Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You're in the Navy Now (1951)

This comedy isn't quite ship-shape.

That's too bad because look at the talent associated with this 1951 release - director Henry Hathaway (Call Northside 777, True Grit) and actors Gary Cooper (high noon, Meet John Doe), Eddie Albert (The Longest Day) and, in his film debut, Charles Bronson.

You're in the Navy Now is based on a true story from the Second World War. The United States Navy experimented with a steam engine that would boost the speed of a sub chaser by 10 knots. Project XP11204 is pretty neat, a slice of WWII history this history buff didn't know about.

Said engine never seems to work for long, prompting numerous replacements and returns to sea to make it right. Dubbed the Tea Kettle, the boat and its crew becomes the joke of the navy. Morale is poor. Skipper Lt. John Harkness (Gary Cooper) is flustered. He's an engineer who was quickly educated in the ways of the military and pressed into service. Almost all of the crew is also new to the navy too, save George Larrabee (Millard Mitchell), an old salt who wonders what he's done to get his latest assignment. He calls his comrades "a lot of misfits."

There are numerous problems with this film. Let's start with Harkness' wife, Ellie (Jane Greer). She's way too young for him. Cooper would have been about 50 when he made this film. Greer was half her age. I complained about a wide age difference last week with The Pink Panther. The same argument stands here. It's hard to believe these two are a couple. There's no chemistry. I'd suggest not offering this line to your better half, "You smell better than an engine room."

Some of the acting is just plain bad. I'm a big fan of Mitchell, who I first discovered in the excellent war film twelve o'clock high. But there's a scene in this film where he reacts with laughter that makes him look like he's making his debut in a high school drama production. My beef isn't just with Mitchell. There are other scenes in this film that look like they involve a bunch of amateurs, not a major studio effort from 20th Century Fox and a decent talent like Hathaway.

Here's another complaint which isn't really fair since this movie was made in 1951. But I think viewers will definitely notice. The funniest scene in the film involves the Tea Kettle racing along at an unstoppable speech. Numerous collisions appear imminent. But, to a viewer in 2013, it's so obvious scenes of other ships, or structures, are cut in. Sigh. But I do love how the brass react to the bumpy ride along the way.

And, how about the top secret angle associated with the project. Doesn't that make things hush-hush? Yet everyone and his brother on the naval base knows what's going on with the Tea Kettle. New steam engines are loaded on in broad daylight. Loose lips sink ships. Wouldn't the Germans and Japanese figured out what the Americans were up to with all that chit chat?

There are funny moments in the film. Efforts to move the ship from its berth with an impatient port commander (Ed Begley) are quite well-done.

But You're in the Navy Now comes close to being a shipwreck.

RATING: 5/10

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