Follow the Fleet [1936]

Of the nine films Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers completed for RKO Pictures, Follow the Fleet falls short of the top echelon. Coming between series peaks Top Hat and Swing Time, Fleet repeats the mistake (à la Flying Down to Rio and Roberta) of casting Fred and Ginger as the comic couple, while the romantic roles went to Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard (before she went on to fame with her husband, Ozzie Nelson, in Ozzie and Harriet). Fred puts down his top hat to become sailor Bake Baker (yet another of his alliterative screen names), while Ginger plays old flame Sherry Martin. The two are reunited when Fred takes shore leave in San Francisco, and soon their efforts turn to helping Ginger's sister Connie (Hilliard) land Fred's shipmate Bilge (Scott). (Look for Lucille Ball and Betty Grable in small roles.) Too much screen time is spent on Hilliard and Scott, but Fred and Ginger make up for it with plenty of laughs and some classic musical numbers, and Irving Berlin's score is one of the best of the series, with cunning lyrics and melodies that linger in the memory. Highlights include Fred and Ginger in a dance contest, a Ginger solo tap number, and "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket," their best comic dance. The pièce de résistance is "Let's Face the Music and Dance," a show within a show in which Fred and Ginger don their customary evening formals. Effortlessly flowing from pantomime to song to dance, this sublime piece of storytelling is one of Fred and Ginger's defining moments. --David Horiuchi

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