Friday, December 27, 2002

NAVY BLUES (1929) and NAVY BLUES (1941)

The lesson today, class, is don't bother with any movie called NAVY BLUES. These movies are not related except that they are both torture to sit through, for different reasons. The first is an early talkie, the first talkie for William Haines, who in 1930 was voted top male box-office draw. In the silents, he specialized in playing smart-aleck wisecracker "juveniles" and that's the same type he plays here, although at almost 30 years of age, he had outgrown that type. He's a sailor who falls for an innocent girl (Anita Page); though he seems to genuinely love her, his plans don't include marriage. She, however, assumes otherwise and leaves her parents' home to prepare for her new life as Haines' wife. When Haines's ship leaves port, Page is left up a creek, so to speak. My attention wandered and I admit I lost the plot thread toward the end; I think, because she was too proud to go back to her folks, she was on the verge of becoming a fallen woman, but Haines returns in the nick of time, ready for marriage. In addition to being too old to play a carefree boyish sailor, Haines plays the character as an bizarre cross between a femme prankster and a heterosexual boor, and never comes off as very likeable. He does have one funny bit where he drops a napkin on the floor so he can reach down, look up a woman's skirt, and leeringly say, "Hello!" There's also an cute but too brief scene that appears to have actually been shot on an early version of a water rollercoaster. But unless you're a diehard Haines fan, there's not much here of interest.

However, the Haines movie is like GONE WITH THE WIND compared to the stultifyingly bad 1942 "musical comedy," and both of those words should be taken with grains of salt. It's not Ann Sheridan's fault; she's the best thing here, along with her sidekick Martha Raye. They play USO-type entertainers in Hawaii who get tangled up with some Navy men, Jack Oakie and Jack Haley (Haley plays Raye's ex who owes her alimony, always a fun and infinitely pliable plot point). Oakie and Haley are just terrible, wooden and unappealing throughout. Even Jack Carson, who I usually like, is wasted here, as are Jackie Gleason, John Ridgely, and Howard DaSilva. If Carson had Oakie's role, the movie might have been salvagable. The title song, co-authored by Johnny Mercer, is catchy; I was still humming it a few hours after the movie. The song provides the one high spot in the film, a production number with Sheridan (a little awkward in her dancing but still charming) and Raye, but it happens in the first ten minutes and everything else is downhill. Excruciating.

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