Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 27, 2008)
Like many kids, I suspect that I first heard of Gene Kelly via clips from 1945’s Anchors Aweigh. What made that flick such a likely introduction to the performer’s talents? The famous sequence in which Kelly dances onscreen with Jerry the mouse from the “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.
With a new DVD release in my clutches, I figured this would be a good time to see the rest of the movie. Navy boys Joe Brady (Kelly) and Clarence Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) receive medals for war heroism and get to embark on four days leave in Hollywood. Joe is the lady-killer of the pair, and he’s set to scoop up sexpot Lola Laverne. Less skilled in the art of seduction, Clarence tags along to try to learn some skills.
While on their way to find some ladies, the cops pick up our sailors to help them with a problem. Very young Donald Martin (Dean Stockwell) wants to join the Navy, and he won’t tell anyone where he lives. The police use the sailors to get the info out of him, and they all escort him back to his place.
At first, this infuriates Joe since he wants to connect with Lola. Matters improve when they meet the orphaned Donald’s guardian, his Aunt Susan (Kathryn Grayson). It turns out Susie’s a babe, and both Joe and Clarence fall for her. The movie follows the love triangle and related complications.
While I admit I can find it tough to take many movie musicals, I can fall for the charms of some, especially those from this era. I like Sinatra and Kelly, so the chances Anchors would entertain me seemed good.
I’m glad I placed no bets with those odds, as I couldn’t find much about Anchors that I liked. Its lead actors are almost the only aspect of the flick that makes it tolerable. During the first act, Kelly’s performance grates somewhat; he plays loverboy Joe in an aggressive manner that proves a bit off-putting. However, he tones down his attitude as the flick progress and soon becomes his usual charming self.
Sinatra does even better as the mild-mannered Clarence. I imagine that by 1945, Sinatra had scored with many a babe, so the idea of him as girl-shy and meek seems like a stretch. Old Blue Eyes pulled it off, though, as he appears truly shy and innocent. He creates an enjoyable performance that consistently delights.
Other than those two, the only positives I take from Anchors come from the beauty of Grayson. She’s absolutely adorable, though she’s not much of an actress. She makes Susan deathly dull, and she never shows life in the role. Well, at least she’s gorgeous.
“Deathly dull” applies to too much of Anchors as a whole, unfortunately. The movie lasts a lengthy two hours, 20 minutes, and it feels even longer. It boasts an awfully thin plot for so much screentime, though it tries desperately to fill out the running time with production numbers.
That’s inevitable, as musicals often go down that route. However, most films in the genre at least use their song and dance numbers to tell a little story. Most of those in Anchors serve no plot purpose whatsoever. Take the famous scene with Kelly and Jerry. This exists solely as a cinematic device and doesn’t connect to the rest of the film in even a remote manner. It’s there because it’s a cute idea, not because it makes sense for the story.
I’d guess at least half of the musical pieces have nothing to do with the plot, and the presence of pianist/conductor Jose Iturbi contributes mightily to the ennui. Anchors often feels like an Iturbi infomercial; if we don’t see him at work, we hear about his greatness from others. It probably doesn’t help that no one born after 1930 has the slightest clue who Iturbi was, but even if he remained a recognizable celebrity, his prominence here makes no sense.
If the performance numbers dazzled, much of this could be forgiven. Alas, there’s just very little pep on display in Anchors Aweigh. It stands as a decidedly bloated and slow musical that wears out its welcome well before it actually ends.