31 March 2008 | bkoganbing
Arthur Murray Taught Betty Dancing In A Hurry
The Fleet's In is a wonderful wartime musical that was the last effort of director Victor Schertzinger. You can't really go wrong with a film that stars William Holden, Dorothy Lamour, Betty Hutton, and Eddie Bracken. That together with one of the most popular bands of the era Jimmy Dorsey's Orchestra with vocalists Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell.
It's a really slim plot to hang a lot of nice songs on. William Holden is a shy sailor, the type that Frank Sinatra would play over at MGM in a few years. He gets a picture taken with movie star Betty Jane Rhodes while he was just asking for an autograph. Immediately he gets the reputation of a wolf. And a challenge comes with it, to see if he can get to first base with 'The Countess' as USO entertainer Dorothy Lamour is known for her unapproachable demeanor. A lot of money is riding on this including money from Holden's pal Eddie Bracken.
If you don't know where this is going you haven't seen too many musicals. But the plot's not important here, just sit back and enjoy the numbers.
William Holden after his war service which started next year looked to get out of parts like this which he described as his 'Smiling Jim' roles. It's hard to believe this is the same guy who is the opportunistic Joe Gillis from Sunset Boulevard, the cynical Sefton from Stalag 17 or the resourceful Shears from The Bridge on the River Kwai. Yet at the beginning of his career these nice kid roles were all that his two studio masters, Paramount and Columbia, saw him in.
Director Victor Schertzinger died suddenly right after completing this film in 1941. It was not released until the following year. Note there are no references to any war per se. Schertzinger not only was a film director, but a talented composer. He may have done his best work however in this film in collaboration with lyricist Johnny Mercer. Besides the numbers here he wrote One Night of Love for Grace Moore for that same titled film which he directed and he wrote for Dorothy Lamour in The Road to Singapore, The Moon and the Willow Tree. He directed both The Road to Singapore and The Road to Zanzibar and learned early on to just let Crosby and Hope have a loose rein.
Betty Hutton got her first notice in this film with the song Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry. This was her first feature film role and she was a star after The Fleet's In. She was paired with Eddie Bracken and I've no doubt that Preston Sturges saw them together and had the idea to team them again for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.
Jimmy Dorsey had one of the best bands of the era and this may have been his best showing on the big screen. The band sang Amapola which was already big hit for them, but also they introduced Tangerine and I Remember You from this score. Tangerine was very popular in its day, a big hit for Jimmy Dorsey and his band singers Helen O'Connell and Bob Eberly. But I Remember You has had a lasting popularity down to this day. If you remember it was used as the theme song for James Caan's character in the Bette Midler film, For The Boys. I think The Fleet's In is worth watching for the Dorsey band alone.
But if you like all the other performers in it so much the better. Though The Fleet's In is not one of those films that Bill Holden would have liked to have been remembered for, still seeing him as 'Smiling Jim' is something different than most. And seeing Betty, Dotty, and Eddie in the same film is also a blessing.