movie review appeared in the Chicago Maroon,
the student newspaper at the University of Chicago, on July
photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the excitement
of V-J Day, Aug. 14, 1945.
blankets the cheering crowds along the streets of Manhattan
on V-J Day while Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) slowly makes
his way. Glenn Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000"
becomes barely audible above the victory cries, paper horns
and noisemakers. Jimmy pauses underneath a large, slanting,
reddish-pink neon arrow pointing down at him as the camera
zooms and focuses on him.
the Rainbow Room, Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (played
by Bill Tole and his Orchestra) open with their theme, "I'm
Getting Sentimental Over You", then break into
'Song Of India." Everyone is having a great time—except
for the band, whose members are as expressionless as stone-faced
Dorsey is. Jimmy Doyle puts the make on a couple of young
women but fails. He spots a cute WAC sitting by herself;
the band begins "Opus One." The WAC turns out
to be Francine Evans (Liza
Minnelli), who plays hard to get. Nine minutes later
"Opus One" ends and Jimmy gives up on his first
try with Francine. It turns out, however, that his buddy
has been dancing with Francine’s girl friend. Jimmy loans
him his hotel room key and spends what’s left of the evening
at the Rainbow Room talking with Francine.
three or four in the morning, Jimmy, now alone, phones his
buddy to see if it’s okay for him to return to his room.
His buddy pleads for one more hour. Jimmy agrees. He climbs
the stairway to the elevated train station, then watches
a sailor and his girl friend dance to imaginary music in
the dim glow of a streetlight. Jimmy just stares, longing
for what they have. Then the couple disappears....
are the opening scenes of United Artists' New
York, New York,
Martin Scorcese’s latest film, a musical love story in the
old Hollywood tradition but well-tempered by Scorcese’s
remarkable vision as a director. Jimmy Doyle is an aspiring
tenor saxophonist. Francine Evans is a talented vocalist.
They fall in love, of course, although their romance is
as shaky as the big band business in its waning days.
tells Francine shortly after they meet that he’s looking
for "the major chord," a balance of music, money,
and love — in that order, but Francine could easily reverse
it. Unfortunately, she isn’t able to because Jimmy proves
to be a real bastard.
music orchestrates their relationship throughout the film.
Arranged, supervised and conducted by Academy Award winner
(Cabaret) Ralph Burns, who began his career by arranging
for Woody Herman’s postwar bands, the music of New
York, New York
is a marvelous blend of big band, bebop, and Broadway. The
Cabaret team of John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote several new
songs for the film, including its theme. "You Brought
a New Kind of Love to Me," "Once In a While,"
"You Are My Lucky Star," "It’s a Wonderful
World," "The Man I Love," and "Just
You, Just Me" — are mostly big band arrangements featuring
Francine on vocals and Jimmy on tenor (dubbed by jazz great
Georgie Auld, who coached De Niro on tenor sax and appears
in the film as bandleader Frankie Harte). These old standards
weave a wonderful romantic ambience.
a brief time Jimmy fronts his own big band and Francine,
now his wife, is its featured vocalist. Big bands are on
the way out, but Jimmy’s jazz-influenced arrangements and
Francine’s singing give his band a chance of making it.
One evening Francine becomes dizzy and hurries offstage
after her song ends. Jimmy chases after her, and as she
tells him she’s pregnant, the band plays "Don’t Be
That Way" in the background.
Francine is that way (Jimmy is not at all pleased) and returns
to New York to have her baby. Jimmy soon gives up his band
and joins her, working as a sideman at the Harlem Club,
where some of the films hottest numbers are played: Diahnne
Abbott, De Niro’s real-life wife, sings one of the most
evocative versions of "Honeysuckle Rose" you'll
ever hear. Francine eventually goes her own way and becomes
a superstar. Her first hits include "But the World
Goes Round" and "There Goes the
Ball Game," both allusions to her breakup with Jimmy.
Niro’s portrayal of Jimmy Doyle is executed as brilliantly
as his roles in Bang the Drum Slowly, Mean Streets, Godfather
II, Taxi Driver, and The Last Tycoon. Some musicians
I have known have been as egocentric as Jimmy Doyle, complete
bastards to the women in their lives — though musicians
have no monopoly on these traits. De Niro’s performance
as a tenor saxophonist also is superb, and it is unlikely
we will ever again see an actor portray a musician with
the authenticity De Niro achieves in this film.
Francine Evans — young, vulnerable, easily impressed by
Jimmy Doyle’s wit and charm, just as easily victimized by
his arrogance and conceit — Liza Minnelli comes across beautifully.
Her facial expressions carry as much feeling as her singing,
and both can fill you with joy as much as they can with
sadness. Liza Minnelli's musical credentials were in fine
form long before New
York, New York, but she had to work hard to master the
big band idiom. She succeeded. Her renditions of "The
Man I Love," "Once in a While," and
especially "Just You, Just Me" are in the best
tradition of Martha Tilton, Helen Forrest, Helen Ward, Bee
Wain and Jo Stafford. And the new numbers she sings, including
the theme, "New York, New York," will please her
legions of admirers.
are several fine minor roles in the film, especially Georgie
Auld's interpretation of bandleader Frankie Harte. As fewer
and fewer people turn out to hear his band, he tells Francine
that he’s going to cancel the tour. She reminds him that
it’s the fifth time he has said this. Then he tells her
there’s only one person who can lead his band. "You
mean Jimmy?" Francine asks. "No, me!" he
insists, as bandleaders have always done.
Kay Place appears briefly as Bernice, who replaces Francine
as Jimmy Doyle’s vocalist. She typifies so many of the young
girl singers big bands often picked up along the road, telling
Jimmy that she’s "not a bimbo." Lenny Gaines as
the record producer conveys all the smart-ass self-confidence
of that profession; but in the scene where he meets with
Jimmy Doyle to discuss Francine’s recording contract, Jimmy
even tops him, although it’s a pretty fair duel.
York, New York ends in the early 1950s back in the Rainbow
Room. Jimmy Doyle, now owner of a new jazz club called The
Major Chord and with his recording of "New York,
New York" at the top of the charts, joins the Big Apple’s
cabaret set to hear Francine Evans at her opening night
performance. After she sees Jimmy in the audience, she orders
her orchestra to play "New York, New York," a
piece written by Jimmy for her years before and to which
she has added the lyrics. The number brings a standing ovation
from the Rainbow Room audience and received a big round
of applause from the audience at the McClurg Court Theater
(in Chicago) the night I saw the film.
set out to create a Hollywood musical that would rival those
of yesteryear. He has done so. New
York, New York is refreshing, entertaining, visually
and musically exciting, nostalgic yet contemporary. Some
scenes strongly resemble Edward Hopper's paintings. They
are masterpieces of symbolism and allusion: the young couple,
so much in love, dancing beneath the elevated; Jimmy Doyle
in a lonely, pensive mood playing his sax as he sits in
a lawn chair in front of a large billboard featuring a sun-tanned
girl in a bathing suit in an advertisement for a seaside
resort while, to his right, a young couple in silhouette
sits at a table playing cards; a green 1941 Buick parked
outside a funky Harlem night club; the EXIT sign that cautions
Francine in the final moments of the film; and, at the end,
that large, reddish-pink neon arrow again pointing at Jimmy
Scott Fitzgerald concluded his best novel by reminding us
that "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic
future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us
then, but that's no matter–tomorrow we will run faster,
stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning–
we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly
into the past."
Doyle's "green light" is his "major chord,"
which he grasps for only a second. Scorcese has created
an ingenious musicscape tracing Jimmy Doyle's search. In
their final scene together, Francine Evans tells Jimmy Doyle
that "happy endings are a dime a dozen, aren't they?"
He ends up right where he started, standing beneath the
who was it who said, "There are no second acts
in American lives?"