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   FOLLOW THE FLEET (1936) 

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CAST
Fred Astaire
Ginger Rogers
Randolph Scott
Harriet Hilliard
Astrid Allwyn
Betty Grable
Harry Beresford
Russell Hicks
Lucille Ball

DIRECTED BY
Mark Sandrich

PURCHASE


DVD



About Astaire




Time: 110 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Musical/Romance/Comedy


This film happens to be one of my favorite Astaire and Rogers pictures. Even though it's far from perfect, it's one of the most upbeat and fun. A romantic comedy with ample doses of both, FOLLOW THE FLEET has some wonderful dance numbers that are hard to forget and will keep you glued to the screen. The plot is nothing extremely complicated with just enough twists and turns to keep the scenes in between the dance numbers remotely interesting. I know they included two love stories to have contrast between the those who want to get married and those who don't, but the Scott and Hilliard romance never really generates much heat and is played pretty much by the numbers. It definitely helps fill in the story, but since you know they're going to end up together, their woes don't really matter. It's clear that Astaire and Rogers will also be a couple again by the end of the film, but their problems are just more amusing and cleverly handled.

The film opens with Bake Baker (Astaire), Bilge Smith (Scott) and a number of other sailers from their ship heading off on shore leave from a long tour at sea. They head to the Paradise Club where the men try to find love for the evening. Bake is stunned to discover his old singing and dancing partner Sherry (Rogers) working at the club. She broke his heart when she chose her career over a life as his wife, causing him to find solace in the Navy. She's initially thrilled to see him, but his joking nature quickly begins to get on her nerves. When the music starts they begin to dance together for old times sake and are soon fighting to win the nightly dance contest. There should be no question who takes home the trophy. They put on a stunning tap display that will leave you breathless. The win softens Sherry's heart but only momentarily. Bake's big mouth gets her fired and leaves her with no choice but to place her future in his hands. Meanwhile, Sherry's older sister Connie (Hilliard) comes to visit her at the club. Plainly dressed, she's a music teacher, the soldier's don't give her the time of day. Sherry suggests they glam her up so she can get a man.


"It isn't really that gentlemen prefer blondes. It's just that we look dumber."

Everyone marvels at the change some makeup, a fancy hairstyle and a gorgeous dress does for Connie. It doesn't take long for Bilge, who initially rebuffed her, to come sniffing around. Connie tries to give him a hard time, but she's just not that kind of girl and soon finds herself melting in his arms. Back at her apartment things continue to go well, even when she admits to Bilge who she really is. He's thrilled he found a girl who can be domestic as well as beautiful. When he discovers that she loves to sail and even has a boat left to her by her father, he thinks his dreams of a perfect girl have been answered. That is until Connie mentions she wants to rebuild the boat and have her husband pilot it. Not about to marry anyone, Bilge makes a proper exit, leaving Connie believing that this relationship has a future. Needless to say, both ladies are left high and dry when the fleet pulls out that evening.

They both are highly anticipating its return – Connie to present the remodeled boat to Bilge and to pick up where they left off, Sherry to get even with Bake who promised to get her a part in his friend's show and is now left jobless. Upon the fleet's return, things don't go quite as expected for either Connie or Sherry. Connie is practically ignored by Bilge, who has no idea she went into debt to restore her ship for him. Sherry and Bake end up fighting like cats and dogs when Bake accidently ruins her audition for a part in his friend's show. For Connie's sake, Sherry is forced to work with Bake to try and come up with enough money to pay off the debt Connie incurred to fix the boat. So like all good performers they put their differences aside and decide to put on a show. Things don't go very easily, but the show eventually comes off without a hitch and everyone ends up living happily ever after.

The final third of the film is punctuated by two vastly different dance numbers. One informal, where Astaire and Rogers play around at practicing one of the show's routines to the classic tune "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket", which is quite playful and fun. The second is more serious and somber, utilizing a fabulous art deco set, evening clothes and a bittersweet rendition on "Let's Face the Music and Dance." Both are classic Astaire and Rogers and both showcase the wide range of their talent. Ginger's dress swirls just perfectly in the second number, giving their steps a beautiful look and flawless movement. Even though they're technically fooling around in the first number, it's clear that much time and planning went into making it look unrehearsed. You won't find many better routines in any of their other pictures.

The main thing lacking in FOLLOW THE FLEET is passion. It's clear both couples should be together, but that's more because of casting than any real connection between them. Astaire and Rogers seem to be drawn together in this film because of their talent, not because they feel they can't live without one another. If there was more of a spark, this film would have received a more stars. Great music and wonderful dancing will only take you so far. A better script and real chemistry would have made this film unstoppable. Of course, what we're left with isn't too shabby. If you've never seen an Astaire/Rogers picture you should be ashamed of yourself. Their films helped make Hollywood great. FOLLOW THE FLEET may not be their best picture, but I guarantee you'll be humming the songs for days.



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