Directed by: Mark Sandrich (Top Hat)
Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Harriet Hilliard
Although it tends to be thought of as a slightly lesser Astaire-Rogers film, Mark Sandrich’s Follow the Fleet (1936) does boast eight original Irving Berlin songs, some spectacular dance numbers and young Harriet Hilliard (as in “Ozzie and Harriet” before she married Ozzie) in her feature debut. It also boasts simian value. In other words, there’s a lot to like. The Astaire-Rogers pictures tended to follow a pattern of alternating formulas. That’s to say that there were two templates — the one established by Flying Down to Rio (1933) and the one established by The Gay Divorcee (1934). In the first, Fred and Ginger are an established couple (of sorts) and the drama revolves around another couple. In the second, Fred and Ginger are the central story — a basic kind of romantic comedy of misunderstandings. Follow the Fleet, like Roberta (1935), is in the first category. The plot mostly concerns the romance of Ginger’s sister (Hilliard) and Fred’s shipmate (Randolph Scott), and apart from affording Hilliard a couple of nice songs — “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan” and “But Where Are You?” — it’s not exactly compelling. It doesn’t matter much. Fred and Ginger more than take up the slack with their easy repartee and, of course, their musical numbers. They get two tap-dancing duets — “Let Yourself Go” and “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” — and the stunning ballroom number, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” And, of course, Fred gets a big solo, “I’d Rather Lead a Band.” It’s solid entertainment any way you look at it.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Follow the FleetTuesday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
In Brief: Follow the Fleet (1936) is the fifth of the Astaire-Rogers pictures, and as a movie, it’s perhaps the weakest so far (there are weaker ones to come). Its plot is no great shakes — centering not on Fred and Ginger, but on the rather colorless romance of Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard. It does, however, give us no less than eight Irving Berlin songs and three great Astaire-Rogers numbers, making for tuneful entertainment. And there’s a monkey, too.