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The Singing Marine

The Singing Marine(1937)

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teaser The Singing Marine (1937)

The trailer of The Singing Marine advertised the film as "1937's mass formation of stars...fun...and music. You'll surrender to the charms of Doris Weston - lovely to look at, delightful to hear." Star Dick Powell is described as "the Generalissimo of romance to twenty million sweethearts," which referenced General Francisco Franco of Spain, then in the midst of a Civil War in 1937 and Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934), one of Powell's hits. Among their costars were Hugh "Woo Woo" Herbert "Dizzier and Daffier than Ever," and Lee Dixon, "Putting everything he's got into swinging dance routines." Also in the cast were Jane Darwell, and Australian actress Marcia Ralston (then married to Jack Benny Show bandleader Phil Harris), harmonica player Larry Adler, Warner Bros. old reliable character actor Allen Jenkins, Jane Wyman - then at the start of her career - and vaudeville comic George (Doc) Rockwell. The original songs for the film were by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, and included Song of the Marines, with the lyrics "Over the sea, let's go men! We're shovin' right off, we're shovin' right off again. Nobody knows where or when. We're shovin' right off for home again!" Choreography was by Warners' top man, the legendary Busby Berkeley.

The Singing Marine was, with Flirtation Walk (1934) and Shipmates Forever (1935), a trio of military musicals that the studio had recently produced starring Dick Powell. Made with the cooperation of the military, they were an attempt to stir up positive feelings towards the armed forces, as the saber-rattling in Europe and Asia was much in the news in the mid-1930s and, while the United States tried to stay out of the conflicts, the inevitability of war became more and more obvious towards the end of the decade.

The Singing Marine revolves around Bob Brent (Powell), a marine from Arkansas (Powell was born in Mountain View) whose buddies raise enough money to send him to New York to audition for an amateur radio contest under the name of "The Singing Marine." Brent wins the contest, but success starts to go to his head, much to the disgust of his fellow marines and his waitress girlfriend (Weston). Dick Powell was a newlywed when he appeared in The Singing Marine, having recently married fellow Warner Bros. player Joan Blondell on September 19, 1936. Powell arrived back at the studio for this film and Blondell for The King and the Chorus Girl (1937) in later October 1936. Making her film debut as Powell's love interest was 19-year-old Doris Weston, who had begun her career as a singer on the real Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show and in nightclubs. She would only make nine films before retiring from Hollywood for good in 1939.

The industry trade paper Film Daily called The Singing Marine a "swell summer show with lots of color and music and Dick Powell's singing featured. [...]This is mostly Dick Powell, for he is in evidence the greater part of the time, and he seems to be singing more than in any of his other pictures. In any event it is a fine show for the younger element, for it is filled with the spirit of youth and song and laughter and love. And that about makes up the requirements for this musical-comedy type of entertainment."

Budgeted at $669,000, it made a profit of $306,000, making The Singing Marine one of Warner Bros.' biggest hits of the year. It made quite an impression on Jack Warner, Jr., son of studio chief Jack L. Warner. While at the University of Southern California, he worked in the family business as an assistant director. He later wrote, "One picture I worked on affected me deeply. It was a musical called The Singing Marine and starred Dick Powell. When recruiters from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve came to the campus, I passed the physical, raised my right hand, and suddenly was PFC Warner, USMCR, and on my way that summer to train in San Diego. My father seemed sort of proud and pleased as he told people about his crazy son."

SOURCES:

Birdwell, Michael E. Celluloid Soldiers: Warner Bros.'s Campaign Against Nazism
www.dickpowell.net
"Reviews of Films: The Singing Marine" Film Daily 1 Jul 37
The Internet Movie Database
Kennedy, Matthew Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes
Sperling, Cass Warner, Millner, Cork and Warner, Jack, Jr. Hollywood Be Thy Name: The Warner Bros. Story
Suid, Lawrence H. Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film
http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/135014/Singing-Marine-The-Original-Trailer-.html

By Lorraine LoBianco

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