"Follow the Fleet" (Mark Sandrich, 1936) They begin this way: From the black the upper hemisphere of a globe revolves in a cloud-filled sky. Perched atop the globe at its very hub, is a gigantic radio tower that beeps out the insignia "An RKO Radio Picture." That trademark holds something special for me, for it announces that it was made by the RKO Studios--the studios that fostered such film classics as "Citizen Kane" and the truly original "King Kong." RKO made its share of turkeys but even in those, RKO's studios put a certain feel into their films. It comes from their sets. It comes from the equipment. It comes from the team. That's why M-G-M musicals look so glossily over-produced, and current Universal films look so cheesy. The two films in 130 Kane Hall this Friday are both RKO films and they are "Follow the Fleet" and "Stagedoor."
"Follow the Fleet" is very generally a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical. And it is a pleasant enough entertainment. Oh, there are some things that will not be tolerated, I'm sure--there are a few lines that a lot of feminists will hiss at, and you can chuckle over some of the clothes,* the dances and the more's dislayed in the film. After all, we are so much more advanced and sophisticated nowadays and Saturday's films--"The Rocky Horrow Picture Show," and "Private Parts" shows this to be so.
But there are some very neat things here, too. Some familiar faces--Fred and Ginger, Randolph Scott, Harriett Hillyard (who would become world-famous as the TV and real-life wife of bandleader Ozzie Nelson), and in lesser roles, Betty Grable and Lucille Ball. There are the songs by Irving Berlin ("Let Yourself Go," "Let's Face the Music and Dance") orchestrated by film music great Max Steiner. And then there are the dance numbers--the reason this film was made, its the reason this film is structured the way it was, and it's what Astaire and Rogers stars, doubly and singly. There is a mutual smash-up-your-partners'-work dance rehearsal about 3/4 through the film that will undoubtedly impress as a great number of stumbles, but is actualy as well-choreographed as any of the other dance numbers in the film. So, gee whiz gosh, folks, why don't you forget your 70's whatever-it-is attitude and enjoy yourself.
*Now, bear in mind, I was writing this during the disco 70's!
There's not much I can add, other than to say that "Follow the Fleet" introduced the standard "Let's Face the Music and Dance," and that the choreography of Astaire and the dance performance of Astaire and Rogers (and remember, she had to do everything he did...only backwards and in high-heels!) are some of the most sublimely beautiful things you will see in movies. In all the years since I've seen this film and the others, I've never seen anything that can compare. Gene Kelly had that ferocious athletic agressiveness...but Astaire and Rogers achieved Grace with a capital "G."