1945’s Anchors Aweigh is a film that I seriously cannot believe I never watched in its entirety until today. If I had watched this as a nine-year-old classic film fan, Anchors Aweigh would so have been a favorite of mine! It really is too bad it took me this long to watch it! Not because it is a particularly awesome movie, but because this is the type of film that creates nostalgia and memories. Do you know what I mean? Can you think of a movie that you saw as a kid that, when you go back and watch it as an adult, you realize deep down it really isn’t that great, but you still can’t help but think it is amazing? When you remember watching it and how it made you feel all those years ago, you realize it is impossible for you to look at the film objectively, and to not to think it is somehow a work of cinematic art. (For me, that is how all of Doris Day’s early musicals are!)
Well, that is the type of film Anchors Aweigh is, and will be for my three year old daughter! Mary Jeanne absolutely loved it! I think most kids would. In fact, any adult musical fan would, and a non musical fan who is able to overlook the flimsy storyline and appreciate the sheer privilege of watching a young Sinatra on film and the ever masculine, athletic dance style of Gene Kelly would no double also enjoy this film. With its many songs, Gene Kelly’s dancing—one dance with Jerry Mouse no less—colorful cinematography, and a beautiful girl who is always dressed to perfection, our star of the month Kathryn Grayson, it is easy to see why Anchors Aweigh was such a financial success for MGM: it earned $4,498,000 in the US and Canada, and an additional 2,977,000 abroad. From what I could find, the average price of a movie ticket in 1945 was about $0.35. So…WOW! A lot of people went to see Anchors Aweigh, and it was a huge moneymaker for MGM that year.
I won’t go into too much plot line here…actually, like I said, it is an extremely thin plot line so it really will not take more that a sentence to lay it out: two sailors go on leave in Hollywood, and they both end up falling for the same girl, an aspiring actress who is also the caregiver for her young nephew, and there is lots of singing and dancing as we wait to see who gets her in the end. (Well, it is actually pretty obvious from the beginning who she will end up with…but MGM wasn’t going for suspense here!)
I think Kathryn Grayson may be at her loveliest as Susan in Anchors Aweigh. Her hair, make-up, and clothes are absolutely flawless. As I mentioned in my first post on Ms Grayson, THE SUNFLOWER DRESS! Oh my goodness how fast would I snatch that up if I could find a dress like that today! She also wears a stunning mustard yellow dress in the very last scene of the film, and the gorgeous pink gown she wears with her hair piled high (and matching pink headband!) in her last solo number of the film is to die for! Also as I mentioned previously, I am generally not an opera fan, but you really must appreciate and recognize the beauty of Ms Grayson’s voice, and Anchors Aweigh makes full use of it.
I have to mention the other beautiful singing voice in the film, that of young Frank Sinatra. This is pre-rat pack, pre-scandalous Ava Gardner love affair Sinatra. He is a string bean with relatively awful hair. (But it’s Sinatra, so we don’t let the terrible hair distract us!) He plays the shy, awkward- with-girls character that was typical of the three films he made with Gene Kelly, but was definitely NOT typical of the the way Sinatra was in real life. This gutsy kid from Hoboken, New Jersey was anything but shy, and was probably never awkward with women a day in his life! The Sinatra who, four years later would begin his scandalous relationship with Gardner (one of their first dates entailed driving from Palm Springs with .38 pistols, which they used to shoot at street lights, window fronts, and generally what ever pleased their no doubt inebriated state) is no where to be seen in his portrayal of the painfully shy and awkward Clarence in Anchors Aweigh.
And Gene Kelly! Boy could this guy dance! (And entertain in general.) He is no Sinatra, but as usual, Kelly’s voice still holds its own next to the spectacular voices around him, in this case Sinatra and Grayson. His dancing is spectacular as usual. Gene Kelly consistently somehow manages to be graceful, light on his feet and utterly masculine at the same time. His dance with Jerry Mouse is quite charming, and was no doubt a huge attraction for audiences. This was the first movie that combined animation and real life. Can you think of a better way to mix animation and real life than a dance with Gene Kelly? (Unless it is a swim with Esther Williams, which was done in 1953’s Dangerous when Wet, also an incredibly cute sequence and a real crowd-pleaser. Check it out on YouTube. My three year old can’t get enough!)
It is rumored that initially, Gene was to dance with Mickey Mouse in the film. Walt Disney was apparently on board and ready to allow MGM to use Mickey. However; Roy Disney was not enthused and his “no” eventually won out. His argument was that Disney Studios was going through hard times financially, and as such they would make their own films until Disney Studios was financially stable again. (Seems to me that loaning Mickey to MGM would have made Disney Studios some much needed revenue and could have possibly jump-started a financial recovery…but I am no expert here and Roy obviously had his reasons.) But can you imagine! Mickey Mouse and Gene Kelly dancing together would have been absolutely amazing! Don’t get me wrong though, Jerry Mouse does just fine. (:
It is easy to see why Anchors Aweigh was such a money maker for MGM. I must say I am a little more baffled by the Academy Awards Best Picture nomination it received, but it was the right film at the right time, so to speak. It was 1945, we were in WWII, and this was a film that combined the feel good escape fare Americans wanted with the patriotic element of the Navy and our boys fighting for freedom, which Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra represented. (And if you read my first Kathryn Grayson post, you probably remember that Anchors Aweigh was her last film before taking a two-year break from her career to entertain the troops.)
Overall, I would recommend watching Anchors Aweigh. It is cute, sweet, entertaining, and as an added bonus, completely clean and family appropriate. I must add that it is long! Just shy of three hours, I would recommend watching it the way my family and I did in two sittings, especially if you are watching with kids! Two hours and 45 minutes is LONG, especially for a musical, and watching in two sittings helped me better appreciate everything I was seeing. (Don’t miss the shots of the MGM backlot and commissary! Film buff or not, it is pretty fascinating to see what the king of studios looked like during the prime of the studio system.)
Did any of you watch Anchors Aweigh? Did you enjoy it?
And don’t forget to tune in to TCM next week to see Ms Grayson in: