Maritime Monday for October 7th, 2013: Movies About Sailors, Part VI; Why Sailors Go Wrong

Movies About Sailors Part 6

Part 1Part 2Part IIIPart IVPart V

Skirts Ahoy! (MGM, 1952)

Skirts Ahoy! (MGM, 1952)

Esther Williams joins the WAVES after leaving her fiancé at the altar. Much of the humor is of the gender-switch variety, with the lady sailors ogling and whistling at every eligible male who crosses their path at the Great Lakes U.S. Naval Training Center. Inevitably, Williams sheds her navy duds in favor of a swimsuit. +

The aqua routines are not really a part of the overall plot, and neither is a scene at the local dinner club featuring Billy Eckstine. In a show on the base, we find Keenan Wynn, Debbie Reynolds, Bobby Van and a full selection of orchestra, drill teams, and choral groups. +

So This is Paris (Universal, 1955)

So This is Paris (Universal, 1955) Belgian release poster

Tony Curtis, Gene Nelson and Paul Gilbert play three American sailors on leave in the City of Light. In record time, the trio makes the acquaintance of three lovely lasses: Gloria de Haven, Corinne Calvert and Mara Corday. Before the boys’ 24 hours are up, they are inveigled into staging a benefit show for a group of tousle-haired war orphans. +

Romantic complications and resolutions follow in true musical comedy fashion. +

Son of the Navy (Monogram, 1940)

Son of the Navy (Monogram, 1940)

A rootless young sailor hitch-hiking back to base encounters an orphan boy and his dog. They decide they’ll improve their chances at getting a ride if they pose as a sailor and his son. They bond with one another and presto!  A nice lady comes along and the family is complete. +

Son of a Sailor (Warner Brothers - First National, 1933)

Son of a Sailor (Warner Brothers – First National, 1933)

Joe E. Brownis a sailor who hopes to match the accomplishments of his seaman father. Unfortunately, Joe is perhaps the clumsiest gob ever to sail the seven seas. Nor can he steer clear of trouble: Through a series of wholly unbelievable circumstances, Joe finds himself alone on deck of a ship that’s about to be shelled for target practice.

He manages to redeem himself for this and all past misdeeds when he inadvertently breaks up an espionage ring. +

Son of a Sailor (1933)

Joe E. Brown in Son of a Sailor

Joe E. Brown (1891 – 1973) Was one of the most popular American comedians in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1939, Brown testified before the House Immigration Committee in support of a bill that would allow 20,000 German Jewish refugee children into the US, two of whom he himself adopted.

Likable and gregarious, Brown traveled thousands of miles at his own expense to entertain American troops during World War II. He was the first to do so, traveling to both the Caribbean and Alaska before Bob Hope or the USO were organized.

On his return to the States he brought sacks of letters, making sure they were delivered by the Post Office. He gave shows in all weather conditions, many in hospitals, sometimes doing his entire show for a single dying soldier, and signing autographs for everyone. Brown was one of only two civilians to be awarded the Bronze Star in WWII.

Later in his career, Brown starred in 1958’s Some Like It Hot as Osgood Fielding III, in which he speaks the famous punchline “Well, nobody’s perfect”.  (more)

Stand By for Action (MGM, 1943)

Stand By for Action (MGM, 1943)

(British title: Cargo of Innocents) – Rear Admiral Stephen “Old Ironpants” Thomas’ (Charles Laughton) spoken tribute to “the finest Naval officer I knew” provides the framework for the wartime flag-waver Stand By For Action. Robert Taylor stars as Gregg Masterman, a flippant socialite who comes to realize his obligation to his country when he is called to active duty during WW II.

Determined to get sea duty, Lt. Masterman is passed over by Admiral Thomas in favor of Lt. Cmdr. M. J. Roberts (Brian Donlevy), who, unlike our academy-trained hero, rose from the ranks to his present position of authority. Any differences between Masterman and Roberts are forgotten in the climactic attack against a formidable Japanese “super-battleship.”  (allmovie)

It was the first naval war film made by MGM. The original intention was that the film would be about the British Navy in the Atlantic Ocean, but after the Americans entered the war, the story was changed to focus on the US Navy in the Pacific.

Critical response to the film was not good, with the reviewer for Yank magazine saying that the film was “not about The War, but about Hollywood’s War,” and other reviewers comparing it to In Which We Serve, the 1942 British naval film written by and starring Noël Coward and directed by Coward and David Lean, with the earlier film being deemed superior.

Despite poor reviews, Stand By for Action was successful at the box office.  (wikipedia)

Stand by for Action (Preview Clip)

Stand By For Action Original Trailer

Star Spangled Rhythm (Paramount, 1943)

Star Spangled Rhythm (Paramount, 1943)

All-star cast musical made by Paramount Pictures during World War II as a morale booster, with the specific intent of entertaining the troops overseas and civilians back home and to encourage fundraising – as well as to show the studios’ patriotism.  Location shooting took place at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, California.

Star Spangled Rhythm received two 1944 Academy Award nominations: Harold Arlen (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) were nominated for Best Original Song for “That Old Black Magic“, and Robert Emmett Dolan was nominated for Best Score.  (more on wikipedia)

VIDEO: Star Spangled Rhythm (1942) Trailer

Swing It, Sailor (Grand National, 1938)

Swing It, Sailor (Grand National, 1938)

Men may come and men may go, but silly service comedies like Swing It Sailor go on forever. Pete Kelly and Husky Stone are a pair of over-age but under-mature gobs whose main purpose in life seems to be duking it out over the affections of peroxide blonde Myrtle Montrose (Isabel Jewell) and driving the rest of the Navy nuts with their goofy antics.

Husky finds himself abandoned on a derelict ship slated for target practice, forcing the suddenly sober Pete to race to his rescue. Most of the naval maneuvers seen in the final moments were harvested from newsreel footage, some of it older than the actors.  (allmovie)

Tars and Spars (Columbia, 1946)

Tars and Spars (Columbia, 1946)

The watery world of the Coast Guard provides the setting for this musical that is loosely based on the famed Guard show Tars and Spars and makes fun of war movies. The story centers on the exploits of a heroic sailor who has never been to sea. Look for former Coast Guard sailor Sid Caesar in his feature film debut. (allmovie)

Alfred Drake in Tars and Spars (1946)

Alfred Drake in Tars and Spars (1946)

Isaac Sidney Caesar (born September 8, 1922) known as Sid Caesar—is an Emmy Award-winning American comic actor, and the youngest of three sons born to Jewish immigrants living in Yonkers, New York.  Max and Ida Caesar ran a restaurant, a 24-hour luncheonette. By waiting on tables, their son learned to mimic the patois, rhythm and accents of the diverse clientele, a technique he termed “double-talk,” which he would famously use throughout his career.

Sid CaesarAfter graduating from Yonkers High School, Caesar left home, intent on a musical career. Caesar played in the dance band and learned to perform comedy, doing three shows a week at the Vacationland Hotel on Swan Lake in the Catskills. In 1939, he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard and was stationed in Brooklyn, New York, where he played in military revues and shows.

Still in the service, Caesar was ordered to Palm Beach, Florida, where Vernon Duke and Howard Dietz were putting together a service revue called Tars and Spars. There he met the civilian director of the show, Max Liebman, who later produced his first television series. When Caesar’s comedy got bigger applause than the musical numbers, Liebman asked him to do stand-up bits between the songs. Tars and Spars toured nationally, and became Caesar’s first major gig as a comedian.

After the war, Caesar moved to Hollywood and a film version of Tars and Spars was made by Columbia Pictures, with Caesar reprising his role. (wikipedia)

Tars and Spars (full movie) on YouTube

That Nazty Nuisance (United Artists, 1943)

That Nazty Nuisance (United Artists, 1943)

(aka Double Crossed Fool) A sequel to the Hal Roach “streamliner” (featurette comedy films) The Devil with Hitler. This flick is much funnier, albeit nearly as tasteless as the earlier film.

Bobby Watson, Hollywood’s foremost Adolf Hitler impersonator, plays Der Fuhrer as a pompous imbecile. Hitler summons his Axis partners Mussolini (Joe Devlin) and Suki Yaki (a Hirohito clone played by comedy foil Johnny Arthur) for a secret meeting. The three dictators travel to the island nation of Norom (spell it backwards), where  Hitler and his stooges are sabotaged by shipwrecked American sailor Benson (Frank Faylen) and island beauty Kela (Jean Porter). Also starring Jiggs the Monkey as “The Monkey”.

