Friday, May 7, 2021

The Navy Comes Here

Some movies showed up in TCM's 31 Days of Oscar for rather surprising reasons. One example of this is Here Comes the Navy. I had never seen it before, so I recently sat down to watch it.

James Cagney plays Chesty O'Connor, a riveter at a shipyard who's good at what he does, at least until Biff (Pat O'Brien) comes along. Biff is an officer aboard the USS Arizona (yes, the ship that sank in Pearl Harbor), but on land when he first meets Chesty who's busy catching rivets. A dispute comes up between them, and the two men nearly come to blows for reasons that make no real sense.

Some time later, Chesty is with his co-workers at the Ironworkers' Ball, and who should show up but Biff. Chesty wants his revenge from the previous fight, but when all the men go out into the alley to fight, Chesty learns that he's no match for Biff, costing him a deposit on a tuxedo, his girlfriend Gladys (Dorothy Tree), and even his job thanks to his injuries.

Now Chesty really wants revenge, but he finds out that Biff's ship has sailed, literally, since after all Biff is in the Navy. So Chesty decides he too is going to join the navy and get himself assigned to the same ship as Biff just to finish that fight and finally come out on top. This too makes no sense as I can't imagine the navy actually enlisting Chesty with such motivations, or Chesty ever getting anywhere close to the Arizona. He'd have ended up in the brig long before that with his constant insubordination.

But in that case, we wouldn't have a movie. So Chesty, along with his friend from training, Droopy (Frank McHugh), somehow get assigned to the Arizona, and Chesty immediately sets out to get himself booted from the Navy for his violent ways. Again, however, that just wouldn't do for the sort of movie Warner Bros. wanted to make, so we know that Chesty is going to be turned into a good person.

There's a big complication along the way, however. As part of a running joke about Droopy trying to buy his mother a set of false teeth (the running joke finally being revealed in the last scene), he and Chesty go to wire her the money. They meet telegraph office worker Dorothy (Gloria Stuart). Chesty immediately falls for her, and even gets her to invite him to her apartment for dinner the next night. What he doesn't know is that Dorthy is Dorothy Martin, Biff's sister. If Chesty wasn't in bad with Biff before, boy will he be now!

But Biff is going to get those chances to turn into a good person, when a couple of disasters happen and Chesty takes personal risk to save his fellow man, although in at least one case he only claims he's looking out for himself. Still, it's goin gto lead to the predictable ending that would have been pleasing for audiences of 1934 when the movie was released.

Amazingly, Here Comes the Navy got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. In 1934, there were 12 nominees for Best Picture, which might explain it. It's not exactly bad, although it has all sorts of facepalm-inducing motivations and seems unoriginal today. This, however, was the first pairing of Cagney and O'Brien, so it might have been more original to audiences of 1934. The two, as well as the supporting players, go through their paces and make something that definitely would have entertained audiences back then, although it may seem dated today.

There's also the archival footage of both the USS Arizona (indeed, some scenes were also filmed on board the ship) as well as the navy dirigible USS Macon. Everybody knows what happened to the Arizona; the Macon went down in an accident in 1935. Both ships are an interesting part of America's naval history.

No comments: