“Alright, I’ll tell you how I got my medal. Now close your eyes…
and try to think of the most beautiful place you’ve ever with greenest grass and the singingest birds and the shiningest sun.” – Joe Brady.
This week for Theater Thursdays it’s back in time to 1945. A heavy year of happenings both culturally and historically. This was the year that saw the end of WWII, Superman first encountered Batman and Robin on the radio broadcasting for the Mutual Network, and the first successful test of an atomic bomb at the Trinity, New Mexico proving grounds. It was also a year that saw many triumphs of cinema, one of them being the first of several on-screen team-ups between two great men. This was the year that saw Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra star together in Anchors Aweigh.
Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, two names that both have a strong cultural resonance in America. Gene was the ultimate star, a man who could sing, dance and act. Frank, well Frank needs no formal introduction, other then being one of the great singers/crooners of the 20th century. The Frank seen on-screen in 1945 opposite Gene is a younger Frank, the Frank who started out as a teen idol before eventually becoming an international success.
George Sidney does an impeccable job directing this musical feature film. While movie-lovers may not know his name, they will almost certainly recognize the titles of films he directed during his career. George’s credits include Ziegfeld Follies, The Three Musketeers, Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas. The affinity for which he had for directing musical productions showed that he was a man who loved both movie-making and stage shows. This is why films he directed (including the ones listed) went on to become box office hits and are still treasured works today.
This particular story is one that starts out simple enough. Gene and Frank play United States Navy sailors on shore-leave for a few days in Hollywood. Along the way they encounter Kathryn Grayson’s character Susan Abbot and her nephew Donald (played by Dean Stockwell). What follows with these interactions is both Gene and Frank falling madly in love with Kathryn, and both of them going to great lengths to get her an audition that could jump-start her singing career.
Gene and Frank, like Gene and Donald O’Connor, work great together on-screen. Their character personalities are complete and total opposites, making their interactions hilarious. Gene’s character Joe Brady is more outgoing with a warm personality, while Frank’s character Clarence Doolittle is more reserved and shy, warm also, but somewhat stuck in his shell. Together, their character personae make for an interesting friendship and team-up over the course of the story, but one that nonetheless has a happy ending.
Kathryn Grayson, famed for such movies as It Happened in Brooklyn, Show Boat and Kiss Me Kate, is the leading lady in this movie and also ends up being the love-interest for both Gene and Frank. Her role as Susan Abbot, an actress and aspiring singer hoping for a big break, is one that leads itself to some excellent dialogue with both of the fellows. There’s also her scene and great interaction with the movie’s fourth big name, José Iturbi.
José Iturbi was a famed pianist, conductor and harpsichordist that appeared in several big musicals during the course of the 1940s. For Anchors Aweigh, like in his other movie appearances, he plays himself, a talented, big-hearted and dedicated musician. His presence is felt throughout the story, even though he himself only appears in a small number of scenes with Gene, Frank and Kathryn. Music lovers and fans of José will appreciate getting to see his skills both as a pianist and conductor on-screen, especially when he is directing large orchestras or playing complicated, melodic piano pieces.
Like all musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Anchors Aweigh is rift with songs, many of them enchanting or exciting orchestra numbers, or in the case of the three big leads, beautiful songs that are enthralling to listen to. Kathryn has two such songs, ‘Jealousy,’ sung with a wonderful accompaniment of violins, brass and other instruments, and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz Serenade,’ which is accompanied by a full orchestra under José Iturbi’s direction. ‘Waltz Serenade’ is a particularly moving one, a story sung of love and two people drawn together under the magic of a star-filled evening walk.
Gene, well Gene’s songs are a combination of moving and fun. The most fun song is ‘The Worry Song,’ sung and danced to with none other then Jerry Mouse of Tom and Jerry cartoon fame. ‘Worry Song’ in particular is well-known from the movie because of the almost seamless matching up of Gene’s dancing to that of Jerry’s, plus the rollicking and fun music that accompanies it. Frank, on the other hand, his two best songs are easy to pick out, the soft but melodic rendition of ‘Braham’s Lullaby’ he sings to help Dean Stockwell fall asleep (it is quite peaceful to listen to) and the song ‘The Charm of You,’ a deep and tender song about how much in love he has fallen with Kathryn Grayson’s character.
Hollywood had a lot of amazing actors and actresses during its prime years, many of whom were talented singers as well as performers. As is such in these cases, they would make musicals in addition to other works. Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson together is not unlike Gene, Debbie and Donald in Singin’ In The Rain. They are a trio of talented people, each one gifted with powerful voices and able to channel that musical ability into great acting. Gene especially proves what other people have known for years, that he can take up any role and turn it into something more than what it would seem to be on paper. It is why this movie was chosen, not only for its story, songs and the two other leads, but for Gene’s part in it especially and the fabulous songs and dances he delivers. To any Gene Kelly fans who have not yet seen Anchors Aweigh, there is nothing but high encouragement to take an evening and get one’s hands on a copy of a fun and enthralling musical delight.