Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945)
Unlike the last couple of singing sailors I came across that wanted nothing to do with dames, Anchors Aweigh‘s naval seafarers Joe Brady (Gene Kelly) and Clarence Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) intend to use their four-day shore leave wooing the wonderful women of Hollywood! Can Clarence overcome his shyness? Will Joe meet up with his best gal Lola? Can the movie fill 143 minutes answering those first two questions?
For me, Anchors Aweigh comes in three distinct sections. The film starts strong; we’re introduced to sailors Joe and Clarence, and they seem like a couple of fun-loving scoundrels that can get up to all sorts of mischief while on leave. However, they’re barely off the boat when they cross paths with a little boy dreaming of running away to join the Navy. Okay, nice. That’s a pretty cool twist. Their goal of chasing skirts is cut short by this side mission, and you come to like them for curbing their lustful needs to look after this precocious scamp.
“No icky girls at sea? Sign me up!”
The next section is a radical tone shift. Joe and Clarence meet the boy’s aunt, Susan Abbott (Kathryn Grayson), and the perpetually shy Clarence wants more than anything to be with her… and he and Joe accomplish this by lying. Repeatedly. To Susan, to her potential suitors, to anyone and everyone as long as it furthers Clarence’s goal of pursuing her. And these aren’t little lies, either. They almost destroy Susan’s reputation and her career as a Hollywood actress for their own selfish needs. And so, phase two of the movie shatters any likability these characters had at the beginning.
“The needs of the penis outweigh the needs of your bank account.”
The third section of the movie, which I’ll call Holy Balls, There’s So Much Movie Left, is when the whole thing goes off the rails. It’s a plot that should take all of thirty minutes to resolve, but because it’s a musical and you’ve gotta pack it with songs, they stop caring about logical ways to cram the tunes in and we’re left with sailors wandering around backlots and soundstages and animated magical kingdoms.
And after all this randomness, the movie ends exactly as you expected it to an hour ago.
So what really surprised a John Q. Not-Really-A-Musical-Watcher like myself was the fact that Frank Sinatra wasn’t the cocky confident son of a bitch I usually picture when I hear his name. No, his Clarence Doolittle is a soft-spoken sensitive type that can’t talk to women, and Frank pulls that off unusually well.
The face that launched a thousand “Shucks!”
On the other side of the coin is Gene Kelly as the horndog Joe Brady. He doesn’t have a macho swagger like you might expect as a counterpoint to the dweebish Clarence, but there’s a confident finesse to his macking skills. There’s a scene where he oozes so much sex during a phone call that I’m fairly certain the woman on the other end was pregnant by the time she hung up.
Feel free to have a quick wank sesh, dear reader. I’ll wait.
Kathryn Grayson is pretty great as struggling actress Susan Abbott. Her role consists mainly of being cheerful and chipper as a performer and an aunt, or crying whenever Joe and Clarence fuck up her life. Which… is often.
Seriously, they’re assholes.
Pamela Britton livens things up as a high-spirited waitress. And yet, even though she has more personality than our romantic lead, her character basically exists to fill a plot hole and doesn’t even have a freaking name.
A privilege cruelly granted to the painting behind her.
And, finally, there’s the adorable Navy hopeful Donald Martin, played ever-so-cutely by a little boy named… Dean Stockwell?
Yup, that’s the one.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
This movie has entirely too many musical numbers to list each one (again, it’s 143 minutes), so we’ll just do the hits. Joe and Clarence’s first song together is “We Hate to Leave,” in which they sarcastically humblebrag about being awarded shore leave in front of all the poor fuckers that have to stay on the boat. It’s delightfully dickish and, unbeknownst to me at the time, a perfect way to set up that these characters are, in fact, huge dicks.
It’s fun because it’s the meanest thing they’ve done so far!
Later on, even though he’s spent the night babysitting, Joe pretends he got down and dirty with a hot dame as he croons “I Begged Her” to his fellow servicemen, because nothing says “suave” like pitifully demanding sex from a woman over and over well beyond the point of mere harassment. (See ya again real soon in the “worst lyric” section!) While the song is painfully outdated, Joe and Clarence have their first real dance routine that ends in some goofy bed-jumping.
“Service men” indeed.
Do you know that old song “If You Knew Susie“? It also showed up in The Great Ziegfeld and somehow shocked me less in that film even though it was performed in blackface. In Anchors Aweigh, it’s used to slut-shame Susan in front of one of her suitors so he’ll run away scared at the prospect of a woman that likes sex and Clarence can have Susan all to himself. Did I mention they actually know nothing of her sexual habits and are blatantly lying? Fun!
They’re dicks. I’ve mentioned that before, right?
After a couple filler-y love songs and a bitchin’ instrumental with José Iturbi and his orchestra, Joe breaks onto the set of one of Susan’s movies and finds a classroom where Donald is being taught. He tells the story of how he got his Navy medal; from a cartoon mouse. Jerry, specifically. The two have a perfectly animated dance together in a fantasy sequence that has no goddamn business existing in this movie. This is the point where I realized plot officially didn’t matter, but I also stopped caring what happened at all and just perked up when I saw a dance I liked.
It takes a brave man to question such a violent monarch.
There’s also a Mexican hat dance, a weird Zorro fantasy, twenty kids playing twenty pianos, some Academy Award-winning love song, the meaning of life, the end of time, the death of love, the face of the Great Evil One, all is chaos, nothing is sacred, THE FILM SHALL NOT CEASE, MAKE IT STOP, FREE ME FROM THIS BONDAGE, I BEG OF THEE.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
Our “winner” for this week’s most cringe-worthy lyric can be found in the song “I Begged Her.” As Joe sings the many ways he repeatedly tried to convince a dame to kiss him, such as “I pleaded” and “I argued,” he takes a sharp turn from Harassment Street to Violence Avenue as he makes a muscle and declares…
Sometimes a purely bad movie is better than a movie that started out with good ideas and squandered them. Anchors Aweigh has enough plot threads, charming performances, and catchy songs to fill a perfectly watchable 90-minute film, but the unfocused beast it ended up as is simply too damn long. Take out the admittedly wonderful but utterly random fantasy sequences (and put them in movies where they’d actually add to the story) and, oh, maybe cut some of the frightening sexism too?
State Fair (1945)