Searching for Jose Iturbi

Seventy-eight years ago today, the movie Anchors Aweigh was released.

Anchors Aweigh might not be quite remembered as one of the classic musicals, but it’s a damned good one, if a bit overstuffed and overcomplicated in its story. The story: two Navy sailors, played by Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, are on leave in Hollywood. Kelly is a ladies’ man, while Sinatra has no luck with the ladies (you can tell right there the level of movie fantasy we’re engaging), and they strike out for a night on the town, with lots of implied debauchery (at least for Kelly). But they are brought in by cops to help out a kid, played by a nine-year-old Dean Stockwell, who thinks he’s going to join the Navy. They take him home and meet the kid’s mother, who is a young singer who wants to sing in the movies. Our sailors somehow (it’s been a while since I saw the movie) get the idea that telling the mom that they can help her because they know famous composer/conductor/pianist Jose Iturbi (which they don’t), and all manner of shenanigans ensue. First Sinatra is in love with the mom, but then he falls out of love with her and in love with a waitress, while Kelly falls in love with the mom too, and the kid is there, and…yeah, it’s a really convoluted story for a movie of this type! But all of that is mainly set dressing for the songs, and Anchors Aweigh has a ton of them, each one with a lot of charm. The most famous number is probably the fantasy sequence in which Gene Kelly dances with an animated Jerry the Mouse…but they’re all nice, including this one, where Kelly and Sinatra tell some sailor buddies all about their wild exploits with a couple of girls.

Spoiler: this is all bullshit. None of this happened, but they gotta save face, right?

Anyway, Anchors Aweigh is a terrific movie. It’s not a great one, but it’s got a lot going for it and in fact the good stuff in it is so good and so plentiful that you forgive the movie’s flaws.


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