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Sailor Spike dates girls whose names he finds in an address book. Each girl has the same tatoo, placed there by another sailor Bill. When Spike meets Bill they become friends. In Calais Spike meets Goldie. Bill warns him against her, but Spike ignores the warning until he finds Bill's tatoo on Goldie as well.Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Underneath the opening credits of this film there is a striking portrait of the gorgeous young Jean Harlow, barely out of her teens, grinning into the camera. You'd better take a good look while you have the chance, because she won't be back until the picture is half over, and while you wait you'll have to deal with the tiresome comedy of Warren Hymer.
Who, one might ask, is Warren Hymer? He was a big lug who played character parts in movies of the '30s and '40s, usually small roles as boxers, convicts, thick-witted sidekicks, etc. As a colorful member of the ensemble he was fine, sometimes a stand-out, but as the comic lead in 'Goldie' he's a dud. It isn't the actor's fault, he's obviously trying his best, but he's stuck with a one-note character, his material is weak and obvious, and the laughs are sparse. Hymer plays a dim-bulb sailor named Spike who lands in lots of exotic if seedy-looking ports, everywhere from Odessa to Rio. (All these locations bear a suspicious resemblance to the Fox back lot, slightly redressed for each sequence, but no matter.) Spike is on the prowl for a girlfriend, but it seems that every woman he finds has already been claimed, so to speak, by a fellow sailor named Bill. Of course Spike and Bill eventually meet up, and fists fly. Just as inevitably, they quickly become pals.
This film was a talkie remake of Howard Hawks' late silent A Girl in Every Port, which was heavily influenced by the huge success of the prototypical "battling buddy" flick What Price Glory? The latter was a smash hit that spawned zillions of imitations, service comedies in which a pair of two-fisted he-men (Marines, sailors, or whatever) get into scrapes, battle over women, etc. But while What Price Glory? was based on a terrific play by Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings, chock-a-block with crackling tough-guy dialog, few of the imitations were so well written. A Girl in Every Port holds up quite well, and Hawks considered it his favorite silent feature, but unfortunately he wasn't available to direct this remake.
And that brings us back to 'Goldie.' I was lured to this film by the fascinating cast: Jean Harlow takes the role played by Louise Brooks in the silent version, and Bill the rake is played by none other than Spencer Tracy, only 31 years old and fresh from Broadway. (George Raft is on hand too, briefly, as a pickpocket.) But this movie was made long before Tracy's familiar screen persona had been developed, and viewers familiar with his later work will be surprised at the macho tom-cat he plays here. Viewers unaccustomed to films of the Pre-Code era may also be startled by the recurring plot motif concerning the tattoo "brand" Tracy leaves on each of his conquests, and by the blunt usage of the word "tramp" to describe Harlow's character. When he isn't loving 'em and leaving 'em, Tracy is mostly reduced to playing straight man for Hymer, who dominates the story's first half. And while we wait for the leading lady there's lots of male bonding stuff, i.e., boozy brawling in saloons, and philosophical talk about how dames ain't on the level. When Jean Harlow finally shows up she's a sight for sore eyes, but like Tracy she hadn't yet fully come into her own as a screen presence. In these early appearances Harlow, though undeniably vibrant, often seems unsure of herself. Here she plays a high-diver in a Calais carnival, and looks very fetching indeed in her bathing suit. She and Tracy have a couple of decent scenes together towards the end, but by that point the show's practically over.
For a great Harlow-Tracy pairing I can recommend Libeled Lady, a terrific comedy made five years after this one. Fans interested in their earlier work might want to give this one a look, but will most likely be disappointed. I wish both leads had been granted better material, and more of it. As for Warren Hymer -- well, nothing personal, but he's not my cup of tea, not here anyway.
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