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HIT THE DECK

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Ann Miller, Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Russ Tamblyn, Vic Damone, Debbie Reynolds, Walter Pidgeon
Director: Roy Rowland
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 & 5.0, French
Subtitles: English, French
Video: Color, widescreen
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: The Fall Guy short, Field & Scream cartoon, “Sometimes I'm Happy” out-take, trailer
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: April 8, 2008

Sing Hallelujah, Hallelujah; and you'll sing those blues away!

Film ***

For two decades following the advent of sound cinema, MGM was the undisputed king of the Hollywood musical.  The golden age of musicals lasted until the late 1940’s, but by the 1950's, the movie industry had changed.  Musicals were drifting out of favor, and the studio system that had fostered them was dying out.

Musicals were generally expensive to produce, too, so studios began to turn increasingly to tried-and-true product.  As a result, original screen musicals were slowly replaced by adaptations of already successful Broadway shows.  Hit the Deck (1955) represents one such film.  Based on a stage musical, Hit the Deck also evokes such 1940's musicals as Anchors Aweigh and On the Town in its story about the misadventures of amorous sailors on leave.  Hit the Deck even follows the standard MGM formula for musicals - it is filled with charismatic singers, extravagant sets and costumes, energetic dance sequences, and catchy tunes.

The story centers upon a trio of navy friends.  Chief boatswain Bill (crooning Tony Martin) is the natural leader of the trio, which includes sailors Rico (Vic Damone) and Danny (a young, pre-West Side Story Russ Tamblyn).  Together, these men have been given 48-hour shore leave, and they are determined to hit the town and have some fun!  Bill opts to visit his long-suffering girlfriend, showgirl Ginger (dancing dynamo Ann Miller), who has waited six long and futile years for Bill to propose.  Rico goes home to visit his mom, while Danny visits his admiral father (Walter Pidgeon) and his sister Susan (Jane Powell).  The three navy friends agree to rendezvous later in the evening with dates, although any optimism for hours of carefree fun is soon dashed.

Ginger, her patience exhausted, wants to dump the noncomitant Bill.  And Susan’s date for the evening is ruined by an overly-protective Danny.  The misunderstanding and resulting fisticuffs between the sailors and Susan’s date is a “brawl over some dame” that soon lures an angry hornets’ nestful of shore patrolmen in hot pursuit of Bill, Rico, and Danny.  The three friends end up sadly cooling their heels at Rico's place while trying to figure out a way to avoid court martial or worse.

But, Hit the Deck is a light-hearted musical, so in the end, we know that the chaos will surely sort itself out.   In the meantime, we can be entertained by the likes of Ann Miller’s impressive dancing skills in such numbers as the seductive “Keepin’ Myself for You” and “The Lady from the Bayou” or by several Jane Powell ballads, such as “Sometimes I’m Happy.”  Debbie Reynolds, as a cute showgirl perplexed by her inadvertent involvement in this whole messy affair, gets a few show-stopping tunes of her own, including the song-and-dance duet “A Kiss or Two” with Russ Tamblyn and a funhouse sequence, also with Tamblyn, that strangely resembles a similar number starring George Burns and Gracie Allen from A Damsel in Distress.

“Hallelujah,” the most famous tune in Hit the Deck, opens the film and is used in a reprise for a finale featuring the entire cast, including a plethora of dancing sailors!  It is a cheerful and ironically optimistic conclusion to a brand of MGM movie magic that only a few years later would produce the very pessimistic and tragic musical West Side StoryHit the Deck was one of the last big-budgeted classic-style MGM musicals, and ultimately, while it does not compare with the very best MGM musicals, it still remains a highly enjoyable reminder of a bygone era of musical filmmaking.

Video ***

Hit the Deck was photographed in the Cinemascope widescreen format.  Color is by Eastman Color and printed by Technicolor.  The musical looks quite lovely, with only a few age-associated mars.

Audio ***

Hit the Deck offers the original 4-track theatrical mix, a new 5.1 Dolby digital mix, or the French dub for listening pleasure.  The audio is not aggressive but serves the film well.

There is an additional option to listen to the entire film with 5.1 music only, no dialogue.  This option is most useful during song-and-dance sequences; unfortunately, the disc’s chapter stops do not exactly mark the start of each musical sequence, so some fast-forwarding may be necessary.

Features *

Hit the Deck is available for individual purchase or as part of the Classical Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. 3 box set.

This particular disc offers a pair of short subjects.  One is The Fall Guy (9 min.), a Pete Smith comedy starring clumsy stuntman Dave O'Brien.  The other is Field and Scream (7 min.), a cartoon about a hapless sports hunter . 

The remaining bonus features are an audio-only out-take (4 min.) of Jane Powell and Vic Damone singing "Sometimes I'm Happy" and a very faded, yellowing theatrical trailer (4 min.) highlighting the film's musical numbers.

Summary:

Hit the Deck is light-hearted and innocent family fare crafted in the classic MGM musical mode.

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