Before watching the movie:
I only know this movie exists because it famously has a scene where one of the men, probably Gene Kelly, dances with Jerry the cartoon mouse, which must be a fantasy number.
Apparently, this is a musical about falling in love on shore leave. Sinatra and Kelly are friends and shipmates and at least one of them falls in love with a local girl in port. I would be pleasantly surprised if this didn’t make up the bulk of its plot on a love triangle, but I’m just looking forward to some songs about sailors having good clean fun ashore.
After watching the movie:
Navy sailors Joe and Clarence are awarded a week’s special leave in southern California for an exemplary action. Gab artist Joe has a girl named Lola in town in Hollywood, but shy Clarence has nobody, and as he figures it, since Joe recently saved his life, Joe owes him, and he’d like Joe to set him up with a date and teach him how to get girls, which Joe agrees to in order to get Clarence off his back so he can see Lola. But on the way, a police officer scoops both of them up off the street to talk to Donald, a young boy who ran away from home set on joining the Navy. When Joe tells him you have to have a letter from your parents to join, Donald insists that Joe come ask his guardian Aunt Susie for him. When they meet her, Clarence is instantly smitten and asks Joe to set him up with Susie, and one of the first steps Joe takes is chasing away her date. Who turns out to have been the best shot she had at getting an audition with Jose Iturbi in years, so to try to console her, Joe tells Susie that as a matter of fact, Clarence is great friends with Iturbi, and already set up an audition for her on Saturday. Now all they have to do is make that happen.
There’s a moment midway through where I was worried a love triangle had developed, but almost immediately it became apparent it’s an entirely different romantic geometry that’s less well-worn and more fun from a storytelling perspective, where it just became a matter of waiting for everybody to figure out their feelings and worry about how those feelings were going to affect everyone else. From the summaries I’d seen, I had in mind there was going to be a competition for Lola, but she’s at most a voice on the telephone a reason for Joe to rush through things and create a mess to clean up, and forgotten halfway through as the developing situation makes making time with the flighty Hollywood dish unimportant. Lola will have her fun with or without Joe, and everyone knows it, so while it would have been appropriate to actually let her know Joe had stopped trying to reach her, circumstances had caused him to miss two or three dates with her already, so she’ll hardly be put out by not having to bother with him anymore.
The story isn’t so very important as showcasing the talents of their performers. Sinatra gets several songs, Kelly gets some songs and several dances, and Grayson’s character is trying to make it as a singer. Iturbi is mostly there to be chased after, but he gets multiple opportunities to show off some clearly difficult piano work. He’s surprisingly nice for an impossibly busy star-maker, and the scene where he manages to get a few minutes to himself to just relax with a piano and talk about music could have come off as something he just negotiated into his contract, but instead it’s just sweet and sincere. Shy, awkward, naive Clarence (“Brooklyn”) is very different from everything else I’ve seen Sinatra do (Ocean’s Eleven, Suddenly), but he conveys the role very well. I thought I hadn’t seen Kathryn Grayson before, but she already has a tag, and it turns out she was in Show Boat.
While I was watching the movie I had the impression that Iturbi the pianist and impresario was a fictional character, but then I saw him credited as himself. That, combined with casting Jerry as the storybook king Joe teaches to dance in the story he makes up for the kids about how he got his medal, makes this movie feel very much like a contract picture. I strongly suspect Jerry was used because Tom and Jerry are MGM property and they wanted a Name.
This is the kind of movie where everything is more important than it should be and so nothing is very important, which makes for a fun bit of escapism while Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson sing for you and Gene Kelly dances (with Jerry). There are references to the ugly side of war, but they are very very very far removed from the story, and we’re left with a couple of fun-loving servicemen with a week in Hollywood getting more than they bargained for.