I know what this film is trying to do. Here Comes the Navy comes across exactly how it means to; the problem is with what it means to do. Part of it is that it stars James Cagney, an actor I like, who at this point had yet to shed the tough-guy image plastered over him by films like The Public Enemy, and thus his character here is written to be a non-nonsense-taking son-of-a-gun. That should be all well and good, but as the saying goes, everything in moderation; a lesson that is lost on the screenwriters of this film, as they have Cagney basically taking no nonsense at absolutely everything in this film. That’s an obvious problem when Cagney’s character ends up joining the Navy, and it should be a recipe for plenty of “boy, what’s he gonna do next”s. Only thing is, we don’t really give a care as to what he does next, because the he in question is such an unlikable prick that even his out-of-character heroics do nothing to save him.
Cagney is Chester “Chesty” O’Conner, an iron worker on a naval dock, along with his friend “Droopy”, who weirdly enough ends up being one of the most likable characters in the film despite his nickname. Anyway; Chesty gets into a verbal sparring match with naval officer Biff Martin, played by Pat O’Brien, and evidently both men aren’t of the type to let things go, as they escalate to a physical sparring match at a gala for the ironworkers, which ends up with Chesty losing the fight, his job, and his girl. Now bound to trying to get Martin his comeuppance, Chesty joins the Navy as well, just to take a swing at Martin when he gets assigned to the same ship as him, which is stopped after all of two seconds when Martin takes his place as his superior officer. As the film goes on, more shenanigans ensue, especially when Chesty ends up enamored with Martin’s sister Dorothy, and it’s going to take something extra-heroic in order for the two men to get over their differences, especially for Dorothy’s sake. Ha; did you see what I did at the end there? I made it as if the heroic actions twice performed by Cagney’s character in the film are intended as the plot resolution, even though actually watching the film makes them feel incidental and almost antithetical to Chesty as a character, given what a tool he is for 90% of the film’s running time. That’s the basic reason to watch Here Comes the Navy; Chesty don’t like Biff, and Biff don’t like Chesty, and sooner or later they’re gonna give each other a once-over, boy howdy! Evidently there is supposed to be entertainment value in watching two men act like complete asses to each other for no reason other than to be complete asses, but that’s the sell of Here Comes the Navy, so there it is. Even with the 1930s-era viewpoint to making and selling the film, I had to admit that the film didn’t look too bad. Part of it was the assistance of the U.S. Navy in the making of the film, which heavily features the USS Arizona as a setting, one of the Navy’s many real warships of the time, and the production value added to shooting the film on a real warship was instrumental in making the film look and feel the way it does. On the other side, there was also a crapton of back-projection used throughout the film, both on shore and ‘aboard’ the Arizona, which made the film instantly feel much more dated than it already was.
This is a good example of a film made specifically for a certain audience mindset at a certain point in history. There is apparently a slew of yuks and chortles to be had by Cagney and O’Brien’s natural enmity and actions towards each other, but only for a 1930s audience; now, it just comes across as stupidly hostile chest-puffing, bravado for the sake of bravado and all that. Unfortunately, aside from that and the production value of the film added by the Navy’s resources, there’s basically no other reason to watch Here Comes the Navy. Even being a comedy that was nominated for Best Picture, it doesn’t have that heft or staying power that a good comedy, especially one nominated for the big one, should have, as I’ve said in past reviews. If I hadn’t been on this odyssey of mine, I might’ve watched it solely for Cagney, who is enjoyable even with the foibles of his character, but with even that, the film probably wouldn’t have been worth it all that much.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10