Ship Ahoy (1942) – Red Skelton, Bert Lahr, Eleanor Powell, Virginia O’Brien
Ship Ahoy is a very funny musical-comedy-romance from MGM that begins with Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz) in one of his rare film appearances playing Skip Owens. Skip has fallen hopelessly in love with stage dancer Fran Evans (Virginia O’Brien). She is about to leave for Manila along with the Tommy Dorsey band and the rest of her troupe. The troupe is headlined by Tallulah Winters (Eleanor Powell). Tallulah is a talented dancer who is taken to see a government agent. He wants her to smuggle a magnetic mine to their people in Manila.
So, the patriotic dancer agrees to smuggle it onboard. After she departs the audience learns that these government agents aren’t working for the United States government. Instead, they work for the Axis powers. The film is set during World War II. The idea for having the beautiful dancer unwittingly smuggle the item was taken from a pulp magazine. It was written by Merton Kibble (Red Skelton). He’s a hypochondriac who is writing four different pulp novels simultaneously. He’s also the employer of Skip Owens, who takes an opportunity to make Red Skelton think that his doctor has ordered an ocean voyage for his health.
Red and Bert On board
So, this allows Skip Owens/Bert Lahr to follow the dancer he’s in love with on their voyage to Manila. Once on board the ship, Merton and Tallulah fall in love. This leads to an excellent musical number I’ll Take Tallulah. It also allows her to demonstrate her ability to tap dance Morse code. Which becomes crucial later on.
Once Tallulah overhears Merton and Skip talk about writing a fictional dancer out of one of the pulp stories. She mistakenly thinks that Merton is planning on throwing her over. And it turns into the traditional “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back” story, with spies capturing them, trying to recover the magnetic mine, and tap-dancing a message to the real U.S. government agents. It’s truly a delightful movie, with constant humor, nice dance scenes that are energetic enough to be entertaining but short enough not to distract from the overall story, and lots of character interaction. The verbal humor flies fast and furious, with both Bert Lahr and Red Skelton being very funny.
Some of the outstanding scenes include:
- The I’ll Take Tallulah dance routine.
- Red Skelton trying to move a suitcase containing the magnetic mine along the deck of the ship.
- A funny drunk scene where Red Skelton and Bert Lahr are trying to escape from the spies.
- The comedy/romance between the two couples.
Virginia O’Brien shines in her interactions with Bert Lahr. It’s one of my favorite Red Skelton films, and I hope it becomes one of yours as well. I rate it 4 clowns out of 5.
Soundtrack for Ship Ahoy
- I’m Getting Sentimental Over You
- (1932) (uncredited), music by George Bassman, lyrics by Ned Washington, performed by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, reprised as dance music aboard ship and danced by Red Skelton with Eleanor Powell
- Hawaiian War Chant (Ta-Hu-Wa-Ha-Hai)
- (1936) music by Johnny Noble and Prince Leleiohoku, performed by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra with Buddy Rich on drums, danced by Eleanor Powell and chorus girls
- A Life on the Ocean Wave
- (1838) music by Henry Russell, lyrics by Epes Sargent. First line sung a cappella by Bert Lahr twice. Played as background music when Merton and Skip are in the lifeboat
- The Last Call for Love
- (1942) music and lyrics by Burton Lane, Margery Cummings and E.Y. Harburg, performed by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, sung by Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers, reprised by Tommy Dorsey, Red Skelton, Eleanor Powell, Bert Lahr and Virginia O’Brien at the end
- I’ll Take Tallulah
- (1942) music by Burton Lane, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, performed by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, sung individually by Bert Lahr, Tommy Dorsey, Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell, danced by Eleanor Powell and chorus girls and Buddy Rich also on drums
- How About You?
- (1941) music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Ralph Freed, performed by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra as dance music, danced by Bert Lahr with Virginia O’Brien, William Post Jr. with Eleanor Powell, Red Skelton with Eleanor Powell and other couples
- Poor You
- (1942) music by Burton Lane, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, performed by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, sung individually by Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton while dancing and Virginia O’Brien
- Cape Dance
- Moonlight Bay
- (1912) music by Percy Wenrich, lyrics by Edward Madden, sung by Frank Sinatra with The Pied Pipers. Danced by Eleanor Powell with chorus girls
- The title changed from I ll Take Manila to Ship Ahoy because the Philippines had already fallen. So, the ship destination was changed from Manila to Puerto Rico. Also, the song I’ll Take Manila was changed to I’ll Take Tallulah.
- One song I Fell In Love (With the Leader of the Band), by Jule Styne and Herb Magidson, was filmed but not used. But the footage was used in The Great Morgan (1946).
- Frank Sinatra makes his film debut as a singer with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Also look quickly for Broadway star John Raitt as a young sailor.
Editorial review of Ship Ahoy, starring