Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Shipmates Forever (1935)

One year after the release of FLIRTATION WALK (1934), a musical set at West Point, stars Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, and Ross Alexander reteamed with screenwriter Delmer Daves and director Frank Borzage for SHIPMATES FOREVER, a musical set at the Annapolis Naval Academy.

SHIPMATES FOREVER proved to be an even better military service film than FLIRTATION WALK, with a dramatic story arc which provided Powell with perhaps his best performance of the '30s.

Powell plays Dick Melville, a nightclub and radio singer who has resisted the family legacy of naval service. Goaded by his father (Lewis Stone), an admiral, Dick takes the Annapolis entrance exams just to prove he's able to pass; upon hearing the news that he's made it, he ruefully admits that he's actually going to go. Dick doesn't plan to accept a commission upon graduation, but he wants to prove to the old man he has what it takes.

Dick patiently struggles through hazing and is reluctant to form friendships, since he doesn't plan on a career in the navy. His solace is his relationship with June (Ruby Keeler), an Annapolis dance teacher who lost her father and brother in navy service.

As time goes on, Dick begins to take the navy more seriously, and a three-month cruise during his final year at the academy provides a significant turning point in Dick's life.

I thought this was an excellent, underrated picture which does a great job combining a strong storyline, navy traditions, musical numbers, and location shooting. Dick's experiences and gradual changes are very believably done. I sympathized with his desire to room alone and concentrate on his studies. He was a good sport suffering through the hazing of older classmates, but his unspoken annoyance with the immaturity of such practices was understandable and partly helped to explain his withdrawal, along with his conflicted feelings about the navy.

Similarly, the accumulation of the experiences which draw Dick ever closer to the navy were very well done. The most beautiful scene in the film takes place on board a ship late a night, when Dick's classmates are singing and he slowly pulls on his class ring. It's a very touching moment. The final scenes in the film are very emotional, with Powell giving a deeply affecting performance.

The Warren-Dubin songs "Don't Give Up the Ship," "I'd Love to Take Orders From You," and "I'd Rather Listen to Your Eyes" are all worked in very naturally. The movie unfolds like a drama which happens to have music, as opposed to a musical comedy.

Ruby Keeler is sweet, as always; it's very believable that Dick and June would fall for each other immediately and that her love would help him keep going when the going gets rough. She has two short dances.

The supporting cast includes Dick Foran, Eddie Acuff, John Arledge, and Robert Light. Dennis O'Keefe is said to have had one of his many bit parts, but I didn't spot him.

The movie runs 109 minutes.

SHIPMATES FOREVER is available from the Warner Archive. It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the movie trailer available on the TCM website.

I've now seen all seven of Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler's movies together. Their titles previously reviewed here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings are GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), 42ND STREET (1933), FLIRTATION WALK (1934), DAMES (1934), and COLLEEN (1936).

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