Anchors Aweigh at the Glasgow Film Festival

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Glasgow Film Festival.

Monday, 20th February, 11:00 – Anchors Aweigh (1945)

A fairly sparse crowd as expected, but still better than I anticipated for a Monday morning. This is not a favourite musical of mine and when I bought my tickets initially this film was not included. However, a combination of the fact that this was one of the films that introduced me to Gene in the mid ’70s — I also remember a ‘Christmas with Kelly’ season on BBC 1 with Anchors Aweigh on 22nd December, On the Town on 23rd December and Singin’ in the Rain on Christmas Eve — and the sense of joy that had started to pulsate through my bloodstream at being in the midst of a film-a-day Gene festival, I happily succumbed. I also got a huge kick of saying to the girl in the ticket office: “One for Anchors Aweigh, please.” A phrase I never thought I’d hear myself say at any point in my life.

The daily ritual had now been well and truly established: take my usual seat at the back of cinema, wait for Pat to appear, explain the reason why the GFT is having a Gene Kelly Festival (again) and listen to today’s complaint — the music playing was not the correct accompaniment for the film, apparently (even though it was a Gene CD) — and enjoy Allan Hunter’s engaging introduction.

I always had three major problems with Anchors Aweigh: José Iturbi, Kathryn Grayson and the running time. Iturbi, I can only imagine, must have been Hollywood’s idea of a great conductor, in the same way that Mario Lanza was considered a great tenor. He mugs his way through the entire picture with the subtlety of a scenery chewing homunculus. Thanks to the ludicrous running time of over two hours and twenty minutes, George Sidney’s pointless meanderings around Hollywood Bowl, the stuff with that way-too-cute kid and a bunch of numbers that should never have seen the light of day Iturbi is in good company. “It needs tighter direction,” whispered Pat halfway through in a spirited attempt to nab the ‘Understatement of the Century Award.’ However, to my complete amazement, the woman I had previously denounced as having the sex appeal of a female footballer in a bear suit effortlessly won me over. Maybe it was the big screen, or maybe it was, again, a result of Gene festival disarmament, but I found Kathryn Grayson just adorable — even in that ridiculous sky blue angora sweater. Her classical singing is still an acquired taste, I must say, and if Snow White on helium is your thing then she’s your gal; it’s like having your ears assailed by a Victorian teakettle.

Then there’s Joe Brady… Joe Brady. These two words probably have more impact upon the female populous of Gene Kelly fandom than any others. I’ve lost count of the number of postings I’ve read about the sea wolf in the sailor suit, the phone call to Lola the skank and the ‘Suzy Song.’ Maybe if I wasn’t a heterosexual male I’d appreciate the film just a tad more. It is undoubtedly one of Gene’s better acting performances, which isn’t really saying a great deal, and much of that must be attributed to the obvious chemistry he had with Frank Sinatra. Frank is the better actor by some distance and possesses a wonderful naturalism that Gene was rarely capable of; Gene is excellent in the ‘let’s pretend Aunt Suzy gets passed around the military like a slutty peace pipe’ scene, but it belongs to Frank. Other than an all too brief rendition of ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’ Frank’s songs are mostly forgettable, an inexplicable fact given that they were written by Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn.

According to most critics Gene’s solos are a mixed bag, but I love them all. His number with Jerry the Mouse is one of the most magical moments in cinema, his routine with the little Mexican girl who hated Stanley Donen is sweet and engaging. And even though his Spanish Bandit routine is about as authentic as a plate of paella at Coney Island, he pulls it off with his unique brand of chutzpah: I heard a bellowing laugh from the middle of the theatre when Gene was unveiled in his bright yellow shirt and had a little giggle myself. It’s too easy to be flippant and cynical about this film; I need to remember that it was made just after the war when people were looking for joy and escapism and Gene gave them plenty of that here — the film also made an absolute fortune. I, sort of, rediscovered an old affection for it and as Pat wandered off to complain to GFT staff about the pre-feature music I found myself unconsciously whistling ‘We Hate to Leave’ in the cinema’s crowded toilet. What’s that old saying about whistling the tunes as you’re leaving the show?

