It’s no secret that I love a good sailor musical, so when I caught wind of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club, it took only a moment’s perusal of the channel’s upcoming schedule to make my pick: All Ashore, the 1953 musical in which Rooney plays, yup, a sailor on leave. One nice thing about getTV is that they’ll replay the same movie throughout the month, so I actually caught the not-on-DVD film a few weeks ago, in anticipation of it airing again this evening (September 4th)!
Rooney plays Moby Dickerson (really), a stick-in-the-mud sailor looking forward to spending his shore leave in blissful solitude on the vacation island of Catalina, off the Southern California coast. Unfortunately, his shipmates include ne’er-do-wells Joe and Skip, who’ve lost all their spending money in an underground poker match on board the night before. They conspire to tag along on Moby’s vacation and sponge off his budget for their own entertainment; however, they immediately ruin the trip by dragging Moby to a skeezy bar, where they’re drugged and robbed by three women and left without a penny to their names. Or, more accurately, Moby joins his shipmates in a cashless state. Already defeated just steps off the ship, Moby wants to go back and salvage the rest of his time off, but Joe and Skip insist they’ll make things right and get him to Catalina. They do… but it’s not quite the peaceful vacation Moby had envisioned.
I know Rooney can be a somewhat divisive character among classic film fans, and he’s certainly not a unanimous candidate for beatification anytime soon. So for those of you who aren’t quite on the Rooney train, I’m pleased to report that you may enjoy watching this movie simply for the absolute heaps of abuse he takes: his so-called buddies steal his money, his GIRL, force him to wear ridiculous costumes while working to pay for their room and board, lock him out of his own hotel room, disrespect him at every turn, and so on and so on. Every time Moby’s about to experience a fleeting moment of happiness or pride, these guys come and snatch it away. Plus, these jerks never really even face any sort of comeuppance or punishment; Moby gains total authority over them by the end, but squanders it on being a Nice Guy for the sake of a happy ending. In any case, this may be an acceptable entry point for the haters out there.
There are some fun, sparkling musical numbers that make good use of the colorful sets and real locations, including an ensemble performance on the boat headed to Catalina, and a woeful song from a depressed Moby called “I’m So Unlucky.” For some reason, this number also features a knobbed hornbill bird prominently in the background, though it’s mislabeled as the more exotic (albeit invented) “Harlique Hornbill.” (This is one of the few facts on the knobbed hornbill’s Wikipedia page, so I felt compelled to share that bit of trivia, and will make sure to note any further inaccurate background bird labeling in musicals moving forward.) The dialogue is pretty quick, snappy, and sometimes saucy, and although watching Moby get repeatedly taken advantage of can be a bit frustrating, it’s also fun to watch him occasionally gain enough confidence to verbally spar with Joe and Skip. Rooney also indulges in a bit of physical comedy, making good use of his compact frame to scale telephone poles, wrangle goats, and scamper under girls’ beds for comedic effect.
The film ends with an odd dream sequence, in which Moby pictures himself a real “hero”—complete with a dubbed baritone and costumes raided straight from the wardrobe department’s generic “king and castle” section. The fantasy is kind of a mini-movie in itself, with its own mythology, villains (of course, played by Joe and Skip), and a damsel in distress, who is a twin of the second woman Moby tries to woo on the other side. With the benefit of this visualization, Moby realizes that maybe he really does have what it takes to be the hero, and attempts to carry this newfound confidence back into reality.
All Ashore is a strange but agreeable musical, making good use of location shoots on Catalina Island and believable anti-chemistry between the stars. There’s an almost stubborn lack of mentioning historical events outside the realm of the plot, but the 1953 release dates it to the final months of the Korean War—not that anything within the movie hints to that. American support for the Korean War fluctuated a bit more than World War II had, so perhaps it’s understandable that the film lacks a bit of the bite those classic World War II sailor musicals were able to enjoy. Still, it’s interesting look at one of the last moments in history where you could set a film about enlisted men during wartime—and not even mention the war.
All Ashore airs on getTV several more times this month, including: Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 8:50pm; Thursday, Sept. 5 at 12:30am; Sunday, Sept. 21 at 1:00pm; and Thursday, Sept. 25 at 5:10pm. All times listed are Eastern, so check the getTV schedule for conversions to your area.
This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September. Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.