New York, New York ()

directed by Martin Scorsese
featuring Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro, Lionel Stander, Barry Primus, Mary Kay Place

Show Synopsis

Martin Scorsese combined the splashy atmosphere of the old studio musical with an unromanticized marriage story in his valentine to Hollywood and the Big Band era. On V-J Day 1945, newly minted civilian saxophonist Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) meets USO singer Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) at a dance, but she rebuffs every advance that he makes. A day and a hotel lobby meeting later, Jimmy finally wins Francine over after she uses her pop instincts to save his too-jazzy audition at a nightclub. When she goes on tour with ...


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Jun 23, 2019

New York, New York

Martin Scorsese is at his best in directing raw, gritty movies of New York's underbelly, including, "Mean Streets", "Taxi Driver", and "Raging Bull". Scorsese has a partially different side, as shown in this 1977 film, "New York, New York" which stars Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli as a pair of lovers and musicians. This large-budget movie failed commercially and critically upon its initial release. The movie has hung on, based in part on Scorsese's reputation and on the performance of the stars, but still receives, and deservedly so, mixed responses.

The movie is a deliberate throw-back to the New York and Hollywood of the post- WW II 1940s. The settings of a mostly high-life ritzy New York City, its successful entertainers, clubs, posh hotels are large-scale and lavish, as are the exaggerated 1940's style clothing. The setting is a far cry from, for example, the world of "Mean Streets".

The glamorous setting becomes a backdrop for a failed romance between a bop saxophonist, Jimmy Doyle (De Niro) and a Broadway-style singer, Francine Evans (Minnelli). They meet in a crowded, expensive nightclub during the celebrations for the end of WW II. A persistently obnoxious Jimmy forces his attentions on Francine and ultimately succeeds in winning her affections and her hand. Jimmy proves to be talented on the sax but mostly dislikable as he mistreats Francine, is jealous of her success, and walks out of the marriage when she has his baby. Through all of this, Francine is forgiving and mostly passive.

The movie thus offers Scorsese characters in an upper-class setting. The film works hard to combine and to create irony and unity in the two seemingly disparate elements. Unfortunately, the film is mixed at best. Each of the two parts of the story could work separately but they don't work well together.

Minnelli offers a stunning acting and singing performance with the 1940s' song-filled score. De Niro is only slightly less effective as an actor and as a musician with his dubbed-in sax. While they are beautifully done and photographed, the musical scenes tend to be far too long and to work at cross-purposes with the story. The long movie quickly starts to drag. Some of the scenes, such as the opening encounter between Jimmy and Francine, are themselves too long and become static. The problem with the film is not with the dislikable male lead character. Rather it lies in the slow, unbalanced pacing and in the failure to integrate the story with the setting in a convincing way.

Minnelli belts out her songs with show-stopping passion, including the title song, "New York, New York", written for the film by John Kander and Frank Ebb. The song has become a classic in its own right, with performances by Minnelli and Frank Sinatra. Other songs in the film offer a commentary on the relationship between the lovers, including "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me", "Happy Endings" and "But the World goes Round". The singing and the music do not lead to an effective drama. Realizing the problems with the film, Scorsese made several revisions, cutting and then adding back some of the musical numbers, eliminating scenes, and changing the ending. The film comes to a properly hard conclusion, as opposed to Hollywood Pollyanna. But taken as a whole, the movie is full of more Hollywood fluff than of 1940's New York City and of a failed love affair and marriage.

The film is much better in parts than as a coherent, unified work. Too much of it left me restless and wanting it to move forward and to end. Unfortunately I found it a near miss and a dramatic failure. I couldn't dismiss the film, however, with its many virtues, and thought it still deserved a good rating. The movie probably will best be remembered for its place in the overall work of Martin Scorsese.

Robin Friedman

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