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The Navy Comes Through

The Navy Comes Through(1942)

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teaser The Navy Comes Through (1942)

The Navy Comes Through was released in October 1942, less than a year after the U.S. entered World War II, and like any combat picture released at that time, it was virtually guaranteed big box office before it even premiered. Although today far from one of the most widely remembered films of the period, The Navy Comes Through netted more than a half million dollars in profit thanks to a patriotic audience eager to witness American heroics on the battlefront.

The story takes place almost entirely aboard a ramshackle Merchant Marine freighter put into service destroying Nazi bombers and U-Boats (submarines). The crowning glory for the intrepid vessel and its crew is the capture of a German supply ship that they then use against its own navy. There's also a romantic subplot concerning the rocky relationship of one of the crew members with a Navy nurse, who happens to be the sister of the commander of the gunnery team assigned to protect the ship on its trans-Atlantic voyage. The characters are the collection of types typical of such tales, including stalwart skipper Ray Collins, gunnery commander Pat O'Brien, and a crew that includes Desi Arnaz in one of his earliest roles, former child star Jackie Cooper (appropriately named "Babe"), former heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer (father of the future Jethro of TV's Beverly Hillbillies), and hoofer and future U.S. Senator George Murphy as the nurse's beau, Sands, who must redeem himself after being falsely accused of cowardice (a fairly common plot device in many military-based pictures of the time).

The screenplay for The Navy Comes Through was based on "Pay to Learn," a story by Borden Chase, better known for his contributions to such classic Westerns as Red River (1948) and The Far Country (1954). Chase's serialized short story was the only one ever to be published twice in the Saturday Evening Post.

The film also has some other firsts to its credit. Up to this point, the trademark radio tower in the opening logo of producing studio RKO signaled the studio name. With this release, the studio changed its coded beeps to spell out "victory." Another landmark was the use of a special sky and horizon machine created for this film by art directors Carroll Clark and Albert D'Agostino. The device was developed to simulate the effect of water motion against the horizon. A trade paper article at the time noted that the sea shots were filmed on land using rocking arc lamps that projected waves upon an acre of muslin. The same publication added that the guns in the film were built from junkyard materials.

According to pre-production news items in the Hollywood Reporter, Eddie Albert was originally set to play Sands until a scheduling conflict interfered. The role was then assigned to Randolph Scott and eventually to Murphy. Another item in the same paper listed Robert Stevenson as the director. The picture was ultimately helmed by A. Edward Sutherland, who ironically started his career with a silent called Coming Through (1925). Sutherland was also known for directing such comedies as W. C. Fields' Tillie's Punctured Romance (1928), Mae West's Every Day's a Holiday (1937), and Laurel and Hardy's The Flying Deuces (1939).

The picture's working titles were "Pay to Learn" and "Battle Stations." The opening credits feature this foreword: "The Navy comes through has been such an established fact that it is now taken for granted. As a result, we do not realize that the backbone of the Navy is not ships, planes and submarines - BUT MEN."

The Navy Comes Through was premiered on Navy Day at the Treasure Island Naval Base in San Francisco. It earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects for Vernon L. Walker (photographic) and James G. Stewart (sound).

Although not so favorably reviewed and overshadowed through the years by more ambitious and accomplished combat films, The Navy Comes Through remained a popular story throughout the war years. It was dramatized on the government-sponsored radio series Anchors Away in January 1943 with the part of Sands played by Henry Fonda, who was in the Navy at the time. O'Brien and Murphy returned to their roles for a May 1943 broadcast of the story on Lux Radio Theatre, and O'Brien played it once again for a return broadcast on Lux that November.

Director: A. Edward Sutherland
Producer: Islin Auster
Screenplay: Roy Chanslor, Aeneas MacKenzie; adaptation by Earl Baldwin and John Twist; based on a story by Borden Chase
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: Samuel E. Beetley
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert D'Agostino
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Pat O'Brien (Mallory), George Murphy (Sands), Jane Wyatt (Myra), Jackie Cooper (Babe), Desi Arnaz (Tarriba), Max Baer (Berringer).

by Rob Nixon

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