Cast & Crew
Richard John Melville III and June Blackburn meet during a naval review in New York Harbor. Each comes from a Navy family, but Dick wants to be a singer and June, having seen her father and brother die in the war, has sworn never to marry a Navy man. Dick's father, the retiring admiral of the fleet, is leaving to be superintendent of the United States Naval Academy and his dearest wish is that Dick will enroll there as a midshipman. Dick is determined not to, but when Admiral Melville accuses him of being afraid of failing the entrance exams, Dick takes the tests and passes. Ruth returns to Annapolis where she is a dance teacher and Dick accepts his appointment to the Academy to be near her. Dick is placed in a room with three other recruits: Sparks Brown, a radio operator from the South; Johnny Lawrence, known as Coxswain, a recruit from the navy ranks; and Cowboy, from the West. All the new recruits meet with hazing from the upperclassmen, but Dick, because of his father and his fame as a singer, is a special target of friendly teasing. Dick decides to leave the hated Academy until Ruth encourages him to finish what he started. Academically, he is at the head of his class, but he makes no friends. The admiral worries about Dick's limited social life, as one of the goals of the Academy is to create bonds between the midshipmen. After Ruth moves to New York to become a professional dancer and Coxswain flunks out of school, Dick is more alone than ever. During the class's final cruise, Coxswain is one of the ship's crew and proudly informs his former roommates that he has been reaccepted to the Academy. His patriotism and love of the Navy is embarrassing to Dick, who still plans to resign his commission at the end of his schooling. During a routine practice with the guns, one of the boilers blows up. Coxswain tries to shut off the leads and is overcome by the steam. Although Dick tries to save him, both men are badly burned and Coxswain dies. When he recovers from his injuries, Dick is greeted enthusiastically by the other men. Now he proudly plans to be a Navy man.
George H. Reed
Edward L. Adams
Lieut. (j.g.) W. J. Beecher Usn
Leo F. Forbstein
Robert M. Haas
Commander M. S. Tisdale Usn
In place of the putting-on-a-show storylines of their earlier films, like 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 (both 1933), Flirtation Walk put the team back on top by simply adding music to a Warner Bros. staple, the buddy picture. Powell starred as a callow young man who doesn't appreciate the traditions of West Point until the camaraderie of his fellow students and his love for the commander's daughter (Keeler), helps him grow up. The film did so well that for the follow-up Borzage and Warner's simply moved the plot to Annapolis and the action to the sea. They even cast two other actors from the previous film, Ross Alexander and John Arledge, in similar roles, assigned the script to the same writer, Delmer Daves, and sold the film with the line "Hats off to the Navy's Flirtation Walk".
To flesh out the cast of Shipmates Forever, Warner's borrowed Lewis Stone, one of Louis B. Mayer's favorite actors, to play the Annapolis commander, a firm fatherly figure that anticipates his later work in the Andy Hardy films. They also cast film newcomer Dennis O'Keefe in an unbilled role as one of the trainees. William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures handled the production reins, allegedly because Hearst's mistress and star, Marion Davies, had a crush on Powell. As with Borzage's other Warner Bros. films, however, the director also took a producing credit.
Although noted for his ethereal, romantic approach to filmmaking, Borzage probably knew better than to try adding mystic elements to the Powell-Keeler love scenes. Although their innocence charmed audiences, it was always better expressed through youthful enthusiasm than soulful yearning. Instead, he imbued Powell's character growth with a spiritual element that gave hints of just how good an actor the singing star could be. In fact, some have called his silent scene standing at a comrade's grave the best acting of his early career, before he pulled a dramatic turnabout as the tough detective in Murder, My Sweet (1944).
As they had done with Flirtation Walk, Warner's arranged to shoot Shipmates Forever on location, this time at Annapolis. The location shoot was so lengthy, they even had to arrange to have Powell's weekly radio show, Hollywood Hotel broadcast from Annapolis. The studio also arranged to borrow an officer and two midshipmen from the Navy to act as technical advisors.
The location shooting was one of the most praised elements of the film, with Variety stating, "The views of campus life at the naval academy are highly interesting and the inside Navy stuff is presented in absorbing fashion." The musical numbers, however, were less well received. Some reviewers felt they were shoehorned into the plot and part of the problem may have been that the plot could only make room for three original numbers, none of which became standards. Nonetheless, Warner's would draw on the songs again for their cartoon unit. "I'd Love to Take Orders from You," sung by Powell and later danced by Keeler, provided the title and central number for a 1936 Tex Avery cartoon. Two years later, another of Powell's numbers, "Don't Give Up the Ship," was sung by an animated Powell in Friz Freleng's Hollywood parody "A Star Is Hatched."
Producer-Director: Frank Borzage
Screenplay: Delmer Daves
Based on a story by Daves
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Music: Leo F. Forbstein, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: Dick Powell (Richard John 'Dick' Melville III),Ruby Keeler (June Blackburn), Lewis Stone (Adm. Richard Melville), Ross Alexander (Lafayette 'Sparks' Brown), Eddie Acuff (Lincoln 'Cowboy'), Dick Foran (Gifford), John Arledge (Johnny 'Coxswain' Lawrence), Joseph Crehan (Spike), Bess Flowers (Nurse), Dennis O'Keefe (Trainee), Mary Treen (Cowboy's Girl).
BW-109m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
The film's working titles were Dress Parade, Classmates and Anchors Aweigh. A dedication on screen honors the officers and midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy. New York Times and Variety both erroneously call Eddie Acuff's character "Slim." According to New York Times, the picture was filmed largely at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD and the Navy department loaned the production an officer and two midshipmen to act as advisers. News items in Daily Variety note that arrangements were made to broadcast the Hollywood Hotel radio program (on which Dick Powell appeared) from the location. According to modern sources, another working title of the film was Navy Sweethearts. Modern sources credit Bobby Connolly with choreography and add Madeline Borzage to the cast.