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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Metro Gets Out Its Fleet A Year After Pearl

Metro Sent The Above Christmas Gift Box To Over 1200 Of Employees Who
Had Enlisted by December 1942

Winning a War Begins with Stand By For Action (1943)

Maltin Reviews took a cruel but clever swipe at Stand By For Action: "We're Still Waiting." What Metro wanted to put across was less war action than assurance that there was room in this conflict for everyone. No man with will to fight is excluded, even fossils from set-to of twenty-five years before. Here then was means by which actors of a certain age could hit parade ground and damn more torpedoes. Age forty-nine Walter Brennan for chief yeoman? Can do. Charles Laughton back in naval uniform, minus three-cornered hat from 1935's Mutiny On The Bounty? That's a pipe, as who'd challenge Captain Bligh zeroing in on Zeroes and a Jap battlewagon besides? Stand By For Action generates as much as anything a nostalgia for the last World War we fought and won. With old-timers plus eager youth back at the helm, there was just no way we could lose this second round.

Content With Kids in Stand By For Action Never Gets This Intense
Robert Taylor is scion of money who's not the lesser man for it, other than minor immaturities that need ironing out. Now that the show was on, a last thing needed was snippy depiction of anyone in uniform, so Bob's no spoiled-rotten rich kid after Lee Bowman example of Buck Privates, that one spoofing a still-peacetime draft before serious shots were fired and we had to use every recruit we could get. Charles Laughton neatly sums up official stance for Taylor: You had the advantage of a Harvard education, with everything that family and position could offer, and like any good, solid American, you took full advantage of it. What CL promised here was level fighting field for not only those born poor, but ones who came privileged to the arena. At one point, Taylor knocks off targets using skeet-shoot skill from yachting past, and for that earns pats on the back. There may be lessons this Harvard grad will have to learn in war, but apologizing for wealthy background isn't one of them (Tyrone Power would take an almost identical role in 1943's Crash Dive for 20th Fox).

Laughton On The Air: CL Pulls Eighteen Hour Broadcast Shift To Sell Bonds

Director Robert Z. Leonard and Metro Team Gets
 Tech Assist From Navy Advisor 
Stand By For Action opens with narrated paean to shipbuilding, a most vital aspect of readiness after much of the fleet had been wrecked at Pearl Harbor. A ship of the last war is ennobled as are men who sailed it. No resource would be ignored in this first year of combat, Stand By For Action having been finished in fall of '42 and getting initial playdates in December of that year. We'd seen losses tote up in film treatment of Wake Island and Corregidor; now it was time for our side to start winning some on-screen battles. Stand By's factory footage shows craft being built by seeming thousands, while the embattled WWI hulk on which Taylor and crew sails is more than up to task of sinking a leviathan-size enemy destroyer. Charles Laughton extolling John Paul Jones is further instance of old inspiring the new. CL had sat eighteen-hour broadcast shifts bucking up military and civilian listeners, Laughton's voice a clarion to victory he called inevitable. This war had actually transformed the actor's alter-ego of Captain Bligh into a positive model, for even if a tyrant, Bligh would in no circumstance go down to defeat.

Kid Angle Pounded Senseless By MGM Publicity
There was interesting billing gymnastics between Laughton and co-star Brian Donlevy. Robert Taylor toplined all ads, but these two seem to have split placement below Taylor to Laughton first in main titles to Donlevy ahead for poster art, with an even share in suggested ads for newspapers. Actor reps really split hairs here. There was refreshing abandonment of type-casting for the ship's crew, normally comic or villainous players getting straight roles for a welcome once: funnyman Tim Ryan of Tim and Irene fame at Monogram is cast as "Lieut. Tim Ryan," and there is Ben Welden, Billy Bletcher, Spec O' Donnell, and others from comedy's past as sailors. Those formerly untrustworthy on screen are stalwart here: Douglass Dumbrille, Douglas Fowley, more. Stand By For Action wouldn't be an only wartime occasion for character folk to escape their pigeonholes in service to the flag. So much acting personnel having gone off to actual war made it incumbent upon those remaining to broaden range and put aside familiar personas, at least for the duration.

Visiting Admiral W.L. Friedell Drops By Culver To Collect MGM Check
Payable To Navy Relief In Appreciation of Branch Input

Toward greater enlistment, there is glamour dust sprinkled over day-to-day of shore service. Bob Taylor begins as social secretary to admiral Laughton and squires Marilyn Maxwell at a dress uniform ball, conveying to all and sundry that a surest route to romance is joining up. The inclusion of starlet Maxwell had twofold necessity: femme interest that was needed to broaden Action's appeal, and stage on which to introduce a freshman cub from Leo's cage. From this brief appearance would issue a mountain of stills with Maxwell and Taylor at varied clinching not at all representative of the film itself, wherein her character is there and gone within a couple of segments. From so little as that, however, a message was clear: military service had social as well as patriotic advantage, and like James Stewart said in recruiting short Winning Your Wings, anyone "would be a chump" not to climb aboard.

Like many that sought to soothe as well as bestir, Stand By For Action added spoonfuls of sugar to combat's brew. Metro branch of the Navy never gets wet, except from diapers men change for babies rescued from a lifeboat, this further appeal to that broadest possible audience. The infant humors run way long and may have been basis for critic and military complaint that Stand By For Action amounted more to pabulum than what its title promised. Humane concerns trump military protocol even as we're assured that good of all must take precedence over individual needs. Beneath this Navy brass beats a very soft heart, and you wonder if that too rankled seagoing branch of a US fighting force. Charles Laughton seems anything but typical of a Naval officer, "Old Iron Pants" to subordinates and repository of every comic trick at CL's disposal. Was he bored enough by the part to burlesque it? Biographers suspect so, but Stand By For Action wouldn't be half so much fun had Laughton kept stoppers in and done his commander in observance of wartime protocol, audiences then as now glad he brought such levity aboard Action's ship. Stand By For Action is available from Warner Archive in a remastered and very fine DVD transfer.


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