Come back tomorrow for another review, and if you missed the others,
please find them at the series home. (More Pat is included, we promise!)


I am a 40-something-year-old Scotsman with an obsessive nostalgia for the past, particularly the films of Hollywood's Golden Age and American music from the '40s to the '60s. My appreciation and love for Gene and the field in which he worked is something I hope to instill in future generations -- I'm currently studying towards becoming a teacher and firmly believe it is a role in which I can flourish, once I overcome a small, but stubborn, obstacle: a pathological hatred of teenagers.

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  • This was the best review so far, Mike. The paragraph about Gene’s numbers was priceless. I usually melt for Frank’s characters in these musicals, because I love his shy way.
    As I read, the Suzy song was in my head. I’m also enjoying Pat a lot. I hope the next review is about On the Town, my favorite musical ever.
    By the way, why the Mexican girl hated Stanley Donen?

  • Marc

    Hi, Le. Thanks for commenting. I really should have taken a photo of Pat, but I’m not sure how he would have felt about that – I can practically hear his response! ‘On the Town’ is coming soon.

    According to the Clive Hirschorn biography on Gene, Stanley had no patience with the little Mexican girl and made no attempt to hide his dislike of her, so, just to spite him, she would do everything Gene asked of her. This, of course, was ideal for rehearsing the number.

  • Jennifer

    Haha! I remember the famous “bear suit” comment. I am a bit dismayed, however, to see you denounce Dean Stockwell. I always thought you and I were in agreement that as a child actor, he was wonderfully natural and adorable without grating on the nerves. What happened? You’ve warmed to La Grayson and chill to Dean? Inconceivable.

    The “If You Knew Susie” scene is one of Gene’s best, and certainly his best in this film, though as one of the many heterosexual females you speak of I do have a certain fondness for others. Musical numbers-wise, I’ve always been partial to “I Begged Her.” It’s fun and unpretentious and showcases Joe Brady’s bravado and slightly artificial machismo.

    The yellow shirt would have garnered a giggle from yours truly as well. It’s ridiculous but endearing in a way that only a Technicolor musical from the 1940s could be. I’m sure audiences everywhere adored it… back then.

    “As authentic as a plate of paella at Coney Island” is one of your better lines. Reminds me of 10th grade creative writing class, when the teacher gave us a worksheet with a long list of simile builders; i.e., as colorful as, as bright as, as crazy as, etc. We had to provide what came after the second “as.” Two of mine that I recall are “as weak as a potato chip (crisp) in a vise” and “as slippery as a worm in Elvis’s hair.” Ha! I was only 15. You would have been the teacher’s pet.

  • Marc

    You remember that?! I seem to remember there was another guy on the site at the time who was a huge fan of Kathryn Grayson, but I may be wrong. Dean Stockwell was a wonderful child actor, you’re right, but the cute-ometer was off the chart in this film and I found it all a little overbearing on the big screen. I wouldn’t say I chilled to him on a permanent basis, ’cause the mere thought of him as ‘The Boy with Green Hair,’ or whatever it was called, almost elicits a genuine “Aww” from me. Almost.

    I like ‘I begged her,’ too. I may have told you I included a few seconds from it in a project I did on Wartime Cinema for University. Even though there’s nothing too difficult in the choreography for Frank I still find it breezy and charming.

    It’s true what you say about 40s audiences and I tried to bear that in mind when writing this review. I don’t think we can really comprehend what the experience of watching a Technicolor musical on the big screen was like back then.

    ‘As slippery as a worm in Elvis’s hair’ is a fantastic line! The visuals are endlessly hilarious: I imagine him singing ‘All Shook Up,’ but he’s in his white jumpsuit phase… or maybe I’m thinking of Andy Kaufman doing Elvis.