Classic Film Guide

Sailor Beware (1952)

Directed by Hal Walker (Souls at Sea (1937)), adapted by Elwood Ullman (High Society (1955)), with a screenplay by James Allardice & Martin Rackin, this (Dean) Martin & (Jerry) Lewis comedy is one gag after another, incorporating many of the duo's stage routines into this remake of The Fleet's In. So, if you like their stuff, you'll love this film; if you don't, you may still be adequately entertained for a 100 minutes or more. Movie mavens will recognize Robert Strauss, Leif Erickson, beef-cake Vince Edwards (in his second film), & Mary Treen and get a kick out of seeing Donald MacBride (one of his last films) and Betty Hutton, who appear uncredited.

Navy Lieutenant O'Dell (MacBride) is thrilled to see the long line outside his recruiting office until he sees the slightly built, outrageously dressed Melvin Jones (Lewis), who manages to spray ink on the Chief's uniform. O'Dell orders the recruit to get in line and Melvin finds an opening in front of Al Crowthers, who's just wrapped up kissing a blonde goodbye. Melvin seems to recognize her and Al acknowledges that, yes, it was in fact Hetty Button (Hutton). Standing behind Al, Blayden (Edwards) urges them to shorten the line and when they take up the space in front of them, Melvin bumps into a loud mouth named Lardoski (Strauss). After a heated disagreement, the men enter the recruiting office. O'Dell tells his officers to make sure that Melvin is vigorously tested, hoping he'll not qualify for service, but they misinterpret his order and instead treat him with kid gloves.

Because of a reduction in the physical requirements, Al is accepted into the Navy for the first time in 11 tries, as is everyone else. Melvin is particularly upset to learn that returning veteran Lardoski has been assigned their unit's command. During indoctrination, Melvin meets Hilda Jones (Marion Marshall), no relation, but she is attracted to his naive, unassuming, innocent nature. In fact, much to the surprise of the others, most of the women Melvin meets, tired of the typical "wolves" in uniform they meet, are attracted to him. Of course, some of this attraction is due to his being chosen to select the most kissable girl by a radio station emcee (Don Wilson), where singer Al had been asked to perform.

Eventually, Lardoski’s unit is assigned active duty, on Commander Lane's (Erickson) submarine bound for Hawaii. Coincidentally, that's where the most standoffish girl Lardoski knows lives, so he wagers Al and everyone else in his unit that Melvin can't get a kiss from her. Naturally, everyone wants in on the action, and after a voyage filled with physical comedian Lewis's comic exploits and vocalist Martin's singing, the crew arrives in Oahu. They go directly to the Palm Gardens Hotel where they run into Hilda, who'd won a 10 day trip there when Melvin selected her as the most kissable. They then meet singer Corinne Calvet (as herself), the aforementioned woman Lardoski knows, in the mango room. After her performance, Al & Melvin go to introduce themselves to Miss Calvet and her friend Ginger (Treen). Though Melvin does make an impression on Corinne, he doesn't get to first base and, instead, winds up in a dispute that leads to a challenge boxing match with another sailor later that evening. James Dean appears (uncredited, for the second time) in his opponent's corner.

*** SPOILERS ***

More shenanigans as comedian Lewis runs around the ring to avoid the professional substitute boxer, but eventually wins the fight anyway. Lardoski then orders the MP’s to find Melvin and tie him up until the bet's deadline to keep him away from Corinne and the possibility of kissing her. Melvin disguises himself as an Oriental, not PC, to avoid detection. Singer Martin croons a tune to attract Corinne; a native Hawaiian luau complete with drums is performed. Melvin is detected and surrounded by the MP’s before Corinne rescues him, takes pity on him, and then kisses him. She then learns that Al, whose attraction to her she thought was the object of the bet, really cares for her while Hilda rushes to congratulate Melvin on helping his unit win their bet with Lardoski. Hetty Button sees Al kissing Corinne goodbye, and the three ladies chase the two sailors back towards their departing submarine.

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