Sunday, March 4, 2012

A 'Walk' on the Not-So-Wild Side

"Flirtation Walk" is a 1934 musical with Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. It's the popular duo's fifth movie in two years, coming on the heels of "Footlight Parade," "Gold Diggers of 1933," "42nd Street" and "Dames."

These four films are so much fun, thanks to the crazy imagination of director/choreographer Busby Berkeley. I was prepared to enjoy yet another romp, and I desperately wanted to like "Flirtation Walk." But it was like setting your heart on ice cream only to be served a six-month-old Popsicle with freezer burn.

Released by First National, a division of Warner Brothers, the film is directed by Frank Borzage, known best for sentimental romances and sensitive dramas. In other words, he's no Busby Berkeley. But I like some of Borzage's films, so I kept an open mind.

The title refers to a place near West Point where cadets take dates for a stroll and more. The movie is dedicated to West Point, where most of the story is set, although it all begins in Hawaii.
The characters have cute nicknames like Kit, Scrapper, the Canary, Sugar Lips and Sweet Cheeks (OK, I made up the last two, but you get the idea). Powell plays Dick, aka Dickie Boy, aka Canary. He's a private stationed in Hawaii, harangued by Sgt. Thornhill (Pat O'Brien), aka Scrapper. Dick meets Kathleen Fitts (Keeler), aka Kit, the general's daughter, as her chauffeur.

Dick drives Kit out to a spot on the island where a giant luau number occurs (which supposedly was filmed on the biggest set that Warners had ever built up to this point). The number lacks excitement, but Dick and Kit (Ditts? Think Brangelina) fall in love under the moonlight.

However, since he's a private and she's the engaged daughter of a general, they can't fall in love or else it will cause a scandal for some unexplained reason. He's told that he's not an officer or a gentleman, so he enlists at West Point to become an officer and hopefully a gentleman.

Off he travels across the country to spend years studying at West Point. Kit disappears for half the film, and quite frankly, while Keeler has her charms, I'm not sure I'd spend several years changing my life after one lame luau under a full moon. For Rita Hayworth, yes. Ruby Keeler? Not so much.

But after several years and lots of marching - there's definitely a drinking game for every time a group of men marches, which you would need to stay awake - Kit inexplicably shows up and recognizes Dick immediately as he's marching on a field with hundreds of men dressed alike. Talk about 20-20 vision! But he ignores her for some reason, and the film sadly continues.

Now there's a big show, the "Hundreth Night Show," and Kit is the envy of every guy. They want her in the show, although she's shown no reason for them to think she has any talent. Since Dick, aka the Canary and show director, says "no," she says "sure" as the other guys veto Dick.

Somehow, Ditts suddenly mend their ways to take a walk along Flirtation Walk, but per this script, they are nowhere ready to get together. And, after several years, she's still engaged to the same guy, whose facial expression never changes. Isn't this reason enough for Kit to ditch the fiancé and marry the Canary?

The "Hundreth Night Show" is a total bore, and there's another drinking game whenever the camera shows Ruby's parents clapping in the audience.

For all of their movies together, Powell and Keeler don't really click in "Flirtation Walk" Instead, it's O'Brien and Powell who have the chemistry, and decades before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," you really have to wonder about their relationship (perhaps they could be called Scrapanary?) Just check the jealous look on O'Brien's face in the above photo. There's a tender, teary farewell between the two when Dick leaves Hawaii for West Point. Dick's constantly writing to Scrapper, and when Scrapper makes his way to West Point, he's more emotional about seeing his friend than Kit. Scrapper really cares about what happens to Dick, and he's not engaged to someone with an immovable face. But alas, this is the 1930s, the Production Code was in place, and besides Edward Everett Horton is over at RKO with Fred and Ginger.

Shockingly, "Flirtation Walk" was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1934, along with 11 other films. It's by no means a horrible movie, but it's far from good. As a lover of many corny but fun 1930s musicals, this one is dull. Check out the other Keeler/Powell musicals instead.

12 comments:

  1. Filmboy, a thoroughly enjoyable, tongue-in-cheek post. I wish I could comment on the movie, but although I really like the other Warners musicals of this era that you name, the description of this one always left me cold and so I've never seen it. Your post makes me think I had the right idea. I found your comments on Ruby Keeler most interesting. When you think about it, she wasn't much of an actress or singer and aside from tapping seemed not to have a great deal of dancing talent. Her greatest appeal was her cuteness--of which, admittedly, she had plenty--and her good fortune in being cast in a handful of roles that were apparently tailored to her limitations.

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    1. Ruby had cuteness, but she works best when we also get Busby's choreography. This film was a disappointment considering the other movies she made with Dick Powell.

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  2. CFB: loved this accurate description of the film "it was like setting your heart on ice cream only to be served a six-month-old Popsicle with freezer burn." Oh, I only watched this film because it was shockingly nominated for a Best Picture Oscar--must have been a really bad year in film!

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    1. Actually, it wasn't a bad year in film. Just the wrong ones nominated -- or too many nominated LOL

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  3. Well, this is disappointing. I taped this one off TCM last week and was looking forward to it. I'll get to it eventually, but maybe not so soon now. Still, that was a very entertaining write-up.

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    1. I saw the listing on TCM and wished I had written this beforehand so people could check it out themselves. Now that I've set your expectations so low, you may enjoy it more than me!

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  4. CFB, I was tremendously disappointed in this movie. It just didn't have the fun and great musical numbers I expected. Busby's absence was definitely missed. Dull, dull, dull. I don't think I even finished it! As usual, however, your post is well-done -- certainly a lot more interesting than the movie! LOL!

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    1. Thank you for the compliment. I didn't want to finish it, either, but I took one for my loyal readers! LOL

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  5. CFB, it definitely sounds like FLIRTATION WALK is more enjoyable to poke fun at than to actually watch, thanks to your delightful tongue-in-cheek review!

    On a related note, for Friday, I'm working on a blog post about an entirely different Dick Powell movie for TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED: MURDER MY SWEET. If you're OK with it, I'd love to include a link for your FLIRTATION WALK review therein. Please let me know. In any case, loved your post!

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    1. Thank you! I would be flattered if you linked to this post.

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    2. CFB, it shall be done! Thanks and you're welcome! :-)

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