Ginger in Follow the Fleet (RKO 1936)

Stars Harriet Nelson and Randolph Scott.

Follow the Fleet (1936) RKO: Three out of Five Salmon ***

Follow the Fleet is not the one I would recommend as an introduction to the famous screen partnership. (That would be Swing Time.)

Follow the Fleet is a different sort of movie. Part of it is the un-glamorous setting. Fred's a swabbie on a battleship and Ginger is the failed half of their previous dance partnership. Harriet Nelson (of Ozzie and Harriet fame) is Ginger's plain sister who falls in love with Fred's buddy, played by Randolph Scott.

The plot revolves around getting Randolph Scott and Harriet Nelson together so he can be captain of the ship her seafaring father left her. (And, it goes without saying, getting Fred and Ginger back together.) Harriet's rival is a married rich woman played by a cute and curvy yet elegant Astrid Allwyn. Fred torpedoes that affair and Scott suddenly decides he loves Harriet Nelson after all.

Forget the unforgettable Adrian gowns. There is only one number (in a show-within-the-show right out of a Mickey Rooney - Judy Garland movie) where Ginger gets a lovely sheer silk gown and Fred his usual tux. Otherwise, she's wearing pants, a sailor outfit, or something else forgettable (although the pants and tight top showcase her figure in a franker way than the usual gown).

Harriet Nelson gets not one, but two songs, stealing precious Ginger screen time.

The plot meanders all over the place, but you don't watch one of these for the story, which is a weak excuse for stringing together the dance numbers. The romantic tension, often based on mistaken identity, is reduced here to petty pranks and the usual squabbling seems sillier than usual, although the introduction of a monkey does liven things up a little.

Yes. Inserting the monkey turned out to be a good idea. You know you have problems when a reviewer says that.

Besides the monkey, there are none of the talented supporting players like Eric Blore or Edward Everette Horton that are so memorably funny from other pair-ups. Betty Grable is in a trio that makes a don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it appearance, and a statuesque peroxide Lucille Ball has a line or two. I don't know about you, but I'm always surprised at what a knock-out Lucy was in those old movies.

This is the only film of the ten where Ginger gets to dance alone. She does a competent tap (and shows a lot more leg than usual) but she's no Eleanor Powell. It illustrates, however, what she brings to these films. Her superb acting makes Fred look like a desirable romantic partner when they dance. Without that chemistry, the number just seems to lack something. It's not Fred. It lacks Fred-and-Ginger.

It all begins with a Fred number, See the Sea, that will now look uncomfortably like Channing Tatum's gay subtext sailor number from the Coen Brother's Hail Caesar.

Let Yourself Go is cute. Ginger is in a cheap pay-to-dance joint, her career on the rocks after she split up with Fred. The pair reunite, of course, and find themselves in a dance contest against stiff competition. They gradually dial up the dancing until they win, which costs Ginger her job. Fred vows to get her before a top agent and win back her affection.

I'm Putting All of My Eggs in One Basket is funny. The pair is completely out of sync in the dance, and Ginger's comic flair is spotlighted.

Let's Face the Music and Dance is the one glamour number at the end. Here we get what we expect: an iconic (if relatively modest) Van Nest Polglase art deco set and the aforementioned elegant gown. However, other than the gown, there is nothing particularly memorable, if that can be said of any Fred and Ginger number. Supposedly, Fred got slapped in the face by her weighted sleeve in this take, but I missed it.

At 110 minutes you may feel like you've fallen asleep and had a weird dream where you signed up for a three-year tour in the Navy alongside Harriet Nelson. An enjoyable oddball of the ten, or a bit of a flop without the elements we expect? Probably some of both. You will not want to miss it for the songs and dance numbers, though.

And if you're a big Harriet Nelson fan, this will be your favorite.


  1. hayes code... btw, the plain sister will always make you happier.


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