Thursday, March 14, 2013

Navy Blues (1929)

William Haines' Navy Blues was his first talking role and every rambunctious/obnoxious, sly and crazy characteristic suppressed in his earlier films due to lack of sound is here let loose in all its anarchic glory. Haines-haters beware! 

Navy Blues was directed, uncharacteristically, by Clarence Brown. The plot is simple: while on shore leave, Haines falls for innocent Anita Page and courts her (stalks might be the more appropriate word), much to the consternation of Page's mother, Edythe Chapman, though not her father, J.C. Nugent, a beat-upon, forlorn fellow who also used to be a Navy man. 

Page soon leaves home with Haines and wants to marry, but Haines isn't ready for that sort of commitment. In typical fashion for MGM films at the time, the next time Haines returns to town, Page has, out of some sort of twisted sorrow and pride, become a near-prostitute. This plot twist rings totally false in the film; it isn't true to Page's character or to the tone of the rest of the film. This is a William Haines comedy, after all, not Eugene O'Neill! There's, at least, a somewhat happy ending to the film.

Cliff Edwards and his ukelele are missed (by me) in this movie. The void is occupied by fellow seaman Karl Dane, playing the kind of one-note character that ruined his career; so much talent was suppressed, wasted and undiscovered at MGM at the time.

If you like Haines' brand of comedy or want to see the uninhibited spirit of an Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey or Jonathan Winters in full bloom in an early talkie, watch Navy Blues. Movies like this one and Haines' next film, the mini-masterpiece The Girl Said No, are practically urtexts for comedy styles practiced at the end of the century.

Navy Blues is available in a good print on Warner Archives DVD-R and has been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies.