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On a layover in Hawaii two conniving Navy seamen borrow money to lay down bets that their ship will win the upcoming gunnery practice trophy, having found out that the current gunnery champ has just transferred aboard their ship. What they haven't learned, however, is that the marksman's enlistment is up before the contest is supposed to take place. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
The best musicals offer memorable songs imaginatively staged. "Navy Blues" offers neither. Both composer Arthur Schwartz ("Dancing in the Dark") and lyricist Johnnie Mercer ("Hurray for Hollywood") did much better work elsewhere, as did choreographer Seymour Felix ("The Great Ziegfeld").
The leads are only so-so. Oomph girl Ann Sheridan looks great and Martha Raye is suitably brassy, but Jacks Haley and Oakie are hardly Abbott and Costello, and Herbert Anderson is woeful as Sheridan's romantic interest.
Plots are always secondary in musicals, though sometimes they help pick up the pace. Here, a typically thin story line is a good 20 minutes too long.
For all these weaknesses "Navy Blues" has some interesting aspects.
The cast features the already rotund Jackie Gleason in his first film. He doesn't have very many lines but you can't miss him as a young sailor named Tubby. Had this been made a decade later he would have been a natural for Oakie's role.
More significantly, this is a last look at the United States Navy on the eve of World War Two. These are real ships and real sailors on the brink of history.
When Oakie and Haley's characters disembark at Honolulu (actually San Diego), the ship in the background is the USS Curtiss, a seaplane tender that a few months later was damaged at Pearl Harbor. Twenty-one of her crew were killed on December 7th.
Other scenes appear to have been shot on an Astoria class heavy cruiser, of which there were six. The following year three of these ships were sunk off Guadalcanal, with great loss of life.
Surely many of the sailors parading behind the cast members in the closing sequence would not survive the war. Few could foresee that in the spring of 1941, but for us that sad fact gives the film a poignancy its makers never intended.
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