Astaire and Rogers let themselves go in... Follow the Fleet (1936)
Yesterday, we swam around the pool with Esther Williams. Today, we match taps with Fred and Ginger. Follow the Fleet is, to me, pretty underrated. Sometimes it can feel like all you hear about is Top Hat, Swing Time, and The Gay Divorcee, which are all great films, but come on, there's more out there. Like Follow the Fleet. Effervescent, silly, and very easy on the eyes and ears, this film is one of my go-to's whenever I'm having a bad day. I typically give Top Hat as my favorite Astaire-Rogers flick, but honestly, it and Fleet switch back and forth.
here. Bake is excited, though -- the fleet is docking in San Francisco! He goes below deck and we meet his best friend "Bilge" Smith (Scott), another sailor with an unfortunate nickname.
That night, Bake and his group of friends go to the Paradise Club. Bake immediately goes to the telephone booth to call up Sherry, only to get no answer. Meanwhile, at the ticket counter, Connie Martin (Hilliard) is told she can't get into the club without a male escort. Disappointed, Connie turns to leave and spots Bilge, who has just arrived with the guys' cheap beer. Connie pretends that Bilge is her escort and pays their way in, explaining to Bilge once they are inside that she finally had a free night and she felt like letting loose a little by coming here where her sister works. Bilge really isn't interested, though, his eyes looking over other
"Let Yourself Go." If you think that gal in the middle looks an awful lot like Betty Grable, you'd be correct. Like Ball, Grable had been in a Fred and Ginger flick before with The Gay Divorcee (1934). Her part in that film had been a bit bigger since she got to perform "Let's Knock Knees" with Edward Everett Horton and here she sings back-up and then slowly disappears for the rest of the movie.
Back in the dressing room, Kitty puts the finishing touches on Connie, whose dress is to die for. Usually I drool over Ginger's wardrobes, but I gotta admit, I find Hilliard's more attractive this go-around. This glittery number may be my favorite. Connie tries out her new look on Bilge, immediately getting his attention when she walks by. Hilliard does a good job of showing Connie revel in the flirtation while also still feeling a little shy and introverted. For example, when she sits down with Bilge, she lines up empty beer bottles to create a barrier between them -- it's flirty, but it
This song was originally going to be Ginger's in the previous year's Top Hat. When it was picked for Fleet, it wasn't Hilliard's voice the studio was thinking of, but Irene Dunne's. Dunne was the first choice for Connie, her re-teaming with Randolph Scott capitalizing
I would like to take a break from the film real quick to gush over this gorgeous apartment. It's definite proof that the movies are make-believe -- how else could you explain the Martin girls being able to afford this place? It is easily my dream home, although we only get to see the kitchen and the living room, which doubles as a dining room. Look at these pictures and tell me it isn't to die for:
Anyway, Sherry and Bake are leaving the Paradise Club when Sherry's boss intercepts them. He is introduced to Bake, who proceeds to insult the club while pretending to be Sherry's manager, getting her fired. Bake assures her he has a plan to get her an audition the next day with theatrical producer Jim Nolan and he drops her off at her apartment. Returning to the ship, Bake finds out that the fleet has been ordered to sail out right away. Uh oh.
Some time later, the fleet comes back to San Francisco. Connie is super excited, but Sherry could care less because she was able to wrangle an audition with Jim Nolan and she didn't need stupid Bake to do it. At their apartment that night, Connie gets all dolled up and prepares a scrumptious meal for Bilge -- he had promised before he left that they had a date as soon as he returned, and she is thrilled to break the news about the S.S. Connie Martin (not kidding, that's the name of her ship). When Sherry comes home from work, though, she finds Connie asleep on the couch and the food untouched. That louse never showed up.
Bake, meanwhile, is sleeping in a phone booth. He had tried to reach Sherry but she had already gone to work and she refuses to call him back when she gets homes, leaving Bake to pass out while waiting. He had even brought her a present: a small pet monkey. Not the most practical thing, but he's a cutie so I'll let it slide.
Understandably, Sherry asks for a drink of water before doing her singing. Bake overhears this and, seeing an opportunity to get rid of Sherry's competition, he fills her cup with bicarbonate of soda, causing Sherry to uncontrollably hiccup, thus ruining her audition. (I'm not one to expect realism out of Hollywood, especially a musical like this, but I never understand why Sherry doesn't get another chance. The beginning of her song is strong, so couldn't she just explain that she suddenly got the hiccups?)
here. Once again, her gown is superb. Over at the punch bowl, Bake is disappointed to find out that he'd been downing punch only to discover it wasn't spiked with liquor like he thought. The poor guy can't catch a break, and it will soon get worse.
Bake: "Who is he?"
Sherry: "Well, with the usual lack of imagination a sailor has, he told her his name was Smith. They call him Bilge."
Sherry: "Anything in a uniform."
Bake offers to talk to Bilge, but Sherry says Bilge has to come to Connie of his own will, not because he has been guilted into it. However, Bake could talk to Connie and see if he can change her mind.
no, really!), and the dance is pure goofiness. Everything will be going along smoothly and then Fred will do a step that Ginger really likes so she'll keep repeating it instead of moving on. You can see it here and you should. It's so joyful to watch.
You must see it.
Of course, the biggest story surrounding this number is Ginger's dress. I'll let Fred tell you about that: "Ginger came up with a beaded gown which was surely designed for anything but dancing.
When the dance was over, Astaire admitted to the director and Ginger that he couldn't even remember it, that's how dazed he was. He wanted another take, the second of many because none of them satisfied everyone. They all agreed to reconvene the next day, but it was unnecessary. Looking at the rushes the following morning, "the #1 take was perfect. It was the one we all liked best. The haymaker I got from Ginger's sleeve didn't show a bit. I was astounded."
In the depressing musical Pennies from Heaven, Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters recreated this number and included clips of it. Astaire hated what they did, saying "I have never spent
here. Although I agree with Astaire on the movie, I do like this poignant moment because Martin and Peters' characters use Fred and Ginger as an escape, just like real Thirties audiences did.
Follow the Fleet comes from the 1922 play Shore Leave, although they really don't bear a resemblance to one another. Shore Leave was made into a musical before Fleet called Hit the Deck. That musical came on the scene in 1925 and had a hit score by Vincent Youmans. In 1955, it was adapted to the screen with a sensational cast: Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Ann Miller, Russ Tamblyn, and Vic Damone. That version capitalized on the unofficial "sailors-on-leave" genre that popped up after 1949's On the Town. Funnily enough, Tony Martin played Bilge in Hit the Deck and he also played an extra sailor in Fleet, although I've never been able to spot him. Hit the Deck is an adorable, entertaining film, though -- I highly recommend it. If you ever need a pick-me-up, you can't go wrong with a double feature of Fleet and Deck. It would be literal sunshine coming right out of your TV.
This is my second entry to the brilliant Ice Cream Social Blogathon. For the rest of the magnificent blogathon, click here.