And here we are, for my thoughts on the fifth Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, the 1936 film Follow The Fleet, also starring Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard (Nelson).
Fred plays “Bake” Baker, a former dancer who has joined the navy. In San Francisco on leave, he runs into his old partner, Sherry Martin (Ginger Rogers), at the nightclub where she works. He gets here fired, hoping to get her a better job, but his leave is cancelled that night. Meanwhile, his shipmate, Bilge Smith (Randolph Scott) meets Sherry’s sister, Connie (Harriet Hilliard). He likes her, but she is a little too marriage-minded for him, so he goes with her divorced friend, Mrs. Iris Manning (Astrid Allwyn). While the fleet is away, Connie tries to repair her father’s old ship, in hopes that Bilge would be the captain. When the fleet returns, Bake tries to help Sherry (but unintentionally causes her to fail her audition for a big producer), and Bilge tries to avoid Connie. When Connie can’t pay off her ship, they recruit Bake to put on a show.
Now as far as my own personal opinion is concerned, this movie has two points in its favor: 1) it’s an Astaire-Rogers movie, and 2) music by Irving Berlin. This movie includes songs such as “We Saw The Sea,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Get Thee Behind Me Satan,” “I’d Rather Lead A Band,’ “But Where Are You?,” “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket” and “Let’s Face The Music And Dance.”
With “Let Yourself Go,” I’m left with the feeling they expected this song to be a hit. It’s used multiple times in the movie, starting with Ginger singing it at a nightclub, followed a few minutes later by it being used as music for a “dance contest” that she and Fred dance to. It is used again when she auditions for a theatrical producer, both with her singing it and also doing a tap solo (her only tap solo in the ten movies she made with Fred). And of course, several of the characters are singing and humming it throughout the movie. So if you don’t like it, that might make it a little harder to like the movie.
Then there is the song “I’d Rather Lead A Band.” This is Fred’s tap solo for the movie, and he is joined partway through by a chorus of sailors. He “drills” them utilizing different tap steps. This idea would be used by other dancers later, including Ann Miller in the 1954 movie Hit The Deck.
The highlight of this movie is the song “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” this movie’s lasting song. Done as a “show within a show,” it gives Fred his only moment in the movie in his iconic tuxedo. Of course, it always impresses me what they did, especially since Ginger wore a bead dress that may have weighed about fifty pounds (whether exaggeration or not, I don’t know), with a sleeve that hit Fred in the face and knocked him for a loop in the first take. Considering how the first was what they used in the movie, I can only say that is just amazing how well-rehearsed he was. And of course, the way this was filmed is how I prefer dance to be filmed, since the dance was filmed within one take, with no edits or camera changes, not to mention the fact that it was full body shots, allowing us to see them dance the whole time.
As you can tell, I really like this movie, and highly recommend it. I would rank it about third of the Astaire-Rogers movies, but that is partly because I really like Irving Berlin’s music. Maybe my opinion is biased because of that, but I do recommend it, just the same. And of course, keep an eye out for a young (and BLONDE!!) Lucile Ball!
The movie is available on DVD from Warner Home Video, and is about one hour, fifty minutes.
My Rating: 10/10