Anchors Aweigh: Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra’s First Team-Up

Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in Anchors Aweigh. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Anchors Aweigh is the first of three 1940s musical buddy comedies that pair Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra together on the screen.

Kelly and Sinatra starred together in Take Me Out To The Ball Game in 1945 and then again in On the Town in 1949. Funny enough, their first and last film together see them as a pair of sailors on leave from the U.S. Navy. One is set in California while the other is in New York. Of course, all three films see their characters looking for romance. This one is a bit different from the other two films.

Gunner’s Mate Second Class Joe Brady (Gene Kelly) and Seaman First Class Clarence Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) travel to Hollywood during their four-day leave. All Joe wants to do is get together with Lola, who we never see in the film. Meanwhile, Clarence wants to know Joe’s tricks in finding a girl. It’s not long after making their way to Hollywood before the cops pick up Joe and Clarence. They want the two Navy sailors to talk some sense into Donald Martin (Dean Stockwell). You see, Donald is just a kid but he wants to enlist in the Navy. Anyway, they drop him off at his aunt’s house and decide to wait for Susan Abbott (Kathryn Grayson) aka Aunt Susie to come home.

It’s love at first sight for Clarence. Susan gives them her shpiel about wanting to work in music. They lie like the wind about knowing José Iturbi at MGM and getting her an audition. During the rest of the film, they do whatever it takes, always falling short. Susan flukes into an audition when she meets the composer at the MGM commissary. One gets this sense that he feels guilty after what Joe and Clarence did. He does this right as Susan is about to yell at Joe over the phone. By this point in the film, she’s in love with Joe. While Clarence had his eyes on her, he met a waitress from Brooklyn (Pamela Britton) at a café. Talk about lazy writing because they don’t even give her a name! Anyway, Susie wins because she gets the audition and the guy!

As a student of film. it’s nice to see a look at the MGM lot in technicolor. The lot has changed a lot over the years, especially after Sony Pictures bought the lot. My tour didn’t make it all the way up to the Thalberg Building so it’s nice whenever it appears on screen. A few years later, fans would get a glimpse of the Paramount lot in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. In any event, Joe and Clarence also sneak into the Hollywood Bowl, only to fail once again.

Of everything that happens in the film, the sequence still being talked about today is Gene Kelly’s dance with Jerry Mouse. Tom Cat doesn’t have much to do in the fantasy sequence. Given the era’s technology, it comes off as being even more impressive. I mean, you could do the same thing today but VFX technology makes it easier than it seems. But back then, it wasn’t an easy feat with all that work that goes into mixing live-action and animation together.

The thing that surprises me the most in watching Anchors Aweigh is that the film is a Best Picture nominee. If you ask me, the musical is not even Kelly and Sinatra’s best film together–that honor belongs to On the Town, a 1949 film adapted from a Broadway musical that premiered in December 1944. Speaking of Oscars, Kelly gets a Best Actor nomination and he’s third-billed in the credits, behind both Sinatra and Grayson. It isn’t until 1949 before Kelly would get first billing over Sinatra.

There’s no doubt that producer Joe Pasternak was well-regarded at MGM but Anchors Aweigh is not remotely close to one of his best films. Could Arthur Freed have made this into a better film? Maybe. It could have been a better film with the right director and producer but it comes off as rather bloated with its 140-minute runtime.

DIRECTOR: George Sidney
SCREENWRITER: Isobel Lennart
CAST: Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, with José Iturbi and Dean Stockwell, Pamela Britton, “Rags Ragland, Billy Gilbert, Henry O’Neill, Carlos Ramirez, Edgar Kennedy, Grady Sutton, Leon Ames, Sharon McManus

MGM released Anchors Aweigh in theaters in August 1945. Grade: 3/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.