Cast & Crew
New York tour guide Skeets O'Reilly and Coney Island gallery operators Baltimore Clark and Dutch Herman all adore Sally, the owner of a Luna Park taffy stand. Although deeply fond of Skeets and photographer Dutch, Sally truly loves Baltimore, the manager of a shooting gallery, but is reluctant to confess her feelings. After America's entrance into World War I, Skeets, Dutch and Baltimore enlist in the Navy, and Baltimore, who has previous Navy experience, is made chief petty officer. During training, Baltimore visits Sally to explain his enlistment but, unsure of his future, shies away from proposing to her. Just before sailing, however, Skeets does propose and is given a gentle rejection from Sally, who then rushes to the dock to signal an "I love you" to the departing destroyer. After a stop in Tangiers, the trio's destroyer encounters a Norwegian schooner, which is known to be a communications "mystery" ship for the Germans. When the schooner fails to respond to the destroyer's signals, the American sailors are ordered to board the ship, which has been set fire to by its captain, Holtzmann. Before the enemy boat sinks, Baltimore secures a pile of coded messages and hands them to his grateful superiors. The destroyer is then sent to Havanna, where Skeets and Dutch, who have failed to give Baltimore love letters from Sally, enjoy a wild night of drinking with the local women. At the same time, Baltimore receives an assignment to command a phony mystery ship and, after braving a tavern brawl, forces a drunken Skeets and Dutch to accompany him. At sea for many days, including Christmas, Baltimore and his men are spotted by a German submarine. Two German officers board the schooner, believing it to be the mystery ship, and reveal to the German-speaking Dutch, who is impersonating Captain Holtzmann, their plans to destroy a fleet of American destroyers. Eventually, however, another German officer, who had been on board the real mystery ship, becomes suspicious and exposes Dutch as an imposter. As the Germans prepare to bombard the schooner, Dutch communicates the enemy's plans and whereabouts to the American fleet. After a prolonged battle with three German submarines, one of which is downed by the schooner, the American boat sinks, but the trio is rescued by the destroyer fleet. Hailed as heroes, Dutch, Skeets and Baltimore, who is now married to Sally, return to their Coney Island life.
Harry Joe Brown
D. A. Cutler
Charles R. Rogers
F. Mcgrew Willis
The story opens at Coney Island just prior to America's entry into WWI, where taffy-stand salesgirl Sally (Rogers) is the object of desire for a rivaling trio of carny Casanovas; shooting gallery operator Baltimore Clark (William Boyd), tour guide Skeets O'Riley (James Gleason) and souvenir photographer Dutch Herman (Robert Armstrong). She enjoys the attention, and though her preference runs to Baltimore, she's not about to let him know. The fun and games come to an end, of course, with the news that the U.S. is joining the global fray; all three men head off to enlist in the Navy. Baltimore, by virtue of his prior stint in the service, is made a chief petty officer.
Sally waves good-bye as they put out to sea; their destroyer is off the coast of Tangiers when it encounters a schooner flying Norwegian colors. U.S. intelligence, however, is aware that the vessel is in fact a German "mystery ship," and the gobs prepare to board her. Baltimore manages to rescue a stack of coded communiques before the German captain (Frank Reicher) successfully scuttles his craft. The naval brass is sufficiently impressed that Baltimore is given the assignment of commanding a faux "mystery ship" in order to intercept vital German stratagems, and he hand-picks the less-than-grateful Skeets and Dutch as his crew. Whether they can successfully maintain this pose, alone in hostile waters, is for the viewer to find out.
Rogers, as one might expect, was pretty much window dressing for this testosterone-fueled tale; in her autobiography Ginger: My Story, she described her one musical number, Dream Kisses, as "really like a commercial jingle...Musically, I was a long way from Embraceable You." Still, she's game and amusing, particularly when she semaphores "I love you" to the departing ship for Baltimore's benefit, and the message is dreamily accepted by all the crewmen who catch it.
Boyd would be cast again as Ginger's love interest in her follow-up, Carnival Boat (1932); he was a few years away from finding his niche in Hollywood history, making dozens of "B" oaters and TV shows in his persona of cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy. It's amusing to see Armstrong and Reicher together, two years before they'd put out to sea in another RKO production that's had something more of a shelf life, King Kong (1933) .
Producer: Charles R. Rogers
Director: Albert Rogell
Screenplay: Lew Lipton; F. McGrew Willis (dialogue and continuity); Commander Herbert A. Jones U.S.N. (story "Mystery Ship")
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Art Direction: Carroll Clark
Film Editing: Joseph Kane
Cast: Bill Boyd ('Baltimore' Clark), Robert Armstrong ('Dutch' Herman), James Gleason ('Skeets' O'Riley), Ginger Rogers (Sally), Harry Bannister (Commander), Frank Reicher (Captain Holtzmann), Henry Victor (Captain Von Schlettow), Hans Joby (Schwartz).
by Jay S. Steinberg
The working title of this film was Mystery Ship. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the title was changed from Suicide Fleet to Mystery Ship and back to Suicide Fleet within a two-week period. An August 1931 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Anthony Coldeway was "making a number of rewrites" on the script, but his contribution to the final film has not been confirmed. The U.S. Navy, which received an onscreen acknowledgment, gave approval to the script and ordered submarine crews docked in San Pedro, CA to cooperate with and participate in the filming. A Film Daily news item notes that three divisions of the Navy worked with the production and that three vessels, the submarine cruiser Argonaut, under Lieutenant-Commander W. E. Doyle, the destroyer Preble, under Lieutenant-Commander T. D. Westfall, and the Noa, under Lieutenant-Additional Commander Stuart A. Maher were used during shooting. According to other Film Daily news items, an actual ship was sunk for the production, which was shot in part at sea, and additional scenes were shot in the San Diego harbor. A Film Daily pre-production news item claimed that "thousands" of extras were to be employed during shooting. Film Daily also adds George Berliner to the cast, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. RKO rented Warner Bros.' "Coney Island street" for scenes in this picture, according to studio records.