Watching the DVD release of the 1934 James Cagney film "Here Comes the Navy" clearly shows how that flick earned the dual honors of a nomination for a "Best Picture" Oscar and inclusion in the Warner Archive library during the celebration of the five-year anniversary of this great descendant of former Warner division Rhino.
The action is this great drama with wonderful touches of comedy starts with a fateful Popeye and Bluto/Brutus meeting between Cagney's Chesty O'Connor and Chief Petty Officer (with the emphasis on petty) Biff Martin. The equally great (and real-life Cagney friend) Pat O'Brien plays Martin.
Martin getting into a war of words that escalates into an exchange of punches with O'Connor regarding these men goading each other when the tour that Martin is leading through a shipyard comes across iron worker O'Connor on the job perfectly sets the tone for the film. Their initial meeting is a riveting encounter on a couple of levels.
Reminiscent of the hilarious elaborate revenge schemes on the classic '90s sitcom "Seinfeld," Martin getting the better of O'Connor prompts the latter to join the navy to get a chance to even the score. O'Connor seeing Martin with Martin's loving and hubba hubba sister soon after joining him on the U.S.S. Arizona, which was later memorably sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, prompts O'Connor to enhance his planned revenge on his (largely one-sided) nemesis.
Gloria Stuart, who is best known to modern audiences for her uber-awesome job in "Titanic," does a great job playing Dorothy Martin as a smart and sensitive woman who greatly outshines Olive Oyl in keeping her brother and her suitor from pummeling each other and in getting them to respect her wishes regarding the other.
The talent of the three leads and the special chemistry that they share are a large reason that this movie with a decent story rises above the typical films of the day. Each fully gets into his or her role and relishes the inter-connected relations.
A B-story revolves around the resistance of O'Connor to adapt to the discipline and other values associated with Navy life and the efforts of that branch of the service to get O'Connor to shape up or ship out.
The following preview clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Navy" offers a good sense of both the performance of Cagney and the plot involving the conflict between Cagney and the Naval lifestyle.
A scene in which Cagney dons black face is not uncommon for films of that era (and a handful of later ones) but serves a more noble cause and is much less offensive than similar scenes in other movies.
All of these elements add to a film that is wonderful nostalgia for members of the greatest generation and an undiscovered gem for fans of the films that first entertained those folks.
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