A bit strong for contemporary tastes, That Nazty Nuisance provided 48 minutes of solid laughs for its wartime audience. (allmovie)

Nazty Nuisance is available for free download at the Internet Archive

This Man's Navy (MGM, 1945)

This Man’s Navy (MGM, 1945)

World War II film about U.S. Navy dirigibles starring Wallace Beery as Chief Aviation Pilot Ned “Old Gas Bag” Trumpet who continually brags about a heroic, (and fictional) son.

The dramatics are highlighted by a couple of exciting battles involving Berry’s war blimp; the Japanese submarine attack is particularly good. The best comic scenes are near the end; when, in India, Berry is reunited with a friendly old elephant. (imdb)

This Man's Navy

This Man’s Navy Lobby Card

Hollywood veteran Wallace Beery actually served in the U.S. Navy as a Commander and upon his release, was instrumental in making a tribute to his former command. He asked for and received complete cooperation from the U.S. Navy in the making this film. He was (for a time) married to actress Gloria Swanson.

One of his proudest achievements was catching the largest black sea bass in the world off Santa Catalina Island in 1916, a record that stood for 35 years. (wikipedia)

3 Sailors and a Girl Lot (Warner Brothers, 1954)

3 Sailors and a Girl (Warner Brothers, 1954)

On leave in New York with their pockets full of money, our trio of heroes are convinced by wheeler-dealer Joe Woods (Sam Levene) to invest their money in a musical show. It soon becomes obvious that the boys have backed a turkey, but with the help of pert leading-lady Penny (Jane Powell), a potential disaster is converted into a smashing success.  (allmovie)

To Hell with Hitler (Film Alliance of the United States, 1940)

To Hell with Hitler (Film Alliance of the United States, 1940)

AKA Let George Do It; Starring George Formby – One of the best and most successful of the George Formby vehicles. The toothy, guitar-strumming Formby plays a dimwitted entertainer who is mistaken for a notorious Nazi spy. The misunderstanding is played to the hilt, culminating with our hero battling the forces of the Axis on the fields of Norway. (allmovie)

George Formby and Hal Gordon in Let George Do It

George Formby and Hal Gordon in Let George Do It

VIDEO: George Formby; Count Your Blessings and Smile from Let George Do It

Trader Tom of the China Seas (Republic, 1954)

Trader Tom of the China Seas (Republic, 1954)

A feature version of a twelve chapter Republic Pictures, this drama starred Harry Lauter as Tom Rogers, an enterprising South Seas island trader who gets involved with Nazi thugs, a native revolution and smugglers; ably assisted by the lovely daughter of a schooner captain; an emissary from the United Nations.  +  (more on imdb)

Trader Tom of the China Seas

Republic Pictures was an American independent film production-distribution corporation with studio facilities, operating from 1935 through 1959, and was best known for specializing in westerns, movie serials and B films emphasizing mystery and action. As the demand and market for B-pictures declined, Republic began to cut back, slowing production from 40 features annually in the early 1950s to 18 in 1957. In 1959 Republic sold its library of films to television. Many of these films, especially the westerns, were edited to fit in a one-hour television slot.  (image above; Lobby Card Set)

film serials by Republic Pictures

Trader Tom of the China Seas on Todd Gault’s Serial Experience

Download Trader Tom of the China Seas Movie Serial on Free B Movies

Triple Deception (Rank, 1956)

Triple Deception (Rank, 1956)

In this suspenseful crime drama, a decent British sailor stationed in France is forced to smuggle gold when one of the gang members mistakes him for their contact who was killed. Real trouble ensues when the seaman is arrested and interrogated by a group of international police. He finally proves his innocence to them and at their request becomes their spy. He returns to the gang and soon finds that both they and the police think he plans to double-cross them all.  (allmovie)

True to the Navy (Paramount, 1930)

True to the Navy (Paramount, 1930)

Clara Bow and Fredric March in True to the NavyClara Bow’s flat Brooklynese voice seems perfectly suited for the rowdy goings-on in True to the Navy.

The “It” girl plays Ruby Nolan, owner of a drug store frequented by love-sick sailors. All the gobs think that they are the only man in Ruby’s life, and when several of her boyfriends converge upon the pharmacy all at once, they tear the joint apart.

Undaunted, Ruby pursues seafarin’ man Bull’s Eye McCoy (Fredric March), who saves the day when our heroine is victimized by crooked gamblers. The spectacle of distinguished actor Frederic March in sailor togs, chewing gum and dispensing “sez-you!” dialogue is worth the admission price in itself.  +

abv rt: Clara Bow and Fredric March in True to the Navy

VIDEO: Clara Bow – “True to the Navy” excerpt on You Tube

Two Girls and a Sailor (MGM, 1944)

Two Girls and a Sailor (MGM, 1944)

Two Girls and a Sailor is another of those all-star/no-plot wartime musicals turned out by the bushel basket in the 1940s. Gloria DeHaven and June Allyson play a couple of well-meaning sisters who stage their own USO shows in their apartment for the benefit of visiting servicemen.

They want to go bigger and better, so GI Van Johnson, (who happens to be a millionaire) buys an empty factory and has it converted into a canteen. Bring on the stars!

The celebrity lineup includes Jimmy Durante, Lena Horne, Xavier Cugat, Grace Allen (performing her immortal “Concerto for Index Finger”), Harry James, Helen Forrest, and, in an amusing uncredited cameo, Buster Keaton (Also: keep a sharp eye out for Ava Gardner)  +

VIDEO: Gracie Allen playing Concerto For Index Finger
(her final appearance in a Hollywood film)

Ulysses (Ocean Film, 1955) Argentinean release poster

Ulysses (Ocean Film, 1955) Argentinean release poster

This very expensive Italian-made adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey” stars Kirk Douglas as seafaring hero Ulysses. Having the poor taste to set himself above the gods after a stunning military victory, Ulysses is doomed to journey aimlessly across the sea until he can make amends. Along the way, our hero battles a cyclops, resists the fatal singing of the Sirens, and enjoys a brief interlude with pig-fancying enchantress Circe. (allmovie)

VIDEO: Ulysses trailer on

download: Ulysses (1955) 1:41:45

Watch Your Stern (Magna, 1961)

Watch Your Stern (Magna, 1961)

British screwball comedy film about the Royal Navy, based on the play Something About a Sailor by Earle Couttie. Kenneth Connor is Officer Blissworth, an inept and bungling sailor. With his equally inadequate partner, Captain David Foster (Eric Barker), he loses the plans for modifying an important torpedo during the testing of a prototype for the revised model. They try to cover up their mistake by giving the Admiral a set of plans that detail their ship’s refrigeration system. (allmovie)

Watch Your Stern shares its cast and production team with the Carry On films, but is not an official member of the Carry On series.

The Weaker Sex (Eagle-Lion, 1948)

The Weaker Sex (Eagle-Lion, 1948)

Life on the home front: In this British WW II drama, a stalwart British housewife proves herself to be as patriotic and courageous as any soldier. (allmovie)

Martha Dacre tries to keep her home running as normally as possible during the run up to the D Day landings. (imdb)

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, it was one of the most popular movies at the British box office in 1948.

read: NY Times review

We're Not Dressing (Paramount, 1934)

We’re Not Dressing (Paramount, 1934)

A bouncy musical-comedy variation of J. M. Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton, but with a happier ending.

Der Bingle is cast as Stephen Jones, a lowly crew member on yacht owned by wealthy Doris Worthington (Carole Lombard). Doris’ inebriated Uncle Dudley (Leon Errol) takes the wheel and manages to shipwreck crew and company on a tropical isle. Doris and her marooned society friends are then obliged to take orders from Stephen, the only one among them who knows how to fend for himself.

Ethel Merman is on hand for a song or two (including a rollicking duet with Leon Errol), while George Burns and Gracie Allen show up on the apparently not-so-deserted island as anthropologists with a full quota of rib-tickling verbal gags. (allmovie)

Wharf Angel (Paramount, 1934)

Wharf Angel (Paramount, 1934)

“Mother Bright’s” place on the lawless, waterfront district of the ‘Barbary Coast’ in San Francisco is the toughest of all saloons that can be found, full of floozies and boozy sailors.

Wharf AngelWharf Angel stars Dorothy Dell as Toy, a gold-hearted prostitute stranded in The City By The Bay. Toy finds hope for redemption when she falls in love with Como (Preston S. Foster), a sailor on the lam from a murder charge.

In true Madame Butterfly fashion, the heroine promises to wait for Como until he is able to clear himself. The fly in the ointment is Como’s buddy Turk (Victor McLaglen), who has known Toy (in the Biblical sense) for several years.

An inexpensive but fairly credible reconstruction of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake caps this intriguing little romantic melodrama. (allmovie)

Why Girls Love Sailors (Pathe', 1927)

Why Girls Love Sailors (Pathe’, 1927)

Although Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy both appear in this two-reel short, it’s not a Laurel and Hardy film in the true sense of the term. The boys were still a few films away from officially becoming a team.

This comedy is primarily Stan’s film. As fisherman Willie Brisling, he is engaged to pretty Nelly (Viola Richard), who is kidnapped by her ex-boyfriend, a sea captain (Malcolm Waite). Willie chases after them and is able to sneak on board by disguising himself as a woman. Dressed in drag, he knocks the crew out cold.

Willie manages to rescue Nelly, and while it has its moments, this film is not one of Laurel or Hardy’s finest efforts. (allmovie)

Why Sailors Go Wrong (Fox, 1928)

Why Sailors Go Wrong (Fox, 1928)

Sammy Cohen and Ted McNamara play a pair of silly sailors, the best friends of hero Nick Stuart. In love with wealthy Sally Phipps, Stuart has been forbidden any contract with the girl by her domineering father. Daddy ships Phipps off in the family yacht, with Cohen and McNamara at the controls, while Stuart sneaks on board.

The yacht is shipwrecked on a desert island, chock-full of hungry cannibals. Stuart rescues Phipps from the natives, proving himself a worthy potential husband. Meanwhile, Cohen and McNamara must contend with a mischievous monkey.

The film’s high point has the two gobs force feeding castor oil to an alligator so that the huge reptile will surrender their life savings. (allmovie)

castor oil postcard

vintage castor oil postcard on etsy

The Bludgeon and Castor Oil:

castor oilUnder the regime of Benito Mussolini, castor oil was a tool of the Blackshirts. Political dissidents were force-fed large quantities of castor oil by Fascist thug squads, a technique said to have originated with Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Victims of this treatment did sometimes die, as the dehydrating effects of the oil-induced diarrhea often complicated recovery from the nightstick beating they received along with the powerful laxative. Victims who survived had to bear the humiliation of the effects resulting from excessive consumption of the oil.

It was also often used as both a punishment and torture by the Spanish Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco, as they purged Spain of those who supported the democratic left-wing Republic during the Spanish Civil War.

In lesser quantities, castor oil was also used as an instrument of intimidation, for example, to discourage civilians or soldiers who would call in sick to the factory or in the military.  (wikipedia)

image rt: The Castor Oil Story

You Know What Sailors Are screen

You Know What Sailors Are (1954)
Movie Title Screen Page

You Know What Sailors Are miniWhile off on a drunken toot, three British naval officers attach an old baby carriage and a pawnbroker’s sign to the stern of a foreign naval vessel.

The next morning, a zealous officer spots the curious appendage and comes to the conclusion that the pram and sign are actually part of a sophisticated, top-secret radar system.

The Royal Navy brass demands that their ships be immediately outfitted with the same device — and so it goes, with one bureaucratic misunderstanding after another snowballing into a major international incident. (allmovie)

image rt: wikipedia

You Know What Sailors Are

You Know What Sailors Are


Author Tom Clancy in 1985, a year after he published his first book, The Hunt for Red October. Clancy’s publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, confirmed that Clancy had died on Tuesday, October 1st.

Eight Bells:

Megapopular author Tom Clancy, the ex-insurance salesman who wrote 17 rollicking No. 1 best sellers of international intrigue and espionage, passed away at Johns Hopkins Hospital in his hometown of Baltimore.

His surprising death comes two months before the scheduled publication of his next (and final) novel, “Command Authority” (NY Daily News)

Looks like next week’s column is going to be “Why We Love Movies About Submarines

True to the Navy - See YouClara Bow in True to the Navy

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