FOLLOW THE FLEET (director: Mark Sandrich; screenwriter: Dwight Taylor/Allan Scott/based on the play Shore Leave by Hubert Osborne; cinematographer: David Abel; editor: Henry M. Berman; music: Irving Berlin; cast: Cast: Fred Astaire (Bake Baker), Ginger Rogers (Sherry Martin), Randolph Scott (Bilge Smith), Harriet Hilliard (Connie Martin), Astrid Allwyn (Iris Manning), Lucille Ball (Kitty Collins), Betty Grable (Singer), Tony Martin (Sailor); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; RKO; 1936)
“It was fun to see western star Randolph Scott garbed in a sailor’s uniform and acting like an old salt.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Mark Sandrich (“Carefree”/”The Gay Divorcee”/”Top Hat”) helms this Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire romantic-musical-comedy (their fourth film together and their second-highest grossing film ever), that’s graced with a delicious Irving Berlin score but damned with a lame script by Dwight Taylor and Allan Scott. It’s based on the 1922 play Shore Leave by Hubert Osborne. The play was adapted as a silent in the 1925 Shore Leave and as a musical in the 1930 Hit the Deck. The familiar Rogers-Astaire act undergoes some changes, as Astaire is no longer the sophisticate but the “regular guy” low-class gob who is a cut-up when with the boys. It’s agreeable, but bland, overlong, poorly paced and listless except for the musical numbers. The seven numbers include such delights as ‘I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket’, ‘Let Yourself Go’, and the showstopper of ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance.’ It was fun to see western star Randolph Scott garbed in a sailor’s uniform and acting like an old salt, even though his part is so ineptly scripted and he seems miscast in a romantic lead.
With the fleet back in town Bake Baker (Fred Astaire) goes on shore leave in San Francisco with the crew, and ends up in a seedy dance hall called the Paradise Club that features ten-cent taxi dancers. There he meets his ex-dance partner Sherry Martin (Ginger Rogers), who has an act as a singer-dancer. Bake joined the navy when Sherry turned down his marriage proposal, and they haven’t seen each other for two years. His best sailor pal is Bilge Smith (Randolph Scott), who falls for Sherry’s sister Connie (Harriet Hilliard, she married bandleader Ozzie Nelson and became known as Harriet Nelson–mother of David and Ricky–the sitcom mom on radio during the forties and TV during the fifties). She’s a lonely schoolteacher who was at first ignored by Bilge because she was an ugly duckling, but was given a makeover by Sherry’s wisecracking chorus girlfriend Kitty Collins (Lucille Ball). Her glasses were removed, her hair in a bun was taken down, a modern dress was exchanged for her old-fashioned one and she was instructed on how to act dumb to make the man feel important. Her only problem is that Bilge is scared off by her seriousness about marriage and he foolishly chases after Sherry’s divorced socialite friend Iris Manning (Astrid Allwyn).
The story has a predictable on again/off again double-romance, with no surprises and no thrills. But the team of Rogers and Astaire prevail, keeping things healthy enough so no one comes down with scurvy.
REVIEWED ON 5/10/2007 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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