Anchors Aweigh is a delightful, breezy piece of entertainment released in 1945 by the master of musicals, MGM. The movie features Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as sailors on leave in Hollywood, USA, looking to pick up dates. One is an experienced “sea wolf” (Kelly) and the other is shy and naive (Sinatra). The woman in their lives (Kathryn Grayson) is an extra at MGM trying make it big at the studio as a musical star.
Anchors Aweigh packs quite a punch in the talent department. The film was directed by George Sidney who was just coming into his own with the previous year’s hit, Bathing Beauty. Sidney would go on to direct Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Show Boat (1951), two of the studio’s most successful musicals during the 1950’s. The producer, Joe Pasternak, suggested the pairing of Sinatra and Kelly which turned out to be magical. The two bounce off of each other so well, and you truly believe that they have been friends for years. Sinatra and Kelly would go on to make two other pictures together, but this is my favorite of the three.
Anchors Aweigh marked a turning point in Sinatra’s career. He danced (taught by Gene Kelly), appeared in color, and starred in an MGM musical, all for the first time. Sinatra was already a beloved singer, but his role as Clarence was his first successful venture in movies. He made five other films before Anchors Aweigh, but this one endeared him to his fans and grew his audience.
Gene Kelly is in his prime in this film. He had just hit his stride at Columbia Pictures in Cover Girl with Rita Hayworth (1944). In it he was given creative control of the dances, as Columbia was inexperienced in making musicals. He blew every one away with his work in Cover Girl that by the time he returned to MGM they were ready to hand over the reins for his next musical.
Gene Kelly’s choreography is absolutely delightful in this film, and we get quite a few dances in a variety of styles. The most famous of these routines is “The Worry Song” where Gene Kelly dances with Jerry the Mouse (animated flawlessly by Hanna and Barbera). The desire to do something never done before prompted this dance routine. It was planned out by Gene and his assistant, Stanley Donen.
The sequence is sheer heaven and a technical tour de force. One can’t help but be amazed by this number, and the pure joy that flows from Gene’s performance is utterly contagious.
Let’s talk about the score for Anchors Aweigh. From “Jealousy,” sung by Grayson, to “If You Knew Susie,” sung by Kelly and Sinatra, to the magnificent rendition of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” performed at the Hollywood Bowl-this movie is a musical treasure chest! The one song I’m not a fan of is “All of a Sudden My Heart Sings,” a solo by Grayson. It never quite gets off the ground and slows the whole movie down. Jule Styne (of Funny Girl fame) and Sammy Cahn wrote six new songs for this movie. One of which, “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” was nominated for an Oscar.
Did you ever wish you could go back in time and wander through the front gates of MGM? Me too! This film affords us the opportunity to do so! There’s footage of the MGM commissary, the Thalberg building, a recording stage, and the backlot. We get a very rare glimpse of a fleeting time in history, all in glorious Technicolor.
All in all, this movie is a time capsule. It’s for lovers of the MGM musical, of the joy of dancing, of the American spirit.
Awards & Trivia
- Anchors Aweigh won the Oscar for Best Musical Score: Georgie Stoll
- Anchors Aweigh earned Gene Kelly a nomination for Best Actor
- Anchors Aweigh was nominated for Best Picture and Best (Color) Cinematography
- Jose Iturbi, the Spanish conductor and pianist, plays himself in this film
- A cutout of Esther Williams appears in a shop window as the sailors walk the streets of Hollywood. See if you can spot it!
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