Rudy Call

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the works of Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, but, I must admit, there’s a wide niche in my movie comedy world for severe lowbrow humor.  Thus, when the title hero of this Seventies blaxploitation pic tells the audience, “Dolemite’s my name, and fucking up muthafuckas is my game!” I can’t help collapsing on the floor in spasms of laughter.  And that’s just a mild sample of what to expect from DOLEMITE, starring comedian Rudy Ray Moore and now, spectacularly, on Blu-Ray from the folks at the ominously named Vinegar Syndrome.

The movie embraces a Blaxploitation 101 basic plot:  Dolemite, a revered pimp, is framed by his competition (in cahoots with corrupt white cops), and sent to jail on an illegal arms/drugs rap.

From there, star/cowriter Moore, along with actor/director D’Urville Martin (who portrays Dolemite’s arch nemesis, the evil Willie Green), take the tried-and-true narrative and run helter-skelter through the hood with it.

As one might expect, DOLEMITE plays like a blue party comedy album, so those faint-hearted beware.  Indeed, every other word is “muthafucka,” which pretty much mirrors my current verbal lifestyle (so I’m okay with that).  If one is familiar with the DOLEMITE-inspired Shaftman records (and, if you’re not, you should be), you have a pretty good idea where this movie is headed.

The cool thing about DOLEMITE is that he’s Airplane-ing a genre a half decade before Airplane – back when Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers were still asking their mamas for movie money.  Audiences got it (well, anyone who knew Moore’s work, his brown-paper wrapper LPs, standup appearances, etc.) while the few critics who dared review it didn’t.  They chided the movie as being so inept that it was more funny than exciting.  Duh!  Unless they meant Moore funny than…oh, who am I kidding (you’d think that maybe the Comedian International Enterprise credit would be a tipoff?).

I mean, come on, Richard Roundtree and Fred Williamson were…how can we say it?..in shape.  Dolemite is a middle-aged, pot-bellied potty-mouthed-talkin’ mo-fo, who, nevertheless is the dude all women desire and all men fear.  In truth, his ungainliness is hilarious (I always thought that The Office‘s Craig Robinson would be perfect for a Son of Dolemite sequel).  Dolemite’s lethal dose of revenge isn’t merely physical.  The corkers come during the pic’s many jarring jump cuts to extreme close-ups of Moore doing a rapid-fire tirade of every epithet you can think of directly to the camera.

The plot twists (if you wanna call it that) are unbelievable, even for a blaxploitation opus.  The comb-over-coiffed warden offers our protagonist a full pardon to clean up the drugs and violence that have plagued the community since his incarceration.  “You could lose your life…but you know how to roll.”

But honeycombed within this nefarious nest of ghetto gonifs are Dolemite’s allies, primarily Queen Bee (Lady Reed), who has been watching over the pimp’s ho’s while he’s been in the hoosegow.  Actually, she’s done much more than that; not missing a (box-office) trick, she’s sent the tricks to martial arts karate school.  Now they can protect themselves against shady johns (as demonstrated in one of several riotous flashbacks, where a formerly abused nubile lass has a “Gimme the money, bitch!” moment with a shiftless customer before drop-kicking him out of frame to the joyous sound of off-screen Looney Tune sound effects).

Of course, Martin and Moore (as well as coscripter Jerry Jones, who also appears as the understanding detective who sides with Dolemite against the WASPy untidy whitey cops) are well acquainted with the big gun theory (you know, early-on revealing a formidable weapon which you better goddamnit end up utilizing); in other words, you don’t drop a bombshell like kung-fu hookers unless you intend to use them for a slam-bang multiple girl groin-kickin’ finale.

Dolemite, we should mention, is not only a pimp, a lover and a fighter – he’s also Dolemite, the legendary comedian.  Ho’s notwithlaying, Dolemite’s pride and joy is his Total Experience nitery (which he has to retrieve from Willie, who stole it while the “playa” was in jail), where he performs during the cleverly christened Dolemite Show.  Ergo, there’s a full-stop lengthy segment, where gnarly-looking locals confront the recently released mack, questioning his identity.  Moore responds with a half-reel tone poem that offers his take on the sinking of the Titanic.  I swear, you can’t make this stuff up (ideally, it’s the scenario that, in a perfect world, James Cameron would have followed).  Moore later does another monologue-in-verse on jungle life that has to be heard to be believed.

Among the plethora of outrageous supporting characters are a slimy Reverend (West Gale), who divides his time by dealing illegal guns and ramming the word of God into his PHAT parishioners (“How are we supposed to better ourselves if we can’t trust the Watergate muthafuckas?”).  There are the dumb white cops supplanted by even dumber white hoods (Dolemite makes a bigoted thug “dance” by updating the “shooting at the feet” B-western routine with an assault rifle). BTW, I relish the fact that the greedy scumbag politician (Hy Pike) is named Mayor Daley.

My favorite ancillary character is Creeper (Vainus Rackstraw), Moore’s homage to Popeye’s Wimpy (or Pimpy, as he’s additionally referred to as Hamburger Pimp), a coked-out informant who haunts the nabe lunch wagon until the curvy proprietress tosses food at him just to get the fool off the premises.  Creeper is so stoned that he makes Cheech and Chong look like founding members of the Victorian Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and barely flinches when Dolemite goes off on him like Stuart Gordon’s rendition of Moe Howard.  This results in my number-one choice line in the picture, as an unfazed Creeper tells Moore he can’t be intimidated:  “I’m so bad, I kick my own ass twice a day!”

All of it ends up violently and musically at a sold-out Total Experience re-opening revue laden with dancers, prancers and vixens, thus living up to the club’s moniker.

Natch, DOLEMITE isn’t for everyone’s taste.  You have to have a soft spot for 1970s cinema, blaxploitation and, without question, Rudy Ray Moore.  I must confess that, days after I first screened it, I was still snickering at some of the bits and situations (especially when a newly freed Dolemite goes ballistic over a ho’-gifted shirt: “I don’t wear no fucking cotton!”).

The look and sound of DOLEMITE, for better or ill, is pure 1970s.  You can practically smell the sweat-stained polyester grafted to the cast members.  That said, it’s also part of the fun of the…total experience.

There has been a barrage of unfairly-hurled criticisms about the lousy haphazard photography of DOLEMITE.  This is due to the obvious presence of boom-mikes – so ubiquitous throughout that they probably qualify for SAG cards.  Admittedly, the picture was shot fairly cheaply, filmed on a shoestring by people wearing loafers (a prime investor being Moore himself); in essence, it makes the Pam Grier AIP movies look like David Lean productions.    However, the boom-mike travesty, which has ironically become one of modern viewers’ favorite DOLEMITE attributes, was not the result of crummy camerawork, but rather crummy presentation via four decades of miserable VHS and TV prints.  DOLEMITE was shot for grindhouse/drive-in distribution with the proviso that it be shown with a widescreen 1.85 matte.  Since the sleazy companies who held the home video/television rights had no intention of mastering a separate widescreen transfer (in the pre-letterbox no integrity days), they simply sent out full frame 1.33 copies, sans the top and bottom black borders.

As the boom-mike editions have become part of the DOLEMITE legend (even if incorrectly so), Vinegar Syndrome has included both version in this two-disc Blu-Ray/DVD package.  The crazy thing is that for a lousy-looking Seventies movie, DOLEMITE (apart from occasional out-of-focus and dark available-light shots) doesn’t really look that terrible (at least on this Blu-Ray).  Colors pop, and the images are generally sharp.  And why wouldn’t they – when your d.p. is named Nicholas Josef von Sternberg (and, yeah, that’s no hype; he IS the son of the iconic director of Underworld, The Blue Angel and the subsequent Marlene Dietrich exotic classics)?  The music is terrific (even if the dubbing/lip-synching isn’t), with wacky lyrics and jamming riffs highlighting the score by Arthur Wright.  Plus (likely) bootlegged Warner Bros. gunshots (lots of those).

Vinegar Syndrome knows a winner when they smell it, and have buffed up this dual platter set with a treasure trove of extras, including featurettes, audio commentary by Moore historian Mark Jason Murray and a pair of rude Rudy trailers: DOLEMITE and The Human Tornado.  The former in and of itself is a justifiably celebrated coming attraction, a mini-showcase for the comedian (“From the first to the last, I give them the blast so fast that their life is past before their ass has even hit the grass!”).  One can only hope that other Moore titles are on-deck for similar Blu-Ray/Vinegar Syndrome treatments, including the Exorcist-tinged Petey Wheatstraw and even the disappointing (albeit rollicking) Disco Godfather, arguably the decade’s supreme exploitative title.

DOLEMITE.  Color.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 HD-DTS MA.  Vinegar Syndrome.  CAT # VS-113.  SRP:  $29.98.

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Lady-O-Active

Film noir fans are in for an unexpected treat with the twisty, delightfully sordid 1954 thriller WORLD FOR RANSOM, now on Blu-Ray from Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment.

An early Robert Aldrich effort (in fact, only his second big-screen endeavor following the baseball drama Big Leaguer), WORLD FOR RANSOM was the result of his bonding with star Dan Duryea. Duryea had just finished a short-lived action series, China Smith, several episodes of which were directed by Aldrich. The idea of doing a progressive suspense adventure utilizing the still-standing China Smith sets intrigued Duryea and he signed on. Aldrich, who acted as coproducer, did the rest, assembling the cast and crew and quickly putting the actors through their paces in eleven days, and for a total cost of under $100,000.

The result is one of the strangest noirs viewers are ever likely to see. Suffice to say, it’s also one of the strangest action pictures, one of the strangest adventures and one of the strangest love stories (extra sauce on the latter).

The 83-minute tale of intrigue and double-crossing was scripted by Lindsay Hardy (with uncredited assist from Hugo Butler) and revolves around one of the director’s pet themes: the ultimate price to be paid for monkeying around with atomic warfare. In this respect, it prefigures his subsequent triumphs Kiss Me Deadly and Twilight’s Last Gleaming – but there embryonic rumblings that would erupt full-force in many of his other later classics.

Duryea plays the mysterious Mike Callahan, a soldier of fortune with a dubious reputation for playing both sides of the fence. The “both sides of the fence” pattern is a major part of the story, as the audience will learn with a breathless gasp.

Even for a film noir character, Callahan wanders through the seamy, steamy nighttime Singapore streets with a disturbing “who cares?” abandon. Indeed, as depicted in WORLD FOR RANSOM, the infamous Asian city is such a noir town that even the interiors are awash with thick, swirling fog.

Callahan is despised by both sides of the law, each of whom, at various points of the movie, beat him mercilessly. “You really got a hoodlum touch,” he honestly tells the chief of police in one of the pic’s plethora of great lines indicative of the genre.

The core of Callahan’s malaise is his being screwed over by his one-time pal and partner Julian March, a particularly slimy Patric Knowles – picking up from where he left off in Don Siegel’s The Big Steal. What really got Callahan’s goat was that the biggest crime March ever committed was stealing and marrying his former (and only) true love, Frennessey, a beauteous chanteuse.

Callahan’s eternal bitterness is sweetened when Frennessey calls him out of the blue, wanting to hire him to find out what her disreputable spouse is up to. Callahan jumps at the chance, hoping to get the goods on the bum and ruin him in the eyes of his beloved – thus winning her back. The fool!

Frennessey is amused by Callahan’s aspirations, and shrugs off the many infidelities she has suffered due to hubby’s womanizing. She just wants to find the slob.

No doubt March is up to no good, but, oh, what no good! It’s beyond even Callahan’s wildest nightmares. He’s aligned himself with Alexis Pederas, a sinister bastard, portrayed by the usually likeable Gene Lockhart.

March, impersonating a British officer, kidnaps brilliant nuclear physicist Arthur Shields (yeah, I know), who is armed with the plans for the new, improved A-Bomb – the H-Bomb.

In walks Lockhart to Governor Nigel Bruce’s office (yup, Nigel Bruce in his final screen role) and calmly demands $5 million in gold, or he’s offering the goodies to folks behind the Iron Curtain.

Believe me, there’s nothing better than hearing the cinema’s beloved bungling Dr. Watson mouth off about the horrors of nuclear warfare to cohorts Reginald Denny and Douglass Dumbrille. There were, I say unabashedly, tears of joy in my eyes.

How Duryea infiltrates these baddies (including a frightening Lou Nova) and apathetically triumphs (all in the name of love) is the picture’s crazed wrap-up. The magnificence of Duryea’s thespian chops are on full display here as he spectacularly reveals that what happens to the world is of little importance to him – he just wants his dream babe back.

The violence in WORLD FOR RANSOM is trademark Aldrich, and, by that I mean shockingly graphic (especially for its time). Jungle fighting, sanguine skewering, innocent bystanders offed without hesitation…It’s a bloodbath at its most unhygienic. The attack on the kidnappers’ compound resembles a low-rent run-through for the climax of The Dirty Dozen, and is almost as exciting.

But the true horror is not the post-war end-of-the-world possibilities, but what awaits Callahan and his anxious reunion with Frennessey.

Alone in her room with the singer, Callahan describes with relish the evil of her now-exed ex. She sneers it off, and when Callahan makes his move to rekindle a flame, he’s met with one of the most vicious bitch-slaps in all of cinema. This physical response, however, no way matches the verbal anger that spews forth from the lady’s lips. She tolerated and even encouraged March’s cheating because he left her alone. “He got me!,” she screams. “Accepted me for what I am.” Duryea (and, presumably, the audience) is (are) to take this as meaning a whore. Nuh-uh. Frennessey has an H-Bomb of her own. She is repelled by men, and adores the pleasures of her own sex. Duryea’s realization is seen by the look of “suddenly-it-all-makes-sense” terror in his face, most likely underlined by earlier sequences of her singing in a nightclub where female performers tend to dress like Marlene Dietrich in Morocco.

An even-more disillusioned Callahan staggers out into the rain-swept streets, disappearing into the night as sultry procurer May Ling taunts sailors outside the Golden Poppy with “Love is a white bird, yet you cannot buy her.” I tell you, this movie is a peach!

The iconic noir theme of double-cross is practiced with a vengeance throughout WORLD FOR RANSOM. Callahan has alternate identities, sometimes known as Corrigan. Knowles impersonates officers. Cops act like thugs, thugs act like ruthless government diplomats, and Frennessey…well…

With his second feature, Aldrich is already at the top of his game, and, with his key crew in place: d.p. Joe Biroc, editor Michael Luciano and composer Frank DeVol.  A teasing ballad about the perils of falling in love without your peepers open, appropriately titled “Too Soon,” was written for the picture by Walter G. Samuels.

Marian Carr, who is introduced in WORLD FOR RANSOM (and appeared on episodes of China Smith) is the berries as Frennessey. Aldrich thought so too, and later cast her in Kiss Me Deadly. Other welcome faces include Keye Luke, Patrick Allen and Strother Martin. Of course, it’s the great Dan Duryea who dominates the proceedings; it’s always cool to see this noir master starring in a movie – and in this one he’s got a lot on his plate. Cold War plotwise, he’s akin to Richard Widmark in Sam Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (and, natch, Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly), except here, it’s pure love that floats his boat, and not the almighty buck. What a sap!

The movie is a catalog of Aldrich visual insanity – dutch angles, creepy moving camera, comically-framed imagery of visceral events…It’s all here and more. As indicated earlier, the dialogue perfectly complements the foreboding compositions. For example, upon hearing a wacky Chinese name, Callahan, in a rare moment of levity, quips, “There’s a pun there somewhere.”

The Olive Films blu-ray, comes from generally excellent 35MM materials. Picture quality is format prerequisite razor-sharp and the mono audio crisp and clear. Originally released through Allied Artists, WORLD FOR RANSOM is a must-see little pulp gem that horrifically lives up to its title. Did I say “peach”? It’s a honey of a peach!

WORLD FOR RANSOM.  Black and white.  Full frame (1.37:1; 1080p High Definition).  2.0 mono DTS-HD MA.  CAT # OF882.  SRP: $29.95.

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Impatience and Out Patients

Hypochondria aside, it’s always a treat when the doctor is in, especially if it’s the Western world’s socially inept sawbones champion Martin Ellingham, aka the outstanding Martin Clunes, in the global UK comedy favorite DOC MARTIN, now in SERIES 6, and on DVD from Acorn/RLJ Entertainment.

Since its debut in 2004, the show has gone international in a big way, racking up millions of Ellinghamians.  Indeed, the tale of an extremely dysfunctional, albeit brilliant, surgeon, who, due to his fear of blood, is relegated to practicing in the picturesque seaside hamlet of Cornwall’s fictitious Port Wenn (actually, Port Issac), just seems to get better with each series.  SERIES 6 (there is a 7, which I have yet to see) proves my point with a jubilant Lexapro anti-depressant punch.  It is, to date, my favorite in the show’s twelve-year (and seven season) run.

The wackiness, the quirkiness, the eccentricities and snarky verbal smack-downs often seamlessly mixed with poignancy (to say nothing of accurate medical diagnosing – way more fun than Wikipedia, Google or a Crosby-less Bing) have never been more on-target.  The lunatic locals have become welcome friends in this household (well, most of them; sorry, mean bevy girls), all brought to life by a terrific company of actors (including the four tots who portray Baby Ellingham).  And we can’t forget one main participant, the beauteous Cornwall locale itself, lushly photographed by Simon Archer.

MARTIN was the brainchild of Dominic Minghella, who created the series based, in part, on a role Clunes essayed in the 2000 movie Saving Grace (as envisioned by Mark Crowdy and comedian Craig Ferguson, the latter known to most TV comedy fans as Mr. Wick from The Drew Carey Show).  The eight episodes that comprise SERIES 6 (Sickness and Health; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?; The Tameness of a Wolf; Nobody Likes Me; The Practice Around the Corner; Hazardous Exposure; Listen with Mother; Departure) were superbly written by Jack Lothian, Ben Bolt, Richard Stoneman, Charlie Martin and Julian Unthank, and directed with impish panache by Nigel Cole and Paul Seed.

The comedy with dramatic flairs (some downright dark) is such that it frequently brings to mind the best of the Ealing Studios output from the late 1940s-early 1950s.  And I can’t think of any higher praise.

For those diehard MARTIN fans who have yet to experience SERIES 6, let me give you a wee taste of what delights the 2-disc set holds for collectors.

The premiere installment starts off with a deserved bang – the long-awaited wedding of Martin and his schoolteacher lover (and mother of their child) Louisa (the always excellent Caroline Catz).  Their honeymoon plays like a nightmare from hell (well, in that “comedy is tragedy that happens to others” Freddie Krueger sort of way), a post-wedding sojourn affectionately arranged in gratitude by the Port Wenn citizenry (who include a “bill will be in the mail” disclosure with their fond farewells).  That the pair end up bloodied, disheveled and the prey of a half-mad mountain man (David Sterne) is but a small sampling of the season’s debut, which heartily combines laughs and gross-out thrills in equal Mike Myers and Michael Myers portions.

Things go merrily swirly-whirly in the subsequent shows, including the friendly arguing between the father and son Larges family (Ian McNiece, Joe Absolom) with Al looking to branch out on his own and find true love and poppa Bert, the cesspool maven-turned-restauranteur, who does find late-life amour in the arms of the new pharmacist, Jenn (Annabelle Apison).  But will the return of Mrs. Tishell (Selina Cadell), the original pill-dispenser, fresh from the bug house (after kidnapping Martin and Louisa’s infant as a show of soulmate bonding for the doc) throw a monkey wrench into the October affair?

Al meanwhile has set his cap for Morwenna (Jessica Ransom), Martin’s fetching receptionist, who is quasi-dating the Ellingham’s male nanny (Felix Scott), who is being pursued by M.P.s for going AWOL (he couldn’t understand why the British military couldn’t come to terms with his OCD, apparently too anal even for the rigid corp).

Another return is of harpy Margaret (Claire Bloom), Martin’s mother, now widowed, rife with mercenary ulterior motive.  Margaret’s “you monster” showdown with her sister-in-law is comparable to Toho kaiju at its prime.

Which brings us to the character of the sister-in-law herself (my personal favorite character on the show), Dr. Ruth Ellingham, magnificently enacted by the wonderful Eileen Atkins.  As Dr. Ruth, Atkins possesses all the requirements that her profession demands (she’s a therapist and psychiatrist) with a modicum of Martin cool (in the icy meaning of the word) that adds up to hilariously funny.  Ruth’s appearance on a Kathy Lee-esque radio talk show is a highlight, as is her vocation’s mispronunciation of “town psychic” by the villagers.

The bungling Constable Penhale (John Marquez), too, has much more to do here, proving as ineffectual as ever – no more so than when he literally shoots himself in the foot during a law enforcement survival weekend.

Of course it’s Martin (the Doc and Clunes) who provides the glue cementing the crazy-quilt narratives.  His battling with mother, marriage, babysitting, dumbass patients and a determination to beat his blood phobia zooms SERIES 6 to the top of any comedy fan’s must-have 2016 DVD/Blu-Ray list.  Clunes’s appearance as guest speaker at a children’s day fete is a side-splitter – as well as a prelude to a genuinely suspenseful and truly shocking capper.

The 16 x 9 DVDs look glorious in their colorful depiction of Cornwall and the stereo-surround is a hoot with gulls cawing around one’s media room (plus a nice showcase for Colin Towns’s enchanting music).  With 64 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage as an added incentive, there’s really no reason not to schedule an appointment at Doc Martin’s and pay a visit to Port Wenn, although necessary precautions might be in order for those with allergic reactions to nuts.

DOC MARTIN: SERIES 6.  Color.  Widescreen (1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic).  Stereo-surround. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment.  CAT # AMP-2145.  SRP:  $39.99.

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Gob-Smacked

A sneaky hybrid post-Code/pre-Code entry, the July 1934 release of HERE COMES THE NAVY raucously arrives on made-to-order DVD-R from the formidable vaults of the Warner Archive Collection.

Truly a movie deserved of the accolade “rollicking,” HERE COMES THE NAVY took a (what else?) feisty Jimmy Cagney, fresh from his cine-hoofing debut in Footlight Parade, and gave him more comedy (albeit of the rough-house kind) to play with than ever before.  The results were intoxicating – just the tonic needed for Depression-weary audiences.

Like all Warners pre-1935 flicks, HERE COMES THE NAVY wastes not a frame to tell its tale of an easily riled iron worker who insults on-leave CPO Biff Martin (Pat O’Brien).

O’Brien, looking for a little cushion-pushin’ action, crashes an Iron Workers Ball at the Union Hall and horns in on the Cag’s trampy girlfriend Dorothy Tree (and, as soccer announcers love to shout, SCORES!).  This only further infuriates the screen’s Master Guardian of the Grapefruit, who vows nothing less than ID Channel revenge on the naval officer.  In quick succession, Cagney is relieved of his employment (a polite term) and plots to join the Navy for the supreme purpose of taking O’Brien out (and not in a Match.com way).

It should be mentioned that Jimmy’s moniker is Chesty O’Connor, an in-joke amongst sea-faring men of the day.  While one would expect a character named Chesty in a WB pre-Coder to be portrayed by Joan Blondell, Cagney’s evocation is coded language for puffed-up loudmouth.  Or in pure Warners Jimmy Cagney terms, just another of those lovable sociopaths who punched, badgered and shoved their ways into our movie-going hearts, a veritable cranky doodly dandy.

Instantly, Chesty becomes pals with inept, but appropriately named Droopy, played (with his usual panache) by Frank “Ha-ha-ha” McHugh.  That Chesty didn’t realize he’d be under Biff’s command (and not an equal) is merely a temporary hurdle to clear.  There’s a bigger problem though; Chesty has fallen hard for the super-gorgeous Dot (enacted by the super-gorgeous Gloria Stuart, a last-minute replacement for Margaret Lindsay, who bowed out due to illness), who, drat, seems to be strangely affectionate toward Martin.  Well, good news/bad news; she’s not his squeeze, but his sister and a lifelong military brat.  “Look at them lines on that destroyer,” gasps McHugh to Cagney, who, in classic pre-Code form, passionately agrees (he’s ogling Stuart).

That Chesty constantly gets into hot water is what makes HERE COMES THE NAVY so much fun.  The bickering, bantering and bitch-slapping between himself and O’Brien, thugs, mugs, dames and flames seemingly knows no bounds (and that includes the bounding main).  Natch, in real life, Chesty’s breaking all the rules would early-on have guaranteed a court-martial; in this pic, Chesty can do no wrong, and that extends to going AWOL in blackface (well, it is the Jazz Singer studio).

The resolution:  Chesty’s a basically decent guy, who ultimately “comes through” and becomes a hero in a thrilling dirigible finale (remember this was made before the separate advent of the Air Force – when all things aviation-oriented were a sidebar of the Navy).  Thus, one can only applaud Chesty’s reckless behavior; personally I envision him to eventually ascend to officer status, ideally helping to supervise the Manhattan Project.

The script (by Earl Baldwin and Ben Markson, based on a story by Markson) is full of great one-liners (many from uncredited assist by gag writer Joe Traub), delivered in typical fast-talking Warners style by the superb cast (but especially the lead trio, who would become an integral part of Hollywood’s self-dubbed Irish Mafia).  The swiftly paced directed by Lloyd Bacon complements the writing and histrionics; it’s genuinely smooth sailing.

Warners hit a homerun with this movie, gleaning reams of publicity for its location photography.  The pic was largely shot at NAS Moffett Field in Santa Clara, CA, the Navy Yard in Bremerton, WA, and San Diego’s Naval Training Center.  Unintentionally, this accounts for HERE COMES THE NAVY‘s one eerie factor.  The  vessel where Cagney, O’Brien and McHugh practice their craft is none other than the Arizona, the battleship made infamous seven years later during the Pearl Harbor attack (a barrage of Arizona promotion stills with a laughing Cagney and Stuart flooded the fanzines and Sunday supplements).

On an anchors aweigh up note, Cagney & Co. all seem to be having the time of their lives on this movie.  And that unabashed enthusiasm was contagious, jubilantly infecting audiences and the majority of critics alike.  HERE COMES THE NAVY wasn’t merely successful; it was a box-office blockbuster.  Indeed, an abundance of footage had to be edited out before the release, and, even so, the running time is nearly 90 minutes – an unusual duration for a pre-Code Warners title (the included trailer contains bits of unused sequences).

The wildfire effect of HERE COMES THE NAVY was a precursor to what, fourteen years later, would be termed as the Red Shoes phenomenon, where millions of girls pushed the enrollment of ballet school applications to astronomical levels.  Yup, the Navy happily reported that enlistment had noticeably increased once HERE COMES THE NAVY went into general distribution (that bashin’ ‘n’ boffin’ lifestyle was just too good a deal to pass up).  Join the World and See the Navy proudly heralded the slogan parody WB ads, and it caused much grief amongst America’s other service arms of the military, who demanded equal time (much to the delight of the studios, who were subsequently given carte blanche access to our nation’s sprawling bases and boot camps).

With aviation on the rise, Warners wasted not a second in readying Cagney for Howard Hawks’ Ceiling Zero (sadly unavailable, due to rights issues).  Other flying flicks like Devil Dogs of the Air and China Clipper followed (with and without the red-headed dynamo), but with less success, due to the now-rigid guidelines of the Code.  As indicated earlier, HERE COMES THE NAVY (officially Cagney’s first movie after the Legion of Decency’s quarter-century’s reign of terror) made it as a quasi-pre-Code title by the skin of its teeth with just enough raunch to send you to the principal’s office, but not enough (a la Convention City) to ship you to a clinic for reasons respectable folk only whispered about.

As mentioned above, many critics went ga-ga over HERE COMES THE NAVY.  Most prophetically, it was cheered by Time magazine for being “rapid and authentic” and “a satisfactory addition to a series of cinema cartoons which, because of their color and mood are indigenous and timely, may be more interesting than most current cinemas 20 years from now.”  The movie was also nominated for Best Picture by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (losing, like everyone else did in 1935, to It Happened One Night).

The 35mm transfer of HERE COMES THE NAVY is excellent, nicely showcasing the location work of d.p. Arthur Edeson.  And, as is the case with Warners movies, the mono audio is aces, loud and brash like its star.

HERE COMES THE NAVY.  Black and White.  Full frame (1.37:1).  Mono audio.  Made-to-Order DVD-R from The Warner Archive Collection.  CAT # 1000478245.  SRP:  $21.99.

Available exclusively from the Warner Archive Collection:  www.warnerarchive.com

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