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Follow the Fleet

Follow the Fleet (1936) is one of the weakest of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals, with a preposterous seagoing plot and secondary performances that are often bizarre or simply inept. And yet the songs, by Irving Berlin, are among the best in the series. In the fifth Astaire/Rogers team-up, Fred is oddly cast as a sailor (who was once, of course, a hoofer) and kicks off the movie with Berlin's silly-but-endearing "We Saw the Sea." On a much-desired liberty, Astaire and his buddy, played by Randolph Scott, stop at a dime-a-dance club where Fred encounters Ginger, playing a sassy dancer who used to partner with Astaire, and Scott hooks up with Ginger's mousy sister (Harriet Hilliard, pre-Ozzie Nelson and their "Ozzie and Harriet" TV show). Rogers' first number at the club is a typical Berlin toe-tappin' "forget yer troubles" number called "Let Yourself Go" (look for Betty Grable as one of the backup singers) and a dance contest throws Fred and Ginger together again — at which point the simply awful plot kicks into high gear. Harriet and Ginger have inherited a ship, see, but it needs fixing up. So the foursome get together with the idea of putting on a big show by turning the ship into a theater and a number of ludicrous hate-you-love-you complications ensue. Throughout, the dance routines are subpar which is especially frustrating given the great score, including songs like "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket" and "I'd Rather Lead a Band." In fact, the whole mess would be worth ignoring completely if not for two things — the sight of Randolph Scott in a Navy dress uniform and the sublime Rogers and Astaire performance of "Let's Face the Music and Dance," one of the most memorable numbers of their careers. Sadly, this one is for completists only. Warner's DVD release of Follow the Fleet offers a very clean, if very soft, transfer in the original full-screen ratio (1.33:1) with good black-and-white contrast. The monaural Dolby Digital audio (with optional English, French or Spanish subtitles) is excellent as well. Extras include a new featurette, "Follow the Fleet: The Origins of Those Dancing Feet" (14 min.) with author/film historian Rick Jewell, Astaire's daughter Ava, and others talking about Astaire and Rogers' show business roots and digging up whatever slivers of interest about the film that they can find. Also on board are vintage 1936 extras, including the musical short "Melody Master: Jimmy Lunceford and his Orchestra" (10 min.), which features a man in one of the worst devil costumes ever singing a jazzy big band number but also showcases Lunceford's brilliant, all-black orchestra; and "Let It Be Me," (8 min.), one of the classic barnyard cartoons mocking the popularity of Bing Crosby. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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