Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Follow the Fleet (1936)

Follow the Fleet (1936)

Follow the Fleet came about halfway through the cycle of RKO Fred and Ginger musicals. I’ve now seen five of these movies and this one is, so far, my least favourite.

Bake Baker (Fred Astaire) and Sherry Martin (Ginger Rigers) had been a successful dance partnership, until Bake made the mistake of asking Sherry to marry him. Her refusal brought about the break-up of their professional relationship and Bake was so cut up he ran away to sea and joined the navy. Now the fleet is back in port and Bake is trying to rekindle the old partnership.

Sherry has a sister named Connie (Harriet Hilliard). When Sherry headed off to the big city to find fame, fortune, fun and romance Connie stayed home in the Midwest. Now Connie has decided she’d like some of that glamour and excitement herself. The trouble is, she looks like a prim and proper school teacher. Sherry assures her this is no problem, and gives her friend Kitty Collins (Lucille Ball) the task of doing a makeover on Connie.

Follow the Fleet (1936)

This is the first of the movie’s problems. Post-makeover Connie certainly looks glamorous enough but this can’t disguise the fact that Harriet Hilliard has zero screen charisma. This wouldn’t be a problem except that Connie is not a minor character. The subplot involving her attempted romance with Bake’s shipmate Bilge Smith (Randolph Scott) takes up a considerable portion of the movie.

Connie decides that the best way to win a sailor’s heart is by giving him a ship. She just happens to have one. It was her father’s. It’s currently at the bottom of the sea but it’s salvageable and she intends to salvage it and refurbish it and then Bilge will just have to marry her.

Follow the Fleet (1936)

Meanwhile Bake’s efforts to further Sherry’s career are coming close to ruining it instead. To save her career and to save Connie’s ship he realises there’s only one thing to do - to put on a show! That’s about it as far as plot goes.

The second big problem with this movie is that the Astaire-Rogers relationship lacks the fire that it has in their best movies.

Follow the Fleet (1936)

The third problem is that the musical and dance numbers aren’t quite up to standard. The Let’s Face the Music and Dance number is much-praised, and rightly so, and it’s nice to see Ginger doing a solo dance routine (the only one she does in the entire series) but some of the other dance sequences aren’t as inspired as those in their other movies. There are also a couple of very insipid songs performed rather uninterestingly by Harriet Hilliard. Irving Berlin provided the slightly uneven score.

Yet another problem is that at 110 minutes the movie it a touch too long and the pacing falters at times.

Follow the Fleet (1936)

There’s also the slightly questionable decision to take the stars out of their accustomed sophisticated surroundings. Fred Astaire chewing gum just isn’t the real Fred Astaire.

Having said all that, even a subpar Fred and Ginger movie is still a Fred and Ginger movie and there’s still plenty of entertainment value here. It’s still a good movie and a must-see for Fred and Ginger fans (and I certainly include myself among that company). Just don’t expect it to reach the heights of Top Hat or Swing Time or Shall We Dance.

The Warner Home Video DVD release includes a brief documentary featurette.

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