Screen Team VS: Bing & Fred vs. Frank & Gene

In 1941, a chance meeting between director Mark Sandrich and composer Irving Berlin resulted in them planning on a musical inspired by various holidays. It was planned as a vehicle for Bing Crosby, and they also decided that it would be right up Fred Astaire’s alley, too. And so we had those two friends paired together for the classic 1942 Paramount movie Holiday Inn. A few years later, MGM responded with their own song-and-dance team of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh. While I haven’t seen anything that makes them out to be rival teams, considering the individual members were indeed rivals, one can’t help but want to compare them. While I certainly have my preference as to which I enjoy watching more (and so, like on the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway, the points don’t matter), I still feel like talking about the two teams, mainly sticking to the movies they made together.

Holiday Inn (1942) – My Rating: 8/10

Blue Skies (1946) – My Rating: 10/10

Anchors Aweigh (1945) – My Rating: 5/10

Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) – My Rating: 9/10

On The Town (1949) – My Rating: 8/10

Screen Team Edition: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire

Screen Team Edition: Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly

So let’s start with some of the more obvious differences. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire made two movies together, while Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly made three. Between their two films, Bing and Fred have two songs that they work together directly and two more that they are both involved together (just not as much). Frank and Gene can claim about twelve songs that they work together in pretty solidly through their three movies. Irving Berlin provides all the music for Bing and Fred, while Frank and Gene are served by the likes of Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn, Roger Edens, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein.

To get a little deeper into the elements of that differentiate the two, I would say at least two come to mind: how their friendships are portrayed on screen, and how their offscreen careers may have affected the films. On screen, Bing and Fred were similar to Bing and Bob. They were both romantic rivals, and they had no troubles double-crossing each other when it came to romance in Holiday Inn. While Blue Skies started out with a similar relationship, partway through, Fred’s character started to soften, and care enough for the film’s leading lady that he wasn’t as willing to come between them. Meanwhile, Frank and Gene portrayed their characters as good buddies. Admittedly, Gene mainly tried to help Frank to get him off his back in his own attempts at romance, but he still felt like he was betraying a good friend when he fell for the same girl that Frank first fell for. Admittedly, some of that might be different just purely from occupations, as Bing and Fred portrayed characters in show business, and in two of their three movies, Frank and Gene were sailors who no doubt had gone through a lot together.

I also believe their movie careers affected these movies. When Bing and Fred were teamed up, they had both been in the movies for nearly a decade, and were some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. When Frank and Gene were paired together, neither of them had been in the movies for very long (in fact, I get the impression Anchors Aweigh was Frank’s first starring role). Consequently, that affected the various situations. I get the impression from what I have read that both Bing and Frank weren’t big into rehearsing, while Fred and Gene were both perfectionists who put a lot of work into what they did. With Bing as a more established star, he apparently didn’t feel the need to rehearse as much (and I can only imagine that must have driven Fred nuts), thus his dancing comes off poorly. With Frank not as established, he had to put in more rehearsal time with Gene, and so we see them looking at least decent together (and who knows how much natural talent Frank might have had as a dancer compared to Bing). Of course, age might also come into play, too, and Frank and Gene were both in their late 20s/early thirties when first paired together, while Bing was in his late 30s and Fred already in his forties.

Personally, I can’t help but wish the four had made a movie together (and no, I’m not including the first That’s Entertainment movie that they all co-hosted, since they never actually share the screen at any time). Of course, I do know that they had some team up here and there. Rivals Bing and Frank worked together in High Society, Robin And The 7 Hoods, The Road To Hong Kong (Frank makes a cameo appearance), and several TV specials. Fred and Gene worked together for one song in Ziegfeld Follies and again as co-hosts of That’s Entertainment Part 2. Not to mention Bing and Gene making cameo appearances in the Marilyn Monroe movie Let’s Make Love (although they don’t appear together). I think both teams were truly wonderful to watch, but I will always pick Bing and Fred as the more fun team to watch together.

Holiday Inn

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Blue Skies

My Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:

Anchors Aweigh

My Rating: 5/10

Audience Rating:

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

On The Town

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Winner: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire (again, just my opinion)

Screen Team Edition: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

Now we are here to consider MGM’s big song-and-dance team from the 1940s, that of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. When they were first paired together for the 1945 musical Anchors Aweigh, they were both rising stars, having just been introduced to the movie-going public within the last few years. From what I’ve read, I do get the impression that they became friends after working together on that movie (although their friendship certainly had its problems). That first movie certainly turned out to be a success, enough so that they were teamed up again for two more movies in 1949, Take Me Out To The Ball Game and On The Town. So, without further ado, let’s get through the plot descriptions, all borrowed from the individual reviews.

Anchors Aweigh: While on leave, sailor Joe Brady (Gene Kelly) is looking for a good time with his girlfriend Lola, and his shy shipmate Clarence Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) wants his help and advice on finding a girl for himself.  Before they can get too far, the police ask for their help with a young kid (Dean Stockwell), who has run away from home to join the navy. They take him back to the home of his aunt, Susan Abbott (Kathryn Grayson), whom Clarence decides he wants to go out with. Joe tries to help him out (and get him off his back), but they find themselves in a lot more trouble than they bargained for when Joe lies and tells her they know movie star José Iturbi (himself) and can get her a screen test. They try to talk to Iturbi, but they just keep missing him. Meanwhile, Joe is developing feelings for Susan, and Clarence realizes that he likes the waitress at the restaurant that Susan works at. (Length: two hours, twenty minutes)

Take Me Out To The Ball Game: During the off season, baseball players Dennis Ryan (Frank Sinatra) and Eddie O’Brien (Gene Kelly) tour the country on the vaudeville stage, but it’s time to return for spring training! When they rejoin their team, however, they find that the owner has died, and a distant relative has inherited the team. They soon find out the new owner is K. C. Higgins (Esther Williams), and she knows her stuff! Dennis immediately falls for her, but Eddie doesn’t get along with her at all. Once the season starts, Dennis finds himself being chased by Shirley Delwyn (Betty Garrett). At a big party for the team, Dennis realizes that he likes Shirley, and Eddie finds out that Katherine Higgins likes him! Of course, there are also some gamblers causing trouble by trying to fix things so that the team won’t win the pennant. (Length: one hour, thirty-three minutes)

On The Town: On leave for just one day, sailors Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) explore New York City. While on the subway, Gabey sees a subway worker putting up a poster of Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen), the new Miss Turnstiles. He decides to find her, and his buddies try to help. Along the way, they are helped by cab driver Brunhilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett), who takes a shine to Chip, and Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller), who likes Ozzie. Gabey does find Ivy, and they all go out as a group (at least until Ivy sneaks away to get to her job). Gabey tries to find her again, all the while the group has to evade the police, due to the dinosaur skeleton that Ozzie had accidentally knocked over at a museum that they visited, as well as the cab that Brunhilde was driving beyond her shift. (Length: one hour, thirty-eight minutes)

Since by now, you should have read my comments on those movies, my purpose here is to talk about them as a team. In Anchors Aweigh, as in the other two, their characters spent a lot of time together, and they ended up being paired together for three songs: “We Hate To Leave,” “I Begged Her” and “If You Knew Susie.” Take Me Out To The Ball Game is a slightly different case, as we still have Frank and Gene doing the title song and “Yes, Indeedy” together, but, with the likes of “O’Brien To Ryan To Goldberg” and “Strictly U.S.A,” we start seeing them make the transition into a three-man team, with Jules Munshin joining in. With On The Town, it pretty much IS a three-man team, with them doing “New York, New York” and “That’s All There Is, Folks” as a trio, plus “Prehistoric Man,” “On The Town” and “Count On Me” with the gals.

With three films and a changing dynamic, it’s difficult to nail down commonalities between the movies. To a large degree, Frank and Gene do essentially play relatively similar characters in all three, with Gene generally being a ladies’ man, and Frank playing somebody who is shy and a lot more awkward in his attempts at romance. But in all three movies, they are good friends, willing to help each other out, and wary of betraying each other, especially in the first two when Gene’s characters find themselves falling for the gals that Frank’s characters first liked. And it is that friendship that helps drive these films, whether it just be the two of them, or three, with Jules Munshin joining in. As far as I know, these are the only three times that Frank and Gene worked together (outside of them both hosting the first That’s Entertainment movie, albeit separately). If there are any other times they worked together, I don’t know about them yet, but they are a fun team to watch! I certainly would recommend seeing their three movies together (although I would recommend the second and third moreso than the first movie).

Anchors Aweigh

My Rating: 5/10

Audience Rating:

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

On The Town

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… On The Town (1949)

And we’re back from the sea for another musical romp with Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin as they go On The Town with Betty Garrett, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen.

On leave for just one day, sailors Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) explore New York City. While on the subway, Gabey sees a subway worker putting up a poster of Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen), the new Miss Turnstiles. He decides to find her, and his buddies try to help. Along the way, they are helped by cab driver Brunhilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett), who takes a shine to Chip, and Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller), who likes Ozzie. Gabey does find Ivy, and they all go out as a group (at least until Ivy sneaks away to get to her job). Gabey tries to find her again, all the while the group has to evade the police, due to the dinosaur skeleton that Ozzie had accidentally knocked over at a museum that they visited, as well as the cab that Brunhilde was driving beyond her shift.

This is the third and final movie that Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly made together (well, unless you want to count them both being hosts of the first That’s Entertainment documentary). And of the three, it was the only one that Gene Kelly actually got paired up with a dancer, as Kathryn Grayson was mainly a singer and Esther Williams a swimmer. This movie is based on a Broadway show with music by Leonard Bernstein, although only a handful of songs were retained, with new music provided by associate producer Roger Edens. Of course, this movie is remembered as much for the behind-the-scenes team of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen (who had worked together as choreographers for some of Gene’s movies and co-wrote the story for Take Me Out To The Ball Game) being upgraded to co-directors, a team that also co-directed the classics Singin’ In The Rain and It’s Always Fair Weather.

I enjoyed this one. I do have to admit, it took me several viewings over a number of years, but my opinion has improved. While it does veer back into the “sailors-on-leave” territory that Frank and Gene did with Anchors Aweigh, it maintains some of the improvements made for Take Me Out To The Ball Game (TMOTTBG), including the shorter runtime and Jules Munshin as the third buddy. I will say I don’t like the music quite as much as TMOTTBG, but it is a huge improvement from Anchors Aweigh. And, to a lesser degree, I almost wish they had given Jules Munshin a little more screentime, as he is the only one of the sailors that we don’t see on his own when they all separate. But, again, that’s just a minor complaint. For me, this is an increasingly fun film to watch, and one I would heartily recommend.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD individually and on Blu-ray as part of the five film Frank Sinatra Collection from Warner Home Video.

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