Hit the Deck (1955): A Few of My Favorite Things


Hubert Osborne's 1922 play Shore Leave might not have the name recognition of The Glass Menagerie or The Crucible, but it has inspired a wealth of material nonetheless, starting with a 1925 Richard Barthelmess film. In 1927, Hit the Deck, a musical based on Shore Leave that sported a Vincent Youmans score, premiered on Broadway. In 1930, RKO produced a faithful film version of Hit the Deck that starred Jack Oakie and featured color sequences, making it one of the year's most expensive films. Six years later, the studio returned to the property to make the Astaire-Rogers classic Follow the Fleet, a very loose adaptation that replaced the original score with fantastic Irving Berlin music.

Then, in 1955, MGM dusted off Hit the Deck to create a star-studded Technicolor confection featuring Tony Martin, Russ Tamblyn, and Vic Damone as three sailors on leave and Ann Miller, Debbie Reynolds, and Jane Powell as the women they love. MGM's Hit the Deck makes quite a few changes from the stage version. The plot is pretty different, as are some of the characters' names. (In a lovely nod to Follow the Fleet, Ann Miller's character is named "Ginger.") The score, thankfully, stayed largely intact.

The plot is simple. Bill (Martin), Rico (Damone), and Danny (Tamblyn) are sailors on 48-hour leave in San Francisco. Upon arrival, they split up to see their loved ones and find that things aren't the way they left them. Bill's girlfriend, nightclub performer Ginger (Miller), is furious that he has been stringing her along for six years and reveals that she is marrying someone else. Rico discovers that his mother (Kay Armen) has a suitor who doesn't like the idea that she has a grown-up son. Danny, meanwhile, comes home to his cold admiral father (Walter Pidgeon) and his sister Susie (Powell), who Danny is surprised to find has become a beautiful young woman.

Susie is thrilled to see her brother, but she soon rushes off to a date with Wendell Craig (Gene Raymond), an egotistical stage actor who is currently starring in a show called Hit the Deck. He has promised Susie a part in the show if she auditions for him that night, but something seems off to Danny. After speaking with Carol (Reynolds), a co-star of Craig's, Danny decides he must protect his sister's virtue and brings Rico and Bill with him to break up their date. The ensuing fight wrecks Craig's apartment and gives him a black eye, causing him to call shore patrol. For the rest of the film, the guys try to hide while also dealing with their romantic and familial issues.

Instead of doing my usual long-winded review for this film, I thought it'd be nice to instead list some of the things I love about it, starting with...

The Cast
Hit the Deck is filled with major talent. Singers Vic Damone and Tony Martin both dipped their toes into filmmaking, and while they weren't the best actors, they got by well enough. Damone had worked with Jane Powell before in Deep in My Heart (1954); both of them also co-starred with Debbie Reynolds in Athena (1954). In her book Debbie, Reynolds would recall that Damone "wasn't much older than I but he seemed worldly to me. A worldly man I connected with sex. It was all in my mind but it was in my mind. I got around it with Vic by becoming like a sister to him. He'd tell me all about his girlfriends. He'd tell me what he did the night before and the night before and the night before that. He'd tell me everything, wild stories."

Powell actually collaborated with a lot of Hit the Deck's cast before. She had been in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) with Russ Tamblyn, Two Weeks with Love (1950) with Reynolds, and Holiday in Mexico (1946) with Walter Pidgeon. Hit the Deck was Powell's last film for MGM, the studio that had been her home since she was fifteen years old. She would only make one more musical, a remake of the Ginger Rogers film Tom, Dick, and Harry called The Girl Most Likely (1957).

The Smith House
Classic Hollywood had the best sets. From the tchotchkes to the color coordination, the attention to detail is often incredible. Hit the Deck's most impressive set is Danny and Susie's house, which, naturally, has a strong nautical theme. Just check out the foyer's wallpaper!


Susie's room reflects how she has grown up, despite what her brother and father say. I mean, what little girl has plants in her room?


This sitting room blows my mind. It seems simple, right? Well, check out how the pink of the couch matches the flowers and the painting behind Susie. Also, notice how the curtains tie in to the color of the walls and the brown books go with the the painting in the second photo. Even the blue on Susie's dress matches the room!



The admiral's den is covered in earth tones, particularly brown and orange. There are some pops of color, though, such as a few of the books. Like Susie, Wendell manages to match his surroundings with his sunglasses and necktie.



The Costumes
Helen Rose really outdid herself with this film. The wardrobes for the leading ladies are S-T-U-N-N-I-N-G. Every piece of clothing fits their character, but also the individual personas of the actresses. Ann Miller, for instance, wears a lot of bold colors and full skirts, which reflect her and Ginger's brash attitude. Interestingly, whenever Ginger fights with Bill about getting married, her look is toned down to more basic colors and prints, as if to keep the audience focused on the emotion of the scene rather than Miller's outfits.




As a woman trying to prove she is no longer a child, Susie leans towards more form-fitting clothes, especially her backless red evening gown. Many of her outfits also consist of red, white, and/or blue, which I have to believe is a nod to her family's Navy history.





Debbie Reynolds might have my favorite wardrobe out of the bunch. Almost all of her outfits have Peter Pan collars -- it doesn't matter if she is wearing a dress or a coat or even casual rehearsal clothes. It's a cute, youthful touch that goes perfectly with the perky wholesomeness of Reynolds and Carol.



The Musical Numbers
The Vincent Youmans score is an interesting mix of songs from the 1927 and 1930 adaptations, with some additional tunes from Youmans's catalog. The musical numbers are easily my favorite parts of the film. The first song, "Hallelujah," really has no connection to the plot, but it allows for some gorgeous harmonizing with a little assistance from gospel group the Jubalaires. Watch it here.



The next number is our introduction to Ginger, as she and her chorus girls perform "Keepin' Myself for You." It's an adorable, high-energy routine, made all the more fun when Bill steps in for the male singer, surprising Ginger. See it here.







While Ginger is tapping her little heart out, Susie is singing "Lucky Bird" to a penguin toy that Danny has given her. It's a silly, breezy song with hilarious lyrics about how the "bird" is lucky because he doesn't have to do all of the things women are expected to do to land a husband. It's such a weird tune, but I kind of love it. You can watch Susie's cute performance here.



Searching for Susie, Danny goes to a rehearsal for Hit the Deck and stumbles into "A Kiss or Two," a routine being practiced by Carol and a few chorus boys. Instantly smitten, Danny joins the number, much to Carol's confusion. If you watch closely, you can catch Tamblyn pretending to slowly pick up the dance steps while Reynolds looks appropriately bewildered throughout. You can check it out here.




Upset by their respective troubles with Ginger, Rico's mother, and Susie, Bill, Rico, and Danny mope in the alley as they croon "Why, Oh Why?" I'm not kidding when I say the singing here is heavenly. Damone and Martin had such divine voices. (Although Tamblyn was dubbed by Rex Dennis, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was his own voice because it matches the actor so well.) "Why, Oh Why?" also has this really cool staggered effect to it that layers the voices in parts -- it's just amazing to listen to. Luckily, Ginger, Carol, and Susie later reprise the song after they have a fight with the boys. I'm not sure which rendition I love the best, they're both so marvelous. You can see the guys' version here and the girls' here.



For her audition with Craig, Susie warbles "Sometimes I'm Happy," proving that she has true talent. I've always appreciated Powell's lilting voice, but hearing her sing pop songs is much more enjoyable for me than the operatic fare MGM often had her do. She could really make a song swing! See it for yourself here.


I adore musicals; they're the genre I hold nearest to my heart. So, it's a big deal for me to say that Powell and Damone's performance of "I Know That You Know" is one of my absolute favorites of any musical. I'm not talking about the staging or the choreography or even the acting, all of which is good -- no, I mean the song itself. Powell and Damone's voices sound exquisite together and they both hit each note with precision and care. This song also gets stuck in my head for days, so beware if you decide to watch the scene here.




For her second number, Miller slinks and smolders to "The Lady from the Bayou." It isn't really the right kind of thing for Miller. She dances well, of course, but her singing sounds more like growling and there is an awkward echo effect towards the end that just makes her sound even more ridiculous. It's a number that should have been relegated to Cyd Charisse, not Miller. Watch it here and see if you agree with me.



Although it is difficult to pronounce, "Ciribiribin" is a fine showcase for Kay Armen as her character tries to cheer everyone up after the big debacle at Craig's. It took me a while to warm up to this song, but it's hard not to like it when everyone looks like they're having so much fun performing it. You can watch it here.


Out of the three sailors, Bill is the one I have the least amount of sympathy for. His fear of commitment is a boring characteristic, to be honest. Ginger is a great girl, so it seems ridiculous that Bill hasn't married her yet -- which multiple characters point out to him. However, you can't help but melt as he tenderly sings "More Than You Know" after finally proposing to Ginger. Watch the scene here.


If you thought "Lucky Bird" or "The Lady from the Bayou" was odd, Reynolds and Tamblyn have a surprise for you! While hanging out at a carnival, Danny and Carol are forced to hide from the shore patrol inside of a demonic funhouse that features devils, distorted mirrors, skeletons, and more. Not quite a dance number, the scene is more like an opportunity to show how acrobatic and energetic Reynolds and Tamblyn are.





On opening night of Hit the Deck, Carol is performing "Loo Loo" in a fantastic blue sparkly costume when Rico, Bill, and Danny sneak into the cast to avoid shore patrol. (Poor Carol can't catch a break with people pushing themselves into her numbers!) Sometimes I'm convinced that MGM just wanted to see how much they could throw Reynolds around -- "Loo Loo" is one of the reasons why. You can see what I mean here.





For our rousing finale, we have a reprise of "Hallelujah" that goes bigger and better in every way. There's a huge chorus, an Ann Miller tap solo, incredible gold and turquoise dresses for the ladies... You can check it out here.









The Bad and the Beautiful References
As we all know, it was very common for studios to reuse sets, props, costumes, etc. whenever they could. One set that I've seen pop up now and again is a city street that has a movie theater marquee advertising The Proud Land and Woman of Taste. If you've seen The Bad and the Beautiful, you'll know The Proud Land as the film that Kirk Douglas's character produced and Woman of Taste as the novel that Dick Powell's character was writing.


The Proud Land makes another appearance as a book in Rico's mom's apartment. That same book popped up in 1953's Torch Song in Joan Crawford's bedroom!



Carol, Susie, and Ginger
Although Hit the Deck positions the three sailors as the film's main focus, the real stars in my book are the three ladies. They're all tough, smart, and completely capable of taking care of themselves, despite what the men think. Ginger, for example, isn't afraid of putting anybody in their place and is able to fully support herself. Carol is the same way. When she first meets Danny during "A Kiss or Two," you feel a little uneasy because he takes advantage of the situation by continually kissing her, even though he is a total stranger. She scolds him after the number is done and he sheepishly admits he shouldn't have intruded like that. (Gee, you think?)

Susie, however, gets the worst of it. Danny's assumption that his sister is clueless about Craig's intentions is maddening. The scene where Danny and his friends burst into Craig's apartment makes me cringe every time because it is such a stupid display of machismo. To make matters worse, Danny has Rico drag Susie away from the fight, literally. She tries her hardest to pry Rico's hands off of her and to explain that she didn't need anyone's help, but nothing works. When she does break free, he runs after her and catches her right in front of a policeman. Not wanting any trouble, they lie that they were just having a race -- and Rico mentions that the prize is a kiss. The policeman then encourages Susie to kiss Rico, despite the fact that she keeps trying to push him away. It's awful to watch. Even though Rico does apologize for the kiss, the only thing that really makes it bearable is that Susie uses "I Know That You Know" to get away from him. She then spends the rest of the movie reminding Danny that she could handle Craig and that she isn't some wide-eyed innocent. One of the film's real highlights is when Susie gives Craig his second black eye, demonstrating once and for all that she doesn't need Danny, or any other man, hovering over her.

Lt. Jackson
As you could probably guess, Rico, Danny, and Bill aren't really that great. They have their moments, sure, but they also make a lot of dumb decisions and cross some clear boundaries. After the credits roll, you have to wonder if Susie, Carol, and Ginger will really stay with them. If you ask me, the real catch here is Lt. Jackson (Richard Anderson), the admiral's right-hand man. He saves the guys from winding up in serious trouble, masterfully resolving the film's main conflict. He only has a few scenes, but you can tell that he is kind and honorable. He's also pretty darn handsome. I think we can all agree that the gals should take a look at Lt. Jackson before making any commitments...

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This is my contribution to the MGM Musical Magic Blogathon. Check out the rest of the fabulous entries here.

Comments

  1. Ha! I totally agree with your assessment of Richard Anderson's character. He's the prize in this sailor sweepstakes.

    The last time I spent part of the day with Hit the Deck (I've seen the whole movie, but can't recall ever seeing it from start to finish in one sitting), I noticed the lady's costumes beyond the finale, which always impressed me. This fashion show of a movie is certainly eye-filling.

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    1. Lt. Jackson is just the obvious choice here. I mean, he might not be able to sing to me like Rico or Bill, but everything else is perfect.

      Helen Rose knew what she was doing, that's for sure. So many beautiful outfits!

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  2. I have always loved Hit the Deck. There's not much way I couldn't as it starred there of my all time favourite musical stars--Ann Miller, Debbie Reynolds, and Jane Powell. And they are all wonderful in this film.

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    1. I love those three ladies, too. All of them were triple threats, and to see them in a film together is incredible. It also helps that that film is tons of fun!

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  3. Thanks so much for participating in the MGM Musical Magic Blogathon! This is such a delightful musical for me. The cast is SO talented and the musical numbers are wonderfully catchy. Thanks again!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for having me! Although this post didn't turn out the way I wanted due to a lot of unexpected circumstances, I love this movie and I really wanted to be a part of this awesome event!

      Delete

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