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Hit the Deck

Hit the Deck(1955)

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teaser Hit the Deck (1955)

Hit the Deck, a 1955 musical extravaganza, probably would have been a bigger hit had itbeen released just five years earlier. With its previously filmed (andoften imitated) tale of sailors on shore leave who end up putting on a showand falling in love it was very much a thing of Hollywood's past. At thesame time, its emphasis on younger performers -- particularly DebbieReynolds, Russ Tamblyn and Vic Damone -- and a prominent role for jukeboxfavorite Kay Armen, pointed to the Hollywood of the future. Within tenyears producer Joe Pasternak, who had made stars of Deanna Durbin and JanePowell in Hollywood's golden years, would be guiding Elvis Presley throughsome of his best later musicals. By that time, the film's cast would havemoved on to non-musical roles or stage and nightclub work as thetraditional Hollywood musical came to an end.

But for the almost two hours that Hit the Deck runs, the film is atestament to the kind of razzmatazz that made even the weakest of MGM'smusicals surefire crowd pleasers. The 1927 Broadway hit first filmed in1930 had a dynamite score, mostly by Vincent Youmans, including suchstandards as "Hallelujah," "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "More Than You Know."And in 1955, MGM still had the best voices to showcase numbers like that,including Powell, Tony Martin and Damone. Just to up the energy quotient,choreographer Hermes Pan, who had worked on Fred Astaire's films withGinger Rogers, came up with a barefoot tap-dance for Ann Miller and arousing number set in a fun house for the more athletically inclinedReynolds and Tamblyn.

But it was clearly the end-of-the-line for the MGM musical. AlthoughPowell had just scored a hit with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers(1954), Hit the Deck marked the end of her MGM career. Withchanging styles and budget cutbacks, the studio didn't have any more rolesfor her and let her go. It probably didn't help that she had just endedher marriage as the result of a scandalous affair with singer-dancer GeneNelson. It was one thing for sexy dramatic stars like Elizabeth Taylor andAva Gardner to trigger scandals. But for the pure-voiced girl-next-door todo so was almost unforgivable. Press coverage had gotten so heated thatNelson, under contract at Warner Bros., was barred from visiting Powell atMGM, and rumors flew that the studio was going to replace her on Hit theDeck. Fortunately, she stayed around to deliver some of the bestvocals in her career (particularly on "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "LuckyBird"). But with all of Hollywood cutting back, she made only one moremusical, The Girl Most Likely at RKO in 1957, before fading from thescreen. More recently, she has returned as a character actress on varioustelevision series and with an acclaimed turn in the pre-Broadway tryouts ofSteven Sondheim's new musical, Bounce.

Ann Miller and Vic Damone were at the end of their MGM tenure as well. Debbie Reynolds held on bydeveloping her other talents. The same year Hit the Deck came outshe scored a comic hit in The Tender Trap as the determined virginwho lands womanizing playwright Frank Sinatra. The year after that, shewould show her dramatic chops as a working class bride in The CateredAffair, more than holding her own against such dramatic heavyweights asBette Davis and Ernest Borgnine. Although Russ Tamblyn would still have someshots at musical stardom -- the musical fantasy tom thumb (1958) andthe Oscar®-winning West Side Story (1961) -- he, too, had tobranch out into other roles, eventually moving into character work on theTV series Twin Peaks and developing his talents as a poet and visualartist. He's also watched his daughter, Amber Tamblyn, spearhead a newgeneration of stars with her work on the daytime drama GeneralHospital and the prime-time hit Joan of Arcadia.

Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Roy Rowland
Screenplay: Sonya Levien, William Ludwig
Based on the musical play by Herbert Fields and Shore Leave by Hubert Osborne
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Music: George E. Stoll
Principal Cast: Jane Powell (Susan Smith), Tony Martin (Chief Boatswain'sMate William F. Clark), Debbie Reynolds (Carol Pace), Walter Pidgeon (RearAdm. Daniel Xavier Smith), Vic Damone (Rico Ferrari), Gene Raymond (WendellCraig), Ann Miller (Ginger), Russ Tamblyn (Danny Xavier Smith), J. CarrolNaish (Mr. Peroni), Kay Armen (Mrs. Ottavio Ferrari), Richard Anderson (Lt.Jackson), Jane Darwell (Jenny), Alan King (Shore Patrol).
C-113m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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