An author of dime novels (Red Skelton) gets caught in an international conspiracy when he writes a piece that inspires fellows not of the allied persuasion to involve a musical star (Eleanor Powell) in carrying a magnetic mine to Puerto Rico.
Somehow I managed to avoid watching this film until tonight. I saw I Dood It long before it and I wasn’t so fond of it, so I guess I just didn’t want to be disappointed by another Eleanor Powell-Red Skelton title.
The film opens with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra playing the “Hawaiian War Chant (Ta-Hu-Wa-Ha-Hai).” The number is perfection, it’s Tommy Dorsey at his best. It’s just a shame that Eleanor Powell didn’t make her part in the number a bit longer. We’re not short in Powell dance numbers in Ship Ahoy, however, she has a grand total of 5 production numbers–even a number where a portion is in morse code.
Ship Ahoy speaks the language of jive, it’s hep to the reet beat. 27 minutes into the film, I noticed an Italian fellow walk up to the mic. I thought it could potentially be Frank Sinatra being that it was Tommy Dorsey’s band and the right time period for Frank to take the lead, but he was looking down and it just didn’t look like Frank to me. Once he got up to the mic, I burst into laughter. I called the Italian correctly. It was indeed a very young Ol’ Blue Eyes singing “The Last Call for Love” in his second film appearance with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (and no doubt in a costume that was used for Balalaika with Nelson Eddy 3 years prior). The first Sinatra film appearance was in Las Vegas Nights which was released the year before.
For the most part, the slang and the gags don’t get in the way or stretch for too long–a bit of a problem for Red Skelton films in general. There’s a couple bits toward the end that seem a little unnecessary. Same goes for Bert Lahr who manages to tone it down enough to be quite watchable, although he may not have fared so well on the big screen, but for my tiny little window he’s a joy to watch until the rare times the punch lines get carried away.
The plot itself seems to me to be a bit too familiar to Skelton’s Whistling in the Dark (1941), where he played Wally Benton (he revisited the role twice more–the second time during the same year and the third in 1943). This film must have seen modest success, because MGM teamed Powell and Skelton again in I Dood It which was released the following year.
Ship Ahoy is a fun film with great music and where it’s short on a solid plot, it’s long on great swing numbers danced by Eleanor Powell and vocals from a budding Francis Albert Sinatra.