On the Town is a 1949 Technicolor musical film with music by Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It is an adaptation of the Broadway stage musical of the same name produced in 1944 (which itself is an adaptation of the Jerome Robbins ballet entitled Fancy Free which was also produced in 1944), although many changes in script and score were made from the original stage version; for instance, most of Bernstein’s music was dropped in favor of new songs by Edens, who disliked the majority of the Bernstein score for being too complex and too operatic. This caused Bernstein to boycott the film.
The film was directed by Gene Kelly, who also choreographed, and Stanley Donen, and stars Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, and Ann Miller, and features Jules Munshin and Vera-Ellen. It was a product of the Arthur Freed unit at MGM, and is notable for its combination of studio and location filming, as a result of Gene Kelly’s insistence that some scenes be shot in New York City, including at the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Rockefeller Center.
The film was an immediate success and won the Academy Award for Best Music—Scoring of a Musical Picture, and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Cinematography (Color). Screenwriters Comden and Green won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical. In 2006, the film ranked No. 19 on the American Film Institute’s list of Best Musicals.
Three sailors – Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie – begin their shore leave, excited for their 24 hours in New York (“New York, New York”). Riding the subway, Gabey falls in love with the picture of “Miss Turnstiles”, who is actually called Ivy Smith, and fantasises about what she’s like in real life (“Miss Turnstiles”). The sailors race around New York attempting to find her in the brief period they have.
They are assisted by, and become romantically involved with, two women, and pair up: Ozzie with Claire, an anthropologist; and Chip with Hildy Esterhazy, an aggressively amorous taxi driver. Claire claims that she’s found her passionate “Prehistoric Man” in Ozzie at the Museum of Anthropological History. Hildy invites Chip to “Come Up to My Place”. Finally finding Ivy, Gabey takes her on an imaginary date down his home town “Main Street” in a studio in Symphonic Hall – not realising that she is also from the same town. Later, Chip sincerely falls for Hildy telling her “You’re Awful” – that is, awful nice to be with. That evening, all the couples meet at the top of the Empire State Building to celebrate a night “On the Town”.
But when an ashamed Ivy walks out on Gabey to get to her late night work as a cooch dancer, the friends tell a despondent Gabey, “You Can Count on Me”, joined by Hildy’s annoying, but well-meaning roommate, Lucy Schmeeler. They have a number of adventures before reuniting with Ivy at Coney Island just as their 24-hour leave ends and they must return to their ship to head off to sea. Although their future is uncertain, the boys and girls share one last kiss on the pier as a new crew of sailors heads out into the city for their leave (“New York, New York” reprise).