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Oh, Sailor, Behave!
Adapted from an Elmer Rice play called See Naples and Die, the 1930 musical film, Oh, Sailor, Behave!, is a would-be farce that is too disjointed and indifferently executed to ever get off the ground.
In our main story, we have Charlie and Nanette (Charles King and Irene Delroy, respectively), a newspaper reporter and an heiress who have fallen in love in the Italian city of Naples. Almost immediately, Nanette is called away to deal with some family business and Charlie is left to worm his way into a difficult interview with an important army General (Noah Beery). A guard tips him off that the beautiful Kunegundi (Vivien Oakland) is the General's favorite lady, so Charlie goes about wooing her. Nanette returns to Naples, shocked to find Charlie courting another woman. She has little room to talk, because she is now married to a Russian Prince Kosloff (Lowell Sherman). After inevitable bouts of jealousy and confusion, it all becomes clear that Charlie was doing it for the story and Nanette did it to protect her sister from blackmail. Some kidnapping and murder is even thrown into the plot at the end for good measure.
While that seems like a solid little story, the title and cast billing hints that the makers of the film must not have had enough confidence in this plot to hold an audience's attention. You see, the top-billed performers in this film are "America's funniest clowns," Ole Olson and Chic Johnson. I'll give you a moment to scan my little mini-synopsis above to find their names... What? You didn't see them there? Oh right, that's because Olson and Johnson make scattered appearances throughout the film, doing stuff that has nothing to do with anything else in the movie. They have their own plot throughline and everything. They play two sailors who have come to Naples to track down a storehouse thief with a wooden leg, and instead end up chasing around a tantalizing gypsy named Louisa (Lotti Loder) while getting into other misadventures.
The inclusion of Vaudeville comedians like Olson and Johnson to add interest to an unrelated film would seem like an awfully cynical move on the part of the producers, but here's the thing: Olson and Johnson are the only reason to watch Oh, Sailor, Behave! With their rapid-fire wacky patter and Johnson's cartoonish physical tics and infectious laugh, the team's comedy certainly isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it thankfully juices up this otherwise bloodless flick.
There are a few other highlights in the cast too. Lowell Sherman as the conniving Russian prince is a foppish delight, while Gino Corrado is a hoot as an overenthusiastic maitre d'. In one moment, Corrado's character leads Prince Kosloff through a crowd, ordering them to show deference: "Bow! Bow bow! Bow! Bow!" The prince comments, witheringly, "You sound like an Airedale." (Sidenote: Glancing at Corrado's IMDB page, he looks like he might be the only person to make unbilled appearances in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Gone With The Wind, Citizen Kane, and Casablanca.)
On the musical end, the movie is littered with songs by Al Dubin and Joe Burke, best known these days for writing "Tiptoe Through The Tulips." The melodies to most of these tunes are fine, but the arrangements and performances range from mediocre to maddening. The oft-reprised "Highway to Heaven" becomes downright grating by the end.
There are some highlights in the 67-minute hodepodge that is Oh, Sailor, Behave!, but only Olson and Johnson completists (if there are such people) will truly find it satisfying.
Oh, Sailor, Behave! comes on a manufactured-on-demand DVD-R as part of the Warner Archive Collection.
Warner Archive releases tend to run the gamut as far as video quality goes, and this particular standard 1.37:1 transfer is below-average but not bottom-of-the-barrel. The film elements that have been captured here are pretty muddy, obliterating the remaining fine details not already masked by the often soft-focus photography. The film is also dogged by dirt, damage, and inconsistent contrast. On the plus side, the image remains stable and there are no significant jumps or splices, plus there are no significant digital compression problems. It's not great, but it's watchable.
The Dolby 2.0 mono audio is tinny as all heck. Certain phrases are lost and garbled, and the Vitaphone discs might have gotten warped because many of the extended notes during the musical numbers have a clearly audible wobble.
Nothin' here, bub.
Olson and Johnson are funny in this film, but they only make up a fraction of the total runtime. If you are truly curious, this flick is probably worth a rental or library checkout, but considering the below-average A/V quality, if you're not already an Olson and Johnson fan, I say just Skip It.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new single, Don\\\'t Depend on Me, is now available to stream or download on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.