“I feel like Mata Hari. I hope I don’t end up like her.”
I have been dying to watch musicals lately. I have not been going through a hard time with anything in my life that I would need cheering up with a happy peppy musical. I do not know where this yearning to watch musicals is coming from! I think it may be coming from the fact that my one friend and I have said over and over again every time we see each other that we want to watch Singin in the Rain. We would have watched it together by now but our one friend is the bummer she hates musicals. I know we can always get together just the two of us but we love our other friend too much to keep her out of the loop (never let it be said I am a bad friend!). Luckily TCM aired the musical Ship Ahoy! with one of my absolute favorite dancers and actresses Eleanor Powell. I was in heaven the entire time.
Tallulah Winters (Powell) is a dancer with The Tommy Dorsey Band. After a show she is taken down to a headquarter for some questioning. When she gets there a man asks her to do something for the country. He wants her to take a small magnetic land mine to Puerto Rico with her troupe, no one will suspect her of anything while she is traveling with a troupe. Tallulah proudly accepts the mission for her country. When Tallulah leaves two more men come out. They are all enemy agents working against the United States. One of them got the idea from a book by the author Merton Kibble (Red Skelton).
Merton is in the middle of writing three stories at one time. He has three typists and a piano player to set the mood of his stories. Merton is a hypochondriac he thinks he has every disease known to man. He has his friend Skip (Bert Lahr) call the doctor. The doctor has enough of Merton and tells Skip that he will stop by in the morning and hangs up. Skip stays on the phone pretending the doctor is still talking to him. Skip says out that Merton needs a vacation somewhere. Merton fights against going at first but then gives in.
Tallulah and her friend Fran (Virginia O’Brien) are on the same ship bound for Puerto Rico as Merton. Merton was sitting on Tallulah’s deck chair when they first meet. That night they run into each other again. Tallulah wants to go down to the dining room and dance. Merton does not want to dance he says he cannot breathe. He shows Tallulah a breathing technique where he stretches his arms out. She does the technique with him and stretches her arms out to him. Tallulah puts her arms around Merton and she starts to dance with him on the deck. From that moment on they are with each other until the early hours of the morning.
While Tallulah is having a good time with Merton, there are American operatives on the ship looking for the mine. They have searched the whole ship, every single room, and they cannot find the mine. Tallulah has it hidden in a radio she bought before she got on the ship.
Skip is having a fabulous time on the ship. He is after Fran like there is no tomorrow. In the city he was at every single show the company played just to see her. Fran sees him as an annoyance. Luckily for her Skip has been living it up with all the single women on the ship. Tallulah, Merton, Fran and Skip go to a dance. Merton starts singing to Tallulah then Fran starts singing to Skip until she gives him a big brush off. After the dance Fran and Skip go to his room. She tries to play the radio that Tallulah has the mine in and obviously it does not work. Back in the room, Tallulah is frantic looking for the radio. Fran had enough of Skip especially after Merton came back to the room without knocking. Fran left the radio in Skip and Merton’s room. Skip tells Merton he got a message from their editor that he needs the rest of his book. Merton dictates the story and decides to end his famous female character. Tallulah is outside the room she thinks Merton is talking bad about her about how she is just a fling and nothing. She does not know he is talking about his character. Upset she has the porter get the radio.
Merton comes to visit Tallulah before they leave the ship. She tells him everything between them is over. He tries to win her back and while is going to win her back he falls down the stairs. When he lands his case comes out of his hand. Tallulah winds up taking his case by accident and he takes hers. Merton cannot understand why every time he walks across metal his case gets stuck to it.
The American operative never find the mine. They start to think the troupe has something to with the transportation of the device. They figure someone put up a lot of money just to send them to a small dive.
That night after the show Tallulah is to meet the person to exchange the mine. When she gets back to her room and looks in her case she realizes Merton has hers. Tallulah asks the front desk for the key to Merton’s room. The person at the front desk realizes they made a mistake. Tallulah gets into Merton’s room and not too long after the house detective comes in. He tells her that Merton was only registered to the room with Skip. Tallulah thinks quickly on her feet and says she is Merton’s wife. Merton comes back to the room. He has no idea what is going on because he is so happy to see Tallulah again. They manage to convince the house detective that they are married and he leaves. Tallulah goes into Merton’s room and takes the mine. She manages to sneak out the back door. Poor Merton thinks she jumped out the window for a minute and then follows her out the hotel.
Tallulah gets the mine to the bad guys. She tells them of her mix up and now the bad guys think that Merton knows about the mine and is the enemy spy. Tallulah is taken away just before Merton and Skip come into the room. Now the two men are taken prisoner. Well, Merton and Skip manage to cleverly get away from the bad guys and then fall down a service opening in a ship. They eventually make it out of that jam too and quite hysterically.
One of the operative named Bennett finds Tallulah with the bad guys. He figured out that she has been used and goes to save her. Unfortunately he is taken prisoner too. The bad guy tells Tallulah that she is to perform her number and then come back to them without talking to anyone. In the middle of her routine Tallulah sees Merton. When they were on the ship they were sitting by a wireless station office and she knew what the operators were tapping out because she had to learn Morse Code for a routine. Now on stage she taps out a message. Merton does not know what she is trying to say. Another one of the American operatives is sitting at the table that Merton is standing near when he mentions the code. The operative manages to get her attention and ask her to tape out her message (watch clip here). The agent, Merton, and Skip get the mine and get away. Merton and Skip were trying to get away from the bad guys on a life boat. Two henchmen lift the ropes of the boat. Tallulah comes just in time and holds the two henchmen up. Merton and Skip row the boat to the middle of the ocean. They are lifted up on a submarine. The submarine is American.
I loved the cast of this film so much. I cannot get enough of Eleanor Powell. Her dancing is so amazing. She was awesome with her tapping. She hit the floor so hard and was incredible with making and keeping the rhythm of the songs. All her dance numbers were fantastic. There was one where she danced to a song that had a bit of Spanish flare. Her costume looked so good on her in that number. Powell’s acting was much better than her earlier films she looked a more comfortable outside her dancing numbers and she did not seem like she was just reading her lines like she sometimes did in her earlier films. I went nuts in the scene where Powell holds the gun on the two henchmen. It was just cool seeing her with a gun. She seriously looked like she could have played a femme fatale in a Noir. I can see Powell in a Noir film. It would have been interesting to see her in one with her husband Glenn Ford. Red Skelton I had seen in a film or two before this and he was pretty funny. When I first saw that Skelton was one of the stars I thought he was going to go over the top. He was not too much he just right for the character. Skelton and Powell were odd paired together but they worked so well they were so cute as a couple. Bert Lahr I was so excited to see because I have only ever seen in The Wizard of Oz. He was hysterical chasing after Virginia O’Brien. Virginia O’Brien no matter what I see her in always makes me laugh. Her dry sense of humor and the way she says her lines cracks me up. I was dying when she was singing to Bert Lahr. Frank Sinatra makes his film debut here. He does not act he is just the band singer. Dear goodness he was adorable.
Ship Ahoy! was so much fun to watch. The musical/dance numbers were fantastic. The acting was great. When I think of musicals I think of MGM. When other studios made musicals they were never the same as MGM’s. Although Ship Ahoy! is not a well known MGM musical today it is one of their best and most fun I have watched. Maybe whenever I buy this my one friend and I can sit through it some time together. Maybe by that time we can get our other friend into musicals.