Wednesday 9 March 2022

Movie Review: New York, New York (1977)

A musical drama and romance, New York, New York is a bloated mess with only a few redeeming moments.

On Victory over Japan (V-J) day in New York City, unemployed saxophone player and serial liar Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) spots United Services Organization (USO) singer Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) at a celebratory party. He repeatedly pesters her, and she repeatedly rebuffs him. They later meet again in a hotel lobby and he continues stalking her. 

Eventually she accompanies him to an audition, which goes badly until she starts singing. They are hired as a duo act and start a romance, but she soon leaves him and returns to her job as a singer with a touring jazz band. He follows her and lands a job with the band. Jimmy and Francine get married and both their careers experience an upswing, but her pregnancy and his jealousy threaten their happiness.

Fresh from the success of Taxi Driver, director Martin Scorsese intended his next project as an homage to classic Hollywood musicals and a salute to New York City. Unfortunately Scorsese (among others on the project) was battling substance abuse issues, and despite some clever directorial touches and good László Kovács cinematography, New York, New York is a near-disaster and a crushing bore. Improvised dialogue, uninteresting lead characters with no background and no developmental arcs, non-existent secondary characters, poor narrative continuity, and bad editing all extend for an excruciating 163 minutes.

The tone is set in a genuinely awful and endless first scene featuring 35 minutes of repetitive annoyance. Jimmy Doyle is best described as creepy and despicable, and De Niro's performance is proportionately insufferable. A fundamental and painfully obvious problem is a non-script by Mardik Martin and Earl Mac Rauch, which must have been discarded early with the actors asked to just wing it. The outcome is scene after scene of De Niro thinking up ways on the fly to act like a boor, Minnelli visibly flustered or bewildered as her co-star misbehaves and manhandles. 

Scorsese was also having an affair with Minnelli, and therefore she shares no chemistry with De Niro, not that anyone can display any affinity for a character like Doyle. With the romance and narrative elements both in tatters, the music steps in to offer some redemption. The movie's best moments occur when the actors just shut up and the musicians are allowed to play. The final 40 minutes mercifully dispose of any narrative pretensions and simply focus on a series of Minnelli concert performances, culminating in her spirited rendition of the title song, written for the movie by John Kander and Fred Ebb. 

Ironically, New York, New York cannot make it there, and cannot make it anywhere.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.


  1. As a fan of Martin Scorsese, I didn't really enjoy this film as it dragged and I found myself not liking de Niro and Minnelli. I know what Scorsese was trying to do but it didn't work.

    1. Agreed, this one just fails, other than some good musical moments. Somehow deciding that a movie does not need a functional script and professionally written dialogue was a mistake. Then having such an unlikable character with no redeeming attributes in the middle of the story was an awful choice.


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