Sunday, May 11, 2014

1934 - Here Comes the Navy

Every now and then during this project, particularly while reviewing years prior to 1940, there is a movie that proves a tad elusive to get my hands on. I've visited the UCLA Film Archive twice (once for this current year of review, as it happens) to view three separate films and have had to find some "creative" ways (*cough* YouTube *cough*) to view others. When I began the current year of review (five months ago, shamefully), this next film had been given no home video release. It was also nowhere to be seen via my usual illicit channels, so I simply threw caution to the wind and hoped that TCM would schedule it soon.

As luck would have it, they have indeed scheduled it ... for July. As more luck would have it, the Warner Archive Collection added the film to its list of distributed titles just a couple of months ago, making it available to order. Serendipitous, indeed. Considering I only have two films left in this current year of review, it seemed silly to wait another two months for the TCM broadcast, so I decided to shell out the cash to buy the DVD, only the second such time I've done so for this project.

Interestingly, it's also only the second time I've bought a DVD at all since moving to the United States almost five years ago. I had quite the DVD collection back home in Australia, but being predominantly region 4 discs, it seemed unnecessary to bring them with me, so they currently just gather dust at my in-laws' house. And with the emergence of services like Netflix that offer streaming movies as well as DVD rentals by mail, it has also become unnecessary to purchase new titles. It's sad to think that Netflix has essentially replaced my DVD collection, but it's certainly lighter on my wallet.

And now, here are my thoughts on the penultimate nominee from 1934's race to Best Picture...

Here Comes the Navy
Lloyd Bacon
Eric Baldwin and Ben Markson
James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Gloria Stuart, Frank McHugh
Academy Awards:
1 nomination
0 wins

In a vaguely similar story to the also-nominated Flirtation Walk, Here Comes the Navy features a firebrand who impulsively joins the military to prove a point to an adversary. Chesty O'Conner (Cagney), a blue-collar civilian, loses a fistfight to naval officer Biff Martin (O'Brien), and subsequently enlists in naval training to show him what's what. Not having thought it through properly, Chesty predictably ends up with Martin as his superior, allowing Martin to make life as difficult as possible for his nemesis. To complicate their relationship further, Chesty falls for Martin's sister, Dorothy (Stuart), nonchalantly risking his job to win her heart.

In one sense, Here Comes the Navy bucks the trend of many of its fellow nominees by not including any gratuitous musical numbers. Well, there are a couple of scenes in which characters intentionally sing badly (at least, I hope it was intentional), but it's safe to assume they are for comic relief, rather than any genuine attempt at musical entertainment.

However, in another sense, the picture provides yet another example of what has been a common theme among this year's shortlist - a less than satisfactory conclusion. In its defense, we are at least given a wedding ceremony for our romantic leads. It's just that it comes completely out of nowhere. The last we heard, Chesty wanted nothing to do with Dorothy, then all of a sudden, they're getting married. No explanation. Just an assumption that his recent heroic act must have somehow softened his heart. Then, to top it all off, the final moment of the film features the atrocious singing of the groom's best friend's mother. Granted, it's a callback to an earlier setup, but it's still an odd feeling to leave the film with a character we've never seen before.

With a reputation for playing tough guys, James Cagney's portrayal of the hotheaded Chesty is certainly larger than life, probably due in part to some pretty contrived dialogue throughout. To some extent, the character is difficult to truly get behind since he spends most of the film being a conceited, impulsive dick. Donning blackface certainly doesn't help his cause, even taking into account the fact that that sort of thing was not as taboo among mainstream audiences back then. Holding her own opposite Cagney is Gloria Stuart (more than six decades before her sole Oscar nomination for Titanic) as the confident Dorothy. And speaking of sole Oscar nominations, Here Comes the Navy joins that elite group of films with the seemingly paradoxical feat of receiving a Best Picture nomination and no other.

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