New York, New York (1977) / Drama-Musical
MPAA Rated: PG for language, drug use and sexual references (probably PG-13 today)
Running Time: 163 min. (155 min., original theatrical length)
Cast: Robert De Niro, Liza Minnelli, Lionel Stander, Georgie Auld, Barry Primus, Mary Kay Place, Clarence Clemons, Casey Kasem (cameo)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Earl Mac Rauch, Mardik Martin
Review published November 24, 2005
In my opinion, New York New York is the most underrated of Scorsese's films. Coming after Taxi Driver, critics probably grew restless looking for more signs of a genius filmmaker that they thought Scorsese to be within this rather straightforward drama-romance, with its length, unsympathetic lead character and ostensibly confusing themes. While it may not be everyone's cup, especially for those looking for an altogether different sort of movie from Scorsese, this is, nevertheless, a skillfully shot and brilliantly acted piece that deserves to be recognized with more respect than it has generally been given.
The film starts just after the end of World War II back in New York City, where the returning soldiers are celebrating. De Niro plays Jimmy Doyle, a slick-talking, egocentric out to catch a cutie at a club, eventually settling on USO singer Francine Evans (Minnelli, Arthur) as the object of his desire. Doyle proves to be a man that can't take no for an answer, as he pesters Francine until she finally gives in to his advances, and once his foot is in the door, he continues his uncouth pursuit until they eventually marry. Jimmy and Francine join a swing band on tour, but complications arise within the relationship when Francine's amazing talent as a singer overshadows Jimmy's playing on the saxophone, and playing second fiddle is something he refuses to do.
Even the film's most earnest detractors have to admit that New York, New York is a handsomely made film, with gorgeous sets and costumes, sleek cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs (Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, Ghostbusters), and a masterful eye for how to set up a scene by director Scorsese. There is also no denying the quality of the lead performances, with Minnelli outstanding, not only in portraying convincing vulnerability, but the musical numbers rank among her very best. De Niro is equally engaging, even though he is playing a bit of a heel, making what could have been just a ruthless jerk role into one that makes you feel sorry for the guy for being so callous. he's the kind of man that is unworthy of love, but thanks to the subtle touches, you realize that underneath all of the bad times, there is actual love there between the two.
Scorsese's love letter to the musicals of the 40s and early 50s doesn't always move forward its story, which at nearly three hours in length, might cause less patient viewers to become restless. However, given the film's overall strengths, which are at times extraordinary, there's more than enough greatness within the production to make this worthwhile for fans of Scorsese, De Niro, Minnelli, and old-fashioned Hollywood cinema. While it is slighted, if not altogether ignored, by critics discussing the work of the prodigious Scorsese, it just goes to show how masterful he is as a director, as this would be a phenomenally impressive film in nearly any other filmmaker's oeuvre.
While not really a romantic film in the traditional sense, it nevertheless paints a richly pessimistic, but rewarding, depiction of the difficulties for two different people to achieve success without stepping on each other's toes. While not as great as other Scorsese films, the vision and scope of New York, New York is so stunning at times, and the intensity so overwhelming, my ultimate conclusion on it is that it ranks as a sort of flawed masterpiece for nostalgic film buffs.
©2005 Vince Leo