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Friday, March 08, 2019

Where Singers and Clowns Were Our Secret Weapons


Ship Ahoy (1942) Is Smooth Musical Sailing

A honey of an MGM wartime musical, based on obvious truth that singer/dancer/comics make the best couriers during national emergency. In this case, it's Eleanor Powell dispatched with a secret weapon to rendezvous with tropic allies, but wait, her G-men contacts are really Axis moles! It falls to Red Skelton, Bert Lahr, and Virginia O'Brien to sort things out, with Tommy Dorsey's band for lulling backdrop. Ship Ahoy has much the pleasing spirit, albeit B/W, of Fox's same-year The Gang's All Here; I'd be for pairing them as ambassadors of 1943 escapism. Powell performs customary miracles of tap as Skelton works unsteadily toward lead man status his Whistling series implied. Red found it tough moderating silly when moments came to play straight, he and Eleanor Powell uneasy as love partners. Bert Lahr is actually more believable in that capacity with Virginia O'Brien, them the couple I found funnier and more engaging. Lahr may not have clicked in leads, but for support and rollicking spots, none were his equal. O'Brien does but one of her signature deadpan numbers; you wish there were more of her. For recital otherwise, young Frank Sinatra gets feet wet in movies as vocal accompany to Dorsey numbers. He's spotlighted twice and clearly sized up for screen potential. Ship Ahoy, like so much of Metro, runs a little long at 95 minutes, a third act playing more like an unnecessary fourth. So much that is pleasurable, plus knowing this was wartime way of excess typical of Metro, makes bloat easy to forgive. Warner Archive has Ship Ahoy available on DVD, and it turns up at TCM in HD.

4 Comments:

Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

One of my favorite musicals. A hidden gem.

and there's this exchange at a nightclub scene:

Lahr: "Hiya puss, what cha doing after the show?"

Waitress: "The laundry."


7:58 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Stinky could watch Eleanor Powell all day. And has.

12:06 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Red Skelton is a hefty distance from James Stewart and Fred Astaire. Eleanor deserved better.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

John and Stinky, I'm gonna stick up for Skelton a little. He was really in the same boat as Powell at MGM. Between fabulous dance numbers, the studio didn't really know what to do with Elanor, her interesting looks & personality not exactly fitting into Metro's predetermined molds. She ended up as a supporting character in her own starring films. Likewise the studio spotlighted Red doing over the top schtick, bending over backwards to reference his radio show, but seemed uninterested in helping him develop a nuanced comedy leading man persona. His starring vehicles toggled too often between big deal musicals (he'd pop out of the background every 5 or 10 minutes and do his bit in the plot) or drably unfunny 'little pictures' like HALF A HERO or THE CLOWN (in which he, never the less, always proved to be a surprisingly natural actor.) Only a handful of his MGM films did him justice (I do think the WHISTLING films hold up okay, especially WHISTLING IN DIXIE)

1:26 PM  

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