As a huge fan of Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Aviator) I've somehow never seen one of the more unusual movies in his filmography, 1977's NEW YORK, NEW YORK.
I think since it first came out and failed at the box office, I assumed it would be a long, boring trek. Long, YES, boring...it's Scorsese! Never boring.
The film opens with a massive and expensive scene set the night on VJ Day, with a full Tommy Dorsey orchestra belting out 40's tunes while many celebrating armed forces members dance and drink to celebrate their victory.
Robert de Niro is Jimmy Doyle, an egotistical, womanizing saxophone player with a pickup line for every woman and cockiness to spare.
When he meets WAC Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) his standard lines don't work and he is immediately smitten.
It's the start of a long and difficult relationship.
On an audition with Jimmy, Francine joins in to sing to get him the job and they are suddenly booked together. Francine starts a rise to the top and becomes a star, while Jimmy is left in the shadows, at first.
It sounds like "A Star Is Born", but this is Scorsese, so the character arcs aren't that predictable.
This was Scorsese and De Niro's follow up to the brilliant "Taxi Driver" the year before and its a little eerie how echoes of Travis Bickle sneak into De Niro's excellent performance here.
When Pauline and Jimmy argue, they are crushing battles that last more than a few minutes. One argument in a car is so realistic it makes you feel like you're watching something you shouldn't, its personal.
When Francine announces she's pregnant, Jimmy is faced with making decisions that will change everyone's lives. The paths they all take are unpredictable in both success and failure.
De Niro is excellent but rarely likeable as Jimmy.
Minnelli is terrific. She's less mannered than she got in the 90's and much more likable.
Look for Springsteen staple Clarence Clemons as musician Cecil Powell. I had no idea he EVER acted and he's fine here.
The musical numbers are terrific, with John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago) supplying plenty of new, now classic material, especially the title tune.
When the film was released, Scorsese had deleted several key scenes for length, including a big budget, long sequence showing Francine's big hit Broadway show toward the end of the movie.
Entitled "Happy Endings", it's a massive musical production with Liza in fine form. It's also a fascinating counterpoint to Jimmy and Francine's life, with him sitting in the audience opening night to watch it unfold.
It's spooky in the last third of the film how much Liza looks like her mom, Judy Garland, even dressing like her in a night club performance. I'm not a huge fan of Minnelli's, but she's just as good here as she was in her Oscar Winning role as Sally Bowles in "Cabaret".
I had the chance to have dinner with Liza in 2005 in NYC around a DVD project we were working on. There were a dozen people at the table. Liza was very sweet, VERY mannered and could barely get around, walking with a cane. She had a woman that never left her side, catering to her every need from pouring her water to hovering with a Kleenex.
She shared a few stories about "her momma" and was quietly charming. All the years of dancing and partying had definitely taken their toll on her. It was a pleasure to spend some time with her in all her eccentricities.
Seeing her here at the peak of her youth and talent was a startling contrast to the woman I met that night.
This is not a feel good musical.
It's a classic Scorsese family drama about flawed people dealing with their own egos, insecurities and desires, with some great musical moments thrown in the mix.
Like the poster says, "A love story is like a song, it's beautiful while it lasts."
This being a Scorsese film, it was challenging for me to tell when these two people fell in and out of love. They definitely did not do so at the same time.
"Start spreading the news....." NEW YORK, NEW YORK is an unappreciated, interesting and challenging drama that gets a B.