Flirtation Walk, Hawaii, Escape and Gettin' No Respect
Flirtation Walk (1934) arrived to me as a rental from ClassicFlix. While I have an ordered queue on ClassicFlix, I often forget what I put on there or the next title shipped to me is something much further down the list. So when Flirtation Walk had arrived, it was a surprise as most ClassicFlix rentals are. I had some free time on Sunday, which is a rare thing these days, so I popped the DVD player into our BluRay player. The player has been having issues and it’s been displaying diva-like behavior. It likes some DVDs and BluRays and dislikes other. It angrily spins Ocean’s 11 (1960) making a weird buzzing noise of discontent. This makes me want to kick it because gosh darn it I need to watch Ocean’s 11 sometimes! The player seemed to like Flirtation Walk so I called a temporary truce.
I must have chosen Flirtation Walk because it’s one of the 16 films Ruby Keeler made, and I just love me some Ruby Keeler no matter what you haters say. It also has Dick Powell and the added surprise bonus of Ross Alexander, the tragic actor who never saw a long life or a successful Hollywood caree. Dick Powell plays Dickie Boy Dorcy, a private in the army who gets pushed around by Sgt. "Scrapper" Thornhill (Pat O’Brien) while they are stationed in Hawaii. What makes matters worse is that Dorcy has been assigned to escort Kathleen Fitts (Ruby Keeler) the daughter of a general who happens to be engaged to someone in the army (of higher rank than Dorcy of course). When Dorcy isn’t being pushed around by Scrapper he’s being pushed around by Kathleen. He can’t get no respect! I can sympathize with him. I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t feel disrespected by someone. Maybe I’m too paranoid or sensitive or maybe I just have “pushover” stamped permanently on my forehead. Who knows? Anyways, I know what Dorcy feels like and I don’t blame him when he packs up his things, heads to West Point Military Academy to make something of himself.
Private Dorcy and Kathleen (“Kit” Fitts, wow what a name) have a private little rendezvous while in Hawaii. She forces him to take a detour while they are on their way to a party. They stop to watch some native Hawaiians dance and sing. Of course Dorcy is asked to sing because heck he’s being played by Dick Powell. A 1930s Dick Powell must sing! This scene was interesting for a few reasons. Kathleen shows Dorcy utter disrespect by forcing him to take her there, forcing him to sing and forcing him to lay down with her for a romantic moment together, even though she knows all of this will get him in trouble. Disrespect! (Also a curious gender role reversal that becomes very important later in the film). Another interesting point about this scene was the Hawaiian hula dance. So very different from a contemporary depiction of Hawaiians performing for tourists, these Hawaiians sang in their native tongue, most didn't speak English and they were performing for themselves (at least they thought they were until they discovered Kathleen and Dorcy were watching). Now I know little to nothing about the history of Hawaii but I started to compare this scene with a contemporary movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). I know what you are thinking. I've gone off the deep end. But I assure you I haven't. Sometimes I like to watch contemporary comedies and that's okay! The Hawaii in Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a touristy haven, the locals may know a few words of Hawaiian, but don’t speak it fluently, and a few of the locals in the movie have come to Hawaii to escape something in their lives (whether it’s a desk job, an old life, a rough neighborhood, etc.) and the tourists escape there for a vacation or as is the case for the main character, to forget about Sarah Marshall. In a way, both films, while depicting different Hawaiis, are both about escaping.
So what the heck is my point? Sometimes a film comes into your life at the very exact moment you need it. Flirtation Walk is NOT a great film. It’s a film with several enjoyable parts and the kind of disappointing gender fix that's so common in films from that era. But for some reason, it came to me at a time in my life when I desperately need respect (like Dorcy does) and I desperately need an escape (like Dorcy and all the characters in Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Sometimes you realize that your soul needs something to speak to it and you chose a film for that purpose. Other times that film finds you.
Has a film ever come to you at a time you most needed it to? Do you ever watch specific films out of emotional need or for comfort?
Flirtation Walk (1934) is available on DVD from Warner Archive and for rent and sale on ClassicFlix!