Just before On The Town, the Freed unit at MGM seemed to have settled on the trio of Kelly, Sinatra and Munshin but they only had Betty Garrett of their female counterparts. Her plot strand is almost identical to the other film. She makes a forceful play for Frank Sinatra, who eventually gives in although the routine to “It’s Fate, Baby, It’s Fate” in which she pursues him around the bleachers of a baseball stadium is considerably more taxing than the taxi scene in the other film. Gene Kelly is without a dancing partner, which is no bad thing as we are spared one of his ballets. Having Sinatra as his main partner limits the number of times he can do his teetering skittle dance too. He is, however, allowed to do an Oirish routine: “The Hat My Dear Old Father Wore Upon St Patrick’s Day” – as if we cared greatly – and, in the action, is allowed to be a rather objectionable person. However, because he was seemingly unable to construct a dance routine around Esther Williams, he is firmly overshadowed by Sinatra, who serenades her with comfortably the best song in the score – “The Right Girl For Me”. Jules Munshin is there for his incomparable ability to irritate, which he manages as only he can. Buster Keaton seems to have worked on the gags in the film without receiving a credit but it is very hard to see where he might have made any input. Jules Munshin and Gene Kelly shared an approach to comedy that was very different.
As with On The Town, Betty Comden and Adolph Green teamed up with the hard-worked Roger Edens to do the score. Baseball in 1906 does not really play to their strengths. They had to do a number in praise of small-town America – “Strictly USA” – where the strain really shows. They put in a line about a four-door Chevrolet, in a film where the only cars on view have no doors at all, and Betty Garrett drives a horse-drawn buggy onto the pavement to trap Sinatra. Seeing this film on a big screen does make a difference. That number about “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg” for once did not make me want to throw a brick at the screen: it actually expressed enthusiasm and bonhomie. The only real Comden and Green song came right at the start when Kelly and Sinatra tell their team-mates about some of the women they met in their last vaudeville tour – completely undercut by the fact that Sinatra’s screen character never even looks at women.
So it has a weak score which does not integrate very well with the script; it does not play to Gene Kelly’s strengths; it contains Jules Munshin and an Oirish routine but it is enjoyable enough. You just do not need to see it very often.