October 6, 2015

Gene Kelly, Anchors Aweigh


A quick musing: Cornel Wilde is billed beneath Paul Muni (and Merle Oberon) on the posters for A Song to Remember. Likewise, Gene Kelly is billed beneath Frank Sinatra (and Kathryn Grayson) on the posters for Anchors Aweigh. Their nominations, in and of themselves, suggest that Wilde and Kelly were better than their more established co-stars. While I don't feel that way for the former, I do feel that Kelly absolutely steals the show. There's a bias here as I've always been a complete sucker for a song-and-dance guy...but this is the first time in recent memory where a performance made me feel all sorts of blissful happiness while watching it.

Anchors Aweigh is an interesting film. It's a grandiose, beautifully shot musical, a perfect example of the kind of magical filmmaking that is so truly Old Hollywood. That said, it's a pretty weird movie as well. It veers off the course of its own narrative on a couple of occasions, sometimes teetering into buckwild silliness, but at the same time it's such sheer cinematic musical joy that I don't even give a damn! Sinatra is such a non-factor that you remember he's in the film, and that's absolutely in part because Kelly is so wonderful in this movie. Every ounce a showman, whether it's bursting into song or bursting into dance, watching him do so is to watch someone so very in his element, to sort of watch someone do something he was born to do. I think that that overarching factor dominates Kelly's performance here, and that's why it's so enjoyable. Think about it: technically the dream sequence with Kelly out in an animated wonderland dancing his ass off with a cartoon mouse has absolutely nothing to do with Anchors Aweigh whatsoever. But it's so expertly on Kelly's behalf that you don't care at all. I think that his rambunctiousness not only matches that of the film, but that willingness is always present, and also balances out the film when it otherwise goes too offbeat. Sure, there are times when he'll deliver a line to which I'll have wished he had toned it down a bit more, but he is so absolutely charming, so oozing with vivid vitality with everything he does here, that it's difficult to not smile when he's on the screen.  He's infectious; he puts you in a better mood and whisks you away. And isn't that sort of escape we go to the movies for?


  1. I think that Kelly is a great "entertainer" and he does what he does best often in this film. I also agree that as an example of 'Old Hollywood' filmmaking that's extremely fun to watch, this film makes the grade. Still, as an example of 'acting' this is not fine work. Kelly tends to be melodramatic and also hits his comedic notes with a sledgehammer. It's not subtle or varied. He's the same in every role he plays. It's his dancing, choreography and supreme musicality that's made him an everlasting icon.

    He received an Academy Honorary Award in 1952 primarily for his work as a dancer/choreographer and this is as it should be. His work as a dancer, choreographer and director are where his legacy lies. Still, I'm glad you appreciated his work here because he's rarely acknowledged these days and he's always entertaining.

  2. No opinion on this from me, because musicals, with a rare exception or two, are far from my taste, so I'll take the word of Allen and click5 and try to catch this on TCM and give it a chance (despite Frank).

    The beginning and the ending of my knowledge of Kelly is he was my older sister's first pubescent crush when he was doing the TV series version of Going My Way. I genuinely like his cynical reporter in Inherit The Wind. "Sit down, Sampson," to Dick York, "you're about to get a haircut."