece (or maybe two!) about Sinatra at the end of the month, so will bear your thoughts here in mind.

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  4. Judy,
    Patti has posed a most interesting question.

    In the world of entertainment Sinatra was certainly an enigma.

    Few would not concede that he was one of the most successful singer/entertainers of the 20th Century and the royalties from his recordings, as well as his personal appearances would have been more than sufficient to assure him of a comfortable /luxurious lifestyle.

    Yet, for a man who expressed frustration and impatience with the film industry and whose behaviour both on location as well as on the set, often left a lot to be desired, he seemed to have an “inner need” to succeed in the industry. Some directors preferred not to work with him, and those who did, quite often found the film virtually “taken out of their hands”, such was the power and influence of Sinatra with the Studios.

    It was his role in “From Here To Eternity” that brought him back to the attention of audiences, after some years in “the wilderness”; perhaps this is the reason for Sinatra’s compulsion to continue to succeed in the film industry.

    His audience will eventually determine their preference – Singer or Actor – or both. As time passes it will be interesting to see which way the pendulum swings.

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    • Rod, I agree Patti has asked an interesting question here – as I’ve just said to her, I’m intending to write a more general piece about Sinatra at the end of the month and will bear the points you have both made here in mind.

      You’ve asked an interesting question here yourself about why he was so driven to succeed as an actor – which he certainly did. I’ve seen two films recently where he insisted on the ending being changed, so those would seem to be examples of him taking the film out of their hands, as you say. Thanks very much for your thoughts here.

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  5. Judy,
    I look forward to reading your comments on Sinatra at the end of the month as I find Sinatra such an interesting and complex character. His personality seems to be not all that distant from many of the roles he plays; Dave HIrsh, of “Some Came Running” readily comes to mind.

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