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Movie Musical Monday, June 4th: ‘Hit the Deck’

June 4, 2012

Good Morning, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

Today’s film is an MGM feature from 1955, Hit the Deck.

This movie is based on the 1927 stage musical of the same name, which in turn was based on a play called Shore Leave.  This is the second  film based on the musical, the first produced by RKO in 1930.  However, there is no trace of the RKO feature, as the last known copy was destroyed by a fire at the studio in the 1950s.

WHAT IS THIS MOVIE MUSICAL ABOUT:

The movie opens upon our heroes, three sailors–

“Wait,” you cry, “Isn’t this ‘On the Town’?”

“No,” I reply, “for many reasons.  Although Ann Miller is also in this movie, the city in question is San Francisco, not New York, and even though the production numbers are pretty great, the songs are very typical of the era they were written in (the 1920s) as opposed to the one ‘On the Town’ was written in (1940s).  Okay?”

“Okay.”

Great.  So, as I was saying: there are these three sailors, Tony Martin, Vic Damone, and the boyfriend I wish I had as a teenager, Russ Tamblyn (before he rumbled enough to bulk up and become the leader of the Jets–I ❤ RIFF 4-EVAH).  They’re all friends in the Navy, and they’re trying to get home to San Francisco.  The movie starts with them up in the North Pole, participating in Operation Ice Cream.  It’s cold, and Vic and Russ don’t want to do their swimming training in the freezing water.  Luckily for them their pal Tony shows up and tells them that two volunteers are needed to bake a cake for a higher-up-in-rank’s birthday.  Tony’s plan is to present this senior official with a cake and capitalize on the sentimental feelings of the man to get sent home to his girl, Ginger.  He figures that the two people who bake the cake and follow him in to the presentation will get shipped home, too.  The boys get the job (obviously), and sing our first song in the kitchen of the mess:

Tony leaves Russ and Vic to bake the cake.  Even though they have no experience in cooking, they figure it should be pretty easy since “women do it all the time.”  Vic has the great idea of filling the cake with rum–and I do mean FILL. (Men may not know anything about cakes, but they sure know about alcohol.) When they present the cake to the higher-up, it explodes into flames when he blows out the candles.  Clearly, these are boys are sometimes rash in their action to get what they want.<–KEY CHARACTER TRAIT THAT WILL AFFECT THE PLOT.

After another horrible assignment, the boys eventually make it back to San Fran, where Tony immediately heads off to see Linda, who, as it turns out, is less than happy to see him:

This role may have been the closest Ann Miller ever came to playing Miss Adelaide.  But I digress.

It turns out Ginger and Tony are engaged.  That’s great!  BUT WAIT.  It gets less great.  They’ve been engaged for SIX YEARS.  You can imagine why a baby turtle from the South Seas is just not interesting to a girl who has been waiting six years FOR A DIAMOND.  Some things just can’t compare: diamonds are forever, and baby turtles are for as-long-as-the-disease-they-picked-up-in-Chinatown-will-let-them-live-for.  Ginger tells Tony she’s engaged to a man named Herman and shoos him out of her dressing room.  He goes, pissed off.

Our other heroes have returned to their own homes to find things not as they left them.  Vic’s approximation-of-an-Italian mother is dating the owner of the flower shop down the street.  But when he sees that her son Vic is a fully grown man, he gets upset by how old it makes him feel and leaves the date.  In the meanwhile, Russ has gone home to see his father and sister.  His father is an Admiral in the Navy, and it seems that Russ comes from a long line of seamen (no aural pun intended<–that one was).  He’s expected to go to Annapolis like so many of his male relatives before him, and his father is keeping him at a distance emotionally to help him prepare for this career path–or perhaps that’s just what the Admiral tells himself to justify the fact that he was never hugged as a child.  Who knows?  In any case, it’s clear Russ wants his dad to be proud of him, and it’s clear his dad is not all that interested in keeping track on what his son is up to–he’s actually going out of town for a meeting while his son in on leave for a forty-eight for the first time in a year.  Fortunately, Russ has an understanding older sister named Susan (Jane Powell, for whom this movie was meant to be a vehicle for), who he adores so much that he brings her home a life-sized, motorized toy penguin.  That is a way better gift than a baby sea turtle (but still not as good as a DIAMOND).  She dances with the penguin while getting ready for a date.

(That number is so kitsch, I love it.)

Jane/Susan is getting ready for a hot date with a man named Wendell Craig.  Craig is an actor-manager type, starring in a new show called–WAIT FOR ITHit the Deck.  It opens the next day.  When Russ finds out that Susan is asserting her own sexuality by going on a date with this man in that hot little red dress, he disapproves immediately.  Susan goes all Act 1 Ophelia on him, and is like, “It’s 1955–can we get over the double standard yet?”  But of course we can’t, or we wouldn’t have a movie.  Russ finally lets up when Susan tells him that she’s auditioning for Craig’s next show, and that she hopes to marry him.  At least her intentions are honorable.

Later that night, Russ decides to head over to the theater (which sets, I am almost certain, are reused from Kiss Me Kate) to watch his sister audition.  When he shows up, he sees Carol Pace (Debbie Reynolds, three years out from Singing in the Rain) rehearsing a number on stage with three male dancers dressed as sailors, and naturally joins in.  Even though Carol is a professional and has been rehearsing the number earlier, the sudden addition of a fourth, unknown partner does not cause her to stop singing and dancing.  And Russ seems to pick up the steps quite well.  This is the magic of the movie musical.

It also may be noted that Russ is being just as promiscuous as he was making his sister out to being.  But he’s a man: this sort of thing just comes with the territory.  As a woman, she doesn’t know her own mind, or how men (like him) can take advantage of a girl in certain situations.  Russ meets up with the boys again, and they lament the fact none of them have dates for the evening.

That set is so obviously the one used in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” with a wall put in back instead of an alley.

The boys realize the only thing they can do is help their buddy Russ find his sister and save her from Wendell Craig, who had been confirmed as a heel by Debbie Reynolds after the kissing-sailor dance number.  Russ goes back to the theater and Carol tells him that Susan’s “audition” will be held at Craig’s hotel room.  Russ grabs Vic and Tony (who don’t have anything better to do) and the three of them barge into the hotel to find Carol kissing Wendell on the couch.  The kiss is clearly consensual (although Carol may be more emotionally driven) but the sailors start a huge fight and destroy the room anyway, and leave Wendell with a black eye.  The rest of the film tracks our heroes adventures as they try to hide out from the shore patrol–like cops for sailors–while the women in their lives try to pin them down long enough to get them to commit (how typical).

The movie also includes this AWESOME dance number with Debbie Reynolds and Russ Tamblyn:

There is a lot more music and plotting to this film, which, while not being the greatest movie musical of all time, is strangely impressive in its structure.  It feels reliable and steady, and is a good, easy film to pass the time on a summer Saturday afternoon while doing laundry or lounging around the house generally.  Give it a looksee if you have the time–or an iTunes account (you can rent it).

HIDDEN GEM SONGS:

The music in this movie musical is actually really good, despite the fact that I don’t think I’d heard any of it before seeing the film for the first time recently.  And since no one really knows it, clearly you should steal it for your own devices.

  1. “Keepin’ Myself For You”–Yet another great Adelaide song, and possibly Lois Lane in Kiss Me Kate. 
  2. “A Kiss Or Two”–A cute, presentational song.  Maybe a good choice for Ellie in Showboat, but would set in a slightly higher key.
  3. “More Than You Know”–GREAT baritone ballad.  Check out Tony Martin killing it in this clip.

That’s all for this twenty-four.  Say “thank you” to any servicemen/women you may see, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 4, 2012 11:21 pm

    I have learned SO much about movie musicals from this series.

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