Today’s entry in the Musicals: With A Song And A Dance In My Heart blogathon is the 1955 film Hit The Deck starring Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Walter Pidgeon, Vic Damone, Gene Raymond, Ann Miller and Russ Tamblyn!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Prefabricated Pink (1967)
(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 2 (1966-1968) from Kino Lorber)
(Length: 6 minutes, 11 seconds)
The Pink Panther sees a “Help Wanted” sign at a construction site, and hops right in to help out the workers. I found this one to be middle-of-the-road as far as the Pink Panther is concerned. It has its moments, as everything the Panther does keeps causing trouble for the various Little Men. Honestly, I was slightly disappointed when the short started out with the Panther causing trouble for some of the workers, who would then get in trouble with the foreman (which was quite hilarious!) before dropping that idea entirely. I’ll admit, sometimes jokes can go on too long, but that one wasn’t used enough in my opinion, with the remainder of the short just being similar to a lot of the stuff that the Panther has done before. There is some fun and humor to be found here, that’s for sure, but I just feel I’ve seen the Panther do better with similar situations.
And Now For The Main Feature…
Chief Boatswain’s Mate William “Bilge” F. Clark (Tony Martin) and his two buddies, Rico Ferrari (Vic Damone) and Danny Xavier Smith (Russ Tamblyn), are on leave in San Francisco. Bilge wants to go see his nightclub performer girlfriend, Ginger (Ann Miller), but Rico and Danny have some other plans. When Bilge offers to have Ginger find them some dates, they agree to meet back at the club later. However, none of them find things to be as they expect. Bilge surprises Ginger, but she is mad at him for the fact that they have been engaged for six years, and tells him that she has met somebody else. Rico goes to visit his mother, Mrs. Ottavio Ferrari (Kay Armen), but she is spending time with her neighbor (whom she likes), Mr. Peroni (J. Carrol Naish). However, when Mr. Peroni sees just how old Rico is (as opposed to the picture his mother has of him at the age of nine), he leaves. At home, Danny finds his father, Rear Admiral Daniel Xavier Smith (Walter Pidgeon), leaving for a meeting that will last the duration of his leave, and finds his sister Susan (Jane Powell) getting ready to go out and audition with the star of a Broadway show, Wendell Craig (Gene Raymond). Danny goes to the theatre (which is right next to Ginger’s nightclub) to see Susan audition. There, he meets actress Carol Pace (Debbie Reynolds), who tells him that Wendell’s “auditions” usually happen at his hotel room. The three buddies gets back together and commiserate over their troubles. The three decide to go over to Wendell’s hotel room to get an unsuspecting Susan out of there. Rico takes her away while the other two duke it out with Wendell, but she gets away from him. When she arrives, she finds Danny and Bilge gone, and the place is a mess. Wendell has already called the shore patrol, with intentions of filing charges (especially when he learns that one of the men was Susan’s brother). She leaves with the intention of warning them and immediately runs into Rico. He takes her to his mother’s apartment, where everybody (including Carol) has gathered, with Ginger joining them later on. They all try to figure out how to get the guys out of the mess they are in, but all that happens is everybody starts getting mad at everybody else and leaving. The next day, the guys try to reconcile with the gals, and try to fix things. But, with the shore patrol constantly breathing down their neck, can Susan and the guys convince Wendell Craig to drop the charges?
In 1922, a play called Shore Leave (by Hubert Osborne) was produced for the stage. After that, the story would be adapted in many ways, including the 1927 stage musical Hit The Deck (with music by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Leo Robin, Clifford Grey and Irving Caesar), plus different movie versions coming from both versions of the tale. As early as 1947, MGM bought the film rights to the stage musical from RKO studios. However, the delay in actually doing anything with the property hurt its chances. By the time the studio got around to it, television had become big, keeping more and more people at home instead of going to the movie theaters. As a result, the studios would try cramming a bunch of stars into one film, hoping their star power would be enough to get audiences into theaters. For Hit The Deck, their star power wasn’t *quite* enough, and most of the cast were fired by MGM either directly after this film, or within one or two more.
Hit The Deck has a number of wonderful musical moments, but I’d be remiss to not talk about the film’s best-known one, the song “Hallelujah” (which is done twice in the movie). The first time is done within the first ten minutes (give or take) by Tony Martin, Vic Damone and a (dubbed) Russ Tamblyn (with backup by The Jubalaires). That version is kind of fun, but it pales in comparison to the second time (done as the film’s finale by the majority of the cast). I’ll tell you, that finale is about as joyful a musical number as any that I can think of, and is easily enough reason for me to stick this movie on every now and then! I love the singing, I love the orchestration, and I enjoy Ann Miller’s dance routine. Admittedly, done as a tap routine where she “drills” the sailors with her tap steps reminds me very strongly of Fred Astaire’s dance to “I’d Rather Lead A Band” in Follow The Fleet (1936) (incidentally, that was another filmed version of the play Shore Leave, albeit with a score by Irving Berlin). Personally, I prefer Fred’s version, but Ann Miller still does quite well here.
Of course, the song “Hallelujah” is hardly the only reason I like to watch this movie. I also enjoy some of the other music, including “Lucky Bird” (sung by Jane Powell), “Why, Oh Why?” (done twice, once with the men, and once later with the ladies), “Chiribiribee” with most of the cast, “Lady From The Bayou” with Ann Miller, and “A Kiss Or Two” and the Funhouse dance with Debbie Reynolds and Russ Tamblyn (and quite frankly, the last two I mentioned make me wish that Debbie Reynolds and Russ Tamblyn had been teamed up for more films together). Of course, I know this movie is not without its issues. There is some argument to be made that, with its huge cast, not everybody gets equal screen time, and that is fair. Quite frankly, I also think the first few minutes of the film with the three guys before they get to San Francisco have little to do with the rest of the movie, and could be removed without losing much of the story. It’s not the MGM musical at its absolute best, but I do enjoy this movie, and it’s one I’ve enjoyed sticking on every now and then. If for nothing else, it’s certainly good for cheering me up when I’m down! Definitely a movie I would recommend!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection.
Film Length: 1 hour, 52 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Deep In My Heart (1954) – Jane Powell
Deep In My Heart (1954) – Tony Martin
Athena (1954) – Debbie Reynolds – The Tender Trap (1955)
Deep In My Heart (1954) – Walter Pidgeon
Deep In My Heart (1954) – Vic Damone – Kismet (1955)
Deep In My Heart (1954) – Ann Miller – The Opposite Sex (1956)
Deep In My Heart (1954) – Russ Tamblyn
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