New York, New York (1977): Scorsese Flawed Musical Starring De Niro and Liza Minnelli

Scorsese’s well-intentioned valentine to the classic Hollywood musical and the Big Band era, New York, New York, is an interesting, if incoherent feature that ultimately fails as a period piece or dark musical.

Our Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

Obviously enamored with the darker musicals made in Hollywood in the 1940 and 1950s, Scorsese tries but only partially succeeds in mixing the atmosphere of the old studio musical with a chronicle of marriage on the rocks.

The narrative, credited to Earl Mac Rauch and Mardik Martin, is set on V-J Day 1945, when the newly civilian saxophonist Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) meets USO singer Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) at a dance.  Initialy, she she rebuffs his romantic overtures, but he insists and persists.

Meeting in a hotel lobby a day later, Jimmy finally wins Francine over after she uses her pop instincts to save his audition at a nightclub, which is deemed as “too jazzy.”

When Francine goes on tour with Frankie Harte (Georgie Auld) and his orchestra, Jimmy taks a job with the band in order to be with her.  Peforming together, they make beautiful music.

But their ensuing marriage reveals sonflicts between two artists devoted to their respective careers and products of differing personalities and tempers.

Unable to understand that Francine’s needs and talents are just as important as his, and unwilling to compromise his careery, Jimmy abandons Francine after their baby is born.

Separately, the two succeed even more, as Francine becomes a music and movie star, while Jimmy has a top hit and opens a jazz club. When they are reunited years later, they have to make fateful decisions about their art and relationship

On one level, “New York, New York” is Scorsese’s  homage not just to the Hollywood musical, but also an effort to remake “A Star Is Born” (made three times, in 1937, 1954, 1976).

You can’t fault the acting of De Niro and Minnelli as the embattled lovers struggling with their love and careers.

The visual style of the picture, which was shot on the studio lot, is deliberately artificial and consciously theatrical. The colorful studio sets of the film, most of which takes place indoors, look like painted backgrounds

The movie is more successful as Scorsese’s personal meditation on the artifice of cinematic space and historical time than as a multi-layered musical, with fully-fleshed individuals as realistic characters.

Different Versions

When initially released, the film had a running time of 155 minutes, but after its failure at the box-office, United Artists cut the film down to 136 minutes. It was then re-released in 1981 with the deleted scenes restored, including the lengthy musical number “Happy Endings.” The DVD edition is 163 minute long.

Ultimately, New York, New York doesn’t work in any length (running time was never the problem).  The movie is worth seeing as a footnote in the long and fertile career of Scorsese, attempting to pay tribute and to revisit a cherished genre in an affectionate, nostalgic, glitzy, but also self-indulgent mode. 

Cultural Impact

The film’s musical motif, “Theme from New York, New York,” became a success on its own right, when Frank Sinatra recorded a version of it in 1980. Both Sinatra’s and Minnelli’s versions have become intimately connected with New York City. It’s is often used to promote international tourism to the Big Apple. It’s also kept alive by Liza Minnelli’s continuous rendition of the song in all of her concerts.

Rating: PG

Running time: 153 Minutes.

Directed by Martin Scorsese.

Script by Earl Mac Rauch and Mardik Martin.

Released June 22, 1977.

DVD: February 8, 2005



Liza Minnelli as Francine Evans

Robert De Niro as Jimmy Doyle

Lionel Stander as Tony Harwell

Barry Primus as Wilson

Mary Kay as Place as Bernice

Georgie Auld as Frankie Hatie