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Viewer Guide: “Anchors Aweigh” and “Lapsis”

January 5, 2022 | Richard Peña

REEL 13 DOUBLE FEATURE | ANCHORS AWEIGH

Anchors Aweigh (1945).

This week’s double feature begins with Anchors Aweigh, the 1945 MGM musical directed by George Sidney, featuring special animation sequences by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. 

Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra star as Joe Brady and Clarence “Brooklyn” Doolittle, a pair of World War II sailors singled out for their service—and better yet—rewarded with four full days of leave in Hollywood as commendation for their valor. Joe quickly lines up an LA hot date, and uses his expertise as a “sea wolf” with the ladies to coach former choir boy Clarence on how to be more assertive in finding a date for himself. However, their evening takes a detour when the boys are pressed into service by the police to help convince a would-be enlister named Donald Martin to go home—who in the form of nine-year-old Dean Stockwell is a little too young to sign up. Still determined to get into the Navy, Donald drags Joe and Clarence home to meet his “Aunt Susie,” an aspiring singer played by Kathryn Grayson. But when Clarence sets his sights on Susan for his LA romance, Joe’s strategy to help him out backfires, embroiling the pair in a scheme to arrange an audition for Susan with acclaimed Spanish conductor José Iturbi. When Clarence starts to have a change of heart about Susan after meeting a waitress and fellow Brooklynite played by Pamela Britton, Joe’s feelings for Susan might mean he’s not quite the “sea wolf” he thinks he is. 

Also featured are songs by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, as well as the groundbreaking sequence of Kelly dancing with Jerry the Mouse of “Tom and Jerry” fame. 

Anchors Aweigh marked the first of three partnerships for Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra that would continue with Take Me Out to the Ball Game and On the Town in 1949, following a two year pause for Kelly’s real-life Navy service. For his Anchors Aweigh choreography, Kelly collaborated with his friend Stanley Donen, who suggested the idea of a dance number with a cartoon. Despite initial MGM reaction that the idea was too complicated, producer Joe Pasternak secured the budget to produce the sequence as a separate film that could be included—or not, depending on how it all turned out. Kelly and Donen approached Walt Disney for his advice and asked about Mickey Mouse, but Disney was too busy with his own projects to take on a major job for a rival studio. Turning to MGM’s animation chief Fred Quimby, Kelly and Donen proceeded with the idea by using Jerry the Mouse from the studio’s own “Tom and Jerry” franchise by animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. With the sequence requiring two months to film, Donen painstakingly worked on post-production for a full year. In the end, the number was well worth the effort, becoming not only a highlight of Anchors Aweigh, but of the entire MGM musicals repertory 

REEL 13 DOUBLE FEATURE | LAPSIS

Lapsis (2020).

This week’s double feature continues with Lapsis, a 2020 science-fiction mystery satire marking the feature film debut of writer-director Noah Hutton. 

Set in a dystopian world that weirdly looks simultaneously like both today and forty years ago, Lapsis stars Dean Imperial as Ray, an airline lost luggage delivery man struggling to care for his half-brother Jaime, who is suffering from a chronic fatigue syndrome variant called “Omnia.” Anxious to get Jaime admitted to an expensive clinic with exotic new treatments, Ray finds himself in need of some fast cash. With the help of a shady acquaintance, Ray gets a job with the ominous “Quantum” computer system. Taking over the work permit of a prior employee, Ray joins an army of freelance cablers dragging hand trolleys throughout the wilderness, with the final goal of plugging in at giant magnetic cubes. A strange yet simple enough job—although the out of shape Ray struggles to keep up—and he’s rattled to discover the human cablers are in competition with relentless caterpillar-like robots covering the same routes. Furthermore, Ray is taken aback by the hostile reaction that his work ID as “Lapsis Beeftech” seems to provoke in his fellow cablers. Despite the accumulation of unnerving incidents, Ray presses on, until a dawning realization forces him to confront the truth. 

The son of Debra Winger and Timothy Hutton, Lapsis writer-director Noah Hutton strove to create a convincing “parallel present” for his satirical commentary on today’s gig economy, a world with an unsettling resonance with the current culture and practices of the Silicon Valley corporate giants now dominating American life. The film’s low budget only allowed for the construction of one giant Quantum cube, which was built on a wood frame with a metal covering on just two sides; it was then moved around from location to location to suggest multiple cubes. And the caterpillar robots were built by a robotics lab at the University of Pennsylvania, modeled on a doctoral student summer project. Dean Imperial, who plays Ray, is best known as a staff writer for the TV Series Imposters, but Hutton was convinced Imperial’s James Gandolfini-like “everyman” quality was perfect for the role. And for the part of Ray’s half-brother Jamie, Hutton cast his own half-brother, Babe Howard—the son Debra Winger and Arliss Howard. 

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema. 

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