Man, Frank Borzage’s work is all over the early years of the Academy’s Best Picture nominees; he must’ve been a heck of a well-regarded director indeed. Well, if Flirtation Walk is any indication of his persisting reputation in classical Hollywood, then it’s unfortunate that such a reputation would be of a well-handled directing style utilized to make mostly forgettable and unremarkable films. I had an interesting viewing of Flirtation Walk, in that I watched it after watching Here Comes the Navy. The two films are alike in several ways, in that they both deal with Hollywood plots set in military divisions, and oddly enough, both feature Pat O’Brien in supporting roles, where he basically ends up playing the same character, albeit he’s a tad nicer to the main character in this one. These connections threatened to sour my initial viewing of this film; by the end of it, though, my initial opinion had faded, and nothing else really filled in the empty space left behind.
Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler are, together, a member of the U.S. Army and a daughter of a general, respectively. When Powell is assigned to be her chauffeur, Keeler takes advantage of the opportunity to have some fun, and after incorporating the young man in her adventures, the two wind up falling for each other, though Keeler ends up driving him away to avoid a potential military scandal as she is engaged to a lieutenant. Powell ends up pushing himself to West Point and officer’s training as a result, and some years later, the two find each other again as Powell’s character writes a theatrical play the men are to put on and Keeler is roped into playing the female lead. What the film ends up being is another ‘will they or won’t they’ scenario, and considering this is technically a romantic musical and thus requires a feel-good ending for the audience, you can guess which option the film goes with. Powell and Keeler were previously the starring couple of 42nd Street, and apparently were enough of a hit in that film to be reunited in this one, as well as a semi-sequel later on as well. While 42nd Street works in different ways than this one, what really stumped me about Flirtation Walk was how rigid it seemed, not wanting to get itself to work in any real particular way to be a boon to the audience; it ends up being another example of a film basically made for the sake of itself and not to actually entertain an audience. It’s a shame, too, because Flirtation Walk could’ve had quite a bit in its favor, but it languishes under the decision to make it as real-life authentic in the feel of its plot; by this, I mean that the whole second act of the film, which features Powell training at West Point and climbing up the ranks in the intervening years between his meetings with Keeler, could’ve easily been excised or relegated to a montage in order to fill the film’s running time with enjoyable activities and dialogue, instead of watching this one guy go through training just to put him into a scenario we as an audience could’ve gotten to in forty-five seconds of decent editing. To be frank about this part of the film: it’s boring, and tedious, and this boring and tedious mentality was at the center of the film’s structure and presentation, and thus the whole film feels this way, even the few sections of it that should’ve otherwise worked well.
This was frustrating, but not in an overwhelming way; rather, it was frustrating because the film could’ve been much more than it was, but instead… it just wasn’t. The decisions made as to where the film should go and how it should go about getting there were mostly the wrong decisions, and this was easy to tell by how languid the whole film was as a result. Add to it that the central romance didn’t even really feel romantic at all, but instead felt necessary for the sake of the film’s own existence, and you have a film that doesn’t work on almost any level. Powell, Keeler, and even Borzage have all done better, prouder work, and the only reason I can feel that this was nominated for Best Picture was because of the expanded field, as well as some of Borzage’s credentials thrown in to boot. While this isn’t a bad film, it’s not a good one, and it’s definitely not a worthwhile one to watch. But, on the other hand, I didn’t hate it, so I guess I can’t say it was all bad.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10