Cast & Crew
Joe E. Brown
Johnny Mack Brown
When his ship's entrant in a boxing match is hurt, braggart sailor Handsome Callahan is tricked into taking his place because he is always boasting about what a good fighter he is. He is going down to defeat when his opponent, hearing a bugle, stands at attention and Handsome's punch knocks him out. Before he goes on leave, a sailor steals a pair of baby shoes from Duke, an officer and a favorite of the men and hides them on Handsome. Handsome tries hard to pick up a variety of women with no success until Helen Farnsworth, the admiral's granddaughter, hits him with her car. The baby shoes fall out of Handsome's pocket and he makes up a story about them for Helen's benefit. Recognizing the shoes as a pair she gave to Duke, her fiancé, she realizes that Handsome is a liar and takes him home with her, planning to have some fun with him when he meets the Navy officers having dinner there that evening. She arranges for him to be guarded by her butler and then asks the officers to treat Handsome as an old friend. Williams, a spy, steals the plans for a robot airplane pilot that Duke invented which automatically returns the plane to its point of origin. Duke discovers the theft and signals to Handsome, who is escaping just at that moment, to follow the culprit. In the air, Handsome knocks out the pilot and parachutes from the plane to an empty ship, the target for bombing practice. The plane returns to its home ship and Williams is captured. Handsome avoids injury during the bombing and is promoted for capturing the spy, after which he promises never to lie again--until the next opportunity.
Joe E. Brown
Johnny Mack Brown
Son of a Sailor
In Son of a Sailor Brown plays an idiot who winds up succeeding in a situation that seems well beyond his skill level...but that's pretty much what he did in every movie. This time out, he's "Handsome" Callahan, a sailor who badly wants to live up to the example of his heroic father. For reasons that are too ridiculous to get into, Handsome finds himself aboard a target-practice ship that's scheduled to be sunk by the Navy. This, as you might expect, leads to his accidentally breaking up an enemy spy ring. And there you have it.
Brown, of course, later appeared in Billy Wilder's classic comedy Some Like It Hot (1959), and capped the film with one of the great closing lines in film history. But Son of a Sailor, for all its silliness, features two performers whose lives later took exceptionally tragic turns.
Brown's co-star, Jean Muir, appeared in a series of mostly mediocre films for Warner Bros. throughout the 1930s (an exception was A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1935), but she, like so many other performers, eventually fell victim to Joseph McCarthy's "Red Scare." On Aug. 27, 1950, Muir was about to debut in a TV series called The Aldrich Family when the show was suddenly and unceremoniously canceled by NBC. It turned out that Muir's name had recently appeared as a "Communist sympathizer" in the publication, Red Channels. Would-be viewers raised such a stink with the network, the plug was pulled, even though there wasn't a shred of evidence to support what was written.
Muir insisted that she was never a Communist, and said that she viewed the party as a destructive force in America. Nevertheless, she didn't work on TV again until 1958. In later years, she taught acting classes at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.
At least Muir lived through her trials. The same can't be said of her beautiful, talented co-star in Son of a Sailor - Thelma Todd. By 1933, Todd was a well-known comic actress who co-owned a popular Hollywood restaurant called The Sidewalk Cafe, which brought her into contact with all kinds of big-spenders, some shady, some respectable. She was a modern woman who very much enjoyed her time in the spotlight. She also managed to break a lot of hearts along the way, and ended up addicted to pills.
In due course, she made the mistake of getting too close to the notorious mob figure, "Lucky" Luciano. The gangster reportedly tried to get Todd to open an illegal gambling casino on the top floor of The Sidewalk Cafe, and she refused. Shortly thereafter, she began to receive death threats and told friends that she feared for her life. On the morning of Dec. 15, 1935, Todd was found in her garage, slumped in the front seat of her Lincoln convertible. The official cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, but, to this day, there are many unanswered questions about her untimely demise. Todd's story is one of the true tragedies of 1930s Hollywood.
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Al Cohn, Paul Girard Smith, Ernest Pagano, H.M. Walker
Cinematography: Ira H. Morgan
Editing: James Gibbon
Art Design: Anton Grot
Principal Cast: Joe E. Brown ("Handsome" Callahan), Jean Muir (Helen Farnsworth), Thelma Todd (The Baroness), Johnny Mack Brown (Duke), Frank McHugh (Gaga), Garry Owen (Sailor Johnson), Sheila Terry (Genevieve), George Blackwood (Armstrong), Samuel S. Hinds (Adm. Farnsworth), Arthur Vinton (Vincent), George Irving (Rear Adm. Lee), Walter Miller (Kramer), Kenneth Thomson (Williams), John Marston (Lt. Read), Joe Sauers (Slug), Clay Clement (Blanding), Purnell Pratt (Capt. Briggs)
by Paul Tatara
Son of a Sailor
The film's working title was Son of Gobs. Motion Picture Herald notes that the ship U.S. Saratoga was used in the film. Hollywood Reporter notes that scenes for this film were shot on location in San Francisco Bay using six United States battleships and approximately 1,000 sailors.