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Saturday, 4 August 2012

Anchors Aweigh (1945) - Star of the month... Gene Kelly

"Look at me! I'm dancing!" - Jerry the Mouse in 'Anchors Aweigh'

'Anchor's Aweigh' is a 1945 MGM musical comedy directed by George Sidney and starring Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly and José Iturbi. The film's supporting cast features Dean Stockwell, Pamela Britton, "Rags" Ragland, Leon Ames and Sharon McManus.

Written by Isobel Lennart, the song and dance romance was produced Joe Pasternak and edited by the great Adrienne Fazan.

Navy buddies Joe Brady (played by Kelly) and Clarence Doolittle (played by Sinatra) are awarded bravery medals and granted four days leave in Hollywood. Whilst on leave, they meet young boy Donald Martin (played by Stockwell), who wants to join the navy. When they take Donald home to his Aunt Susie Abbott (played by Grayson), both Joe and Clarence find themselves both in love with her. To impress Susie, they lie and boast about being able to secure Susie a Hollywood audition with the great Jose Iturbi.

Watch the trailer

Jose Iturbi's orchestra spells out the word "NAVY"

The opening sequence

The film's opening scene is among my favourites for a musical. I really like the way George Sidney has used  a montage of shots featuring the different instrument group individually, before cutting to José Iturbi conducting the full orchestra playing 'Anchor's Aweigh'. At the end of the song, we see the orchestra is standing in position to spell out the word "NAVY".

Gene Kelly dances with Jerry the Mouse
in 'The Worry Song'

Gene Kelly dances with Jerry the Mouse

This film is best known for featuring Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry the Mouse from 'Tom & Jerry'. This was one of the first times animation was mixed with live action footage.

Originally, Gene Kelly was meant to dance with Mickey Mouse, however Walt Disney refused to allow Mickey Mouse to appear in an MGM film. Jerry the Mouse (owned by MGM) became a easy substitute. I believe Jerry was a better choice anyway, and don't feel Mickey Mouse was the right choice for this sequence.

In the documentary series, 'MGM: When the Lion Roars' (1992), animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera reveal how they made this magical sequence:

  • Gene Kelly rehearsed with a cardboard cut out of Jerry the Mouse
  • After rehersals, Gene Kelly was filmed without the cut out
  • The film footage was then traced onto animation paper, with Jerry put onto the animation paper after the footage
  • With both images of Kelly and Jerry on the animation paper, the paper was filmed again to give the final effect

At a screening for MGM executives, it was noted Gene Kelly had a reflection on the floor, but Jerry did not. To improve the experience, the animation team re-animated the sequence, with Jerry's reflection on the floor.

Song: "The Worry Song" - Gene Kelly & Jerry the Mouse (from 'Tom & Jerry')

Musical highlights

The film features many musical highlights including:
Gene Kelly & Frank Sinatra sing and dance
in 'Anchors Aweigh' 
  • "Anchors Aweigh" - José Iturbi & his Orchestra
  • "We Hate to Leave" - Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly
  • "Brahm's Lullaby" - Frank Sinatra
  • "I Begged Her" - Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly
  • "If You Knew Susie" - Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly
  • "Jealousy" - Kathryn Grayson
  • "What Makes the Sunset?" - Frank Sinatra
  • "(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings" - Kathryn Grayson
  • "The Worry Song" - Gene Kelly & Jerry the Mouse
  • "The Charm of You" - Frank Sinatra
  • "I Fall in Love Too Easily" - Frank Sinatra

"If You Knew Susie" - Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

Song: "I Begged Her" - Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

Song: "Jealousy" - Kathryn Grayson

Song: "Waltz Serenade" - Kathryn Grayson

Song: "I Fall In Love too Easily" - Frank Sinatra

Inspirations Aweigh

'Anchors Aweigh' has inspired several more contemporary productions, including Paula Abdul's music video for 'Opposite's Attract', where Abdul dances with an animated cat, and even an episode of 'Family Guy', where Stewie dances with Gene Kelly instead of Jerry the Mouse.

Music Video: "Opposite's Attract" - Paula Abdul

Clip: "Family Guy sequence" - Stewie dances with Gene Kelly

Did you know...

Frank Sinatra sings "I Fall in Love Too Easily" at
The Hollywood Bowl

  • This was the first of three "buddy films", Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra made together
  • The film won an Oscar for Best Original Music Score - in 2001, actor Kevin Spacey purchased this Oscar statuette at a Butterfield & Butterfield estate auction, and returned it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  • Tom Cat appears briefly as a butler in the animated sequence
  • The film provides a rare colour glimpse of the MGM studio, including the front gate, backlot, commissary, a scoring stage and the Thalberg Building
  • The song "I Fall in Love Too Easily" was filmed on location at the Hollywood Bowl
  • This was the first and only time Gene Kelly received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor
  • It took 73 takes to film the song 'I Begged Her', as Frank Sinatra (not a trained dancer) had difficulty with synching his dancing

Awards and nominations
  • Academy Award winner for Best Original Music Score
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Picture
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Actor (Gene Kelly)
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography in a color film
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Song ("I Fall in Love Too Easily")

Closing remarks

'Anchors Aweigh' in my opinion is one of the best MGM musicals ever made, and I have seen it many times. The songs are catchy, the stars are great and the film entertains for each of its 140 minutes.   I am surprised this film has not yet been turned into a Broadway musical, as I feel it feel it would translate well to the stage. 

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