Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, José Iturbi, Dean Stockwell.
Practically nonexistent, but one might think of it as “The Search for Iturbi.” Joe (Kelly) and Clarence (Sinatra) are two sailors on leave in Hollywood. Clarence is a shy, bookish kid (boy, is Sinatra cast against type) who’s afraid of girls, and he wants Joe’s help (Joe is known as “The Sea Wolf”). There’s a sudden change of plans on their first night in town, though, as they get sucked into helping Donald, a runaway boy (Stockwell). Clarence immediately falls for Donald’s Aunt Susie (Grayson), who’s an extra at MGM, hoping for a big break. In an effort to help Clarence get the girl, Joe claims that Clarence can get Susie an audition with José Iturbi! Having made the boast, the two sailors spend the rest of the movie trying to find Iturbi and set up an audition for Susie, but in the process Joe falls in love with Susie himself, and fickle Clarence gets a crush on a smart-alecky Brooklyn girl. (And yes, this is the one where Kelly dances with the mouse.)
Excerpts from newspapers of the day:
The New York Times, July 20, 1945
Another humdinger of a musical has been produced by Joe Pasternak for Metro in the shape of that studio’s current and colorful offering, “Anchors Aweigh.” And in it that agile young fellow, Gene Kelly, conclusively proves himself to be the peer, if not the superior, at rigadooning, of Fred Astaire. But indeed, Mr. Pasternak—a champion at making such films with youthful stars—has accomplished an even greater wonder in this one. He has made Frank Sinatra look good…
…Miss Grayson sings several numbers—beautifully, be it said…
…the charm of Mr. Pasternak’s productions is their visual fluidity, their displays of images with music for purely diverting effects. And the cartoon sequence falls as readily into this graceful flow as does a multiple-piano recital, featuring Iturbi. As a matter of fact, Iturbi pops up every so often to play a snatch—anything from a Tchaikovsky concerto to a boogie-woogie version of “The Donkey Serenade.”
…For popular entertainment, “Anchors Aweigh” is hard to beat.
Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1945
“Anchors Aweigh” goes all the way as a musical…a ten-strike in entertainment…People turned out in lines and droves to see this Joe Pasternak opus. What they got for their money was a load of entertainment in the form of songs, dancing and comedy, a thinly plotted story, much glamorous Technicolor and first-class personnel to convey everything good and interesting about the show…They laughed at the jokes and the gags even as they responded to the melodies and the occasional flights into the classics dictated by the presence of José Iturbi.
…Tops in imaginativeness is Kelly’s dance with a cartoon character….this practically stops the show. Some of the audiences were ready to applaud not only that but other unusual manifestations, including the big piano ensemble led by Iturbi.
From Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide
Anchors Aweigh (1945) C-140m. **1/2
Director: George Sidney
Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, José Iturbi, Dean Stockwell, Pamela Britton. Popular ‘40’s musical of sailors on leave doesn’t hold up storywise, but musical numbers still good: Sinatra’s “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” Kelly’s irresistible dance with Jerry the Cartoon Mouse.
Thoughts of ManyFountains.com: This was the movie that introduced me to Iturbi. While everyone else in the world now seems to think the main point of interest was Kelly’s mouse-dance, I was the one saying, “but is that guy really playing the piano himself? He can’t be…can he?” He could…and how.
It’s also interesting to note that the cute little kid wandering the streets in his bathrobe and trying to join the Navy was Dean Stockwell, one of the few child actors who actually remained successful after hitting puberty. Stockwell is probably best known as the lecherous, wise-cracking “Al” in Quantum Leap—and ironically, he’s an Admiral in that role. I guess the Navy thing worked out.
Iturbi conducted a 100-piece band for the “Anchors Aweigh” march at the beginning.
Pasternak recruited the children for the “Hungarian Rhapsody #11” multi-piano ensemble by advertising in the newspapers, asking for nine boys and nine girls under the age of 18. More than 100 children showed up for auditions, lured both by the hope of stardom and the promise that Iturbi would coach each of the youngsters selected. Pasternak reported that the hundred kids were all so good it was hard to select the finalists—and he gave full credit for the many musicians to Iturbi, for making classics accessible to people of all ages and stations.
Gene Kelly worked long and hard with Frank Sinatra to get his dancing up to speed, but kidded the singer plenty. Sinatra and Iturbi then cooked up a practical joke on Kelly in revenge. Sinatra told Kelly he “wasn’t bad with a piano.” Then, surrounding himself with admirers and movie extras—so many that Kelly couldn’t get close—he began to play. Presently the strains of Sevilla by Albéniz filled the soundstage, played with “fiery perfection.” At the end of the “performance” Iturbi himself rushed forward and begged Sinatra to do a concert with him. What Kelly didn’t know was that Iturbi had recorded the number previously, and while standing next to Kelly, Iturbi had himself thrown the playback switch.
The motorcycle Iturbi rides in “Anchors Aweigh” was Iturbi’s own bike, and from his very first days working there he had ridden it all over the back lots with such abandon that no one would dare ride with him.
For some reason Amparo Iturbi shows up in a lot of credits as having been in this movie, but I haven’t been able to find her.
“Anchors Aweigh” was Oscar-nominated for best picture and in several other categories; it did win best musical score.
Iturbi’s Musical Numbers:
Conducting: Anchors Aweigh (at the beginning and end of the movie)
Conducting & Accompanying: From the Heart of a Lonely Poet (waltz from the String Serenade by Tchaikovsky); Kathryn Grayson, Soloist
Accompanist: “Tonight we Love” (melody from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat)
Conducting and Soloing: The Donkey Serenade
Leading 18-person ensemble: Hungarian Rhapsody #2 (Liszt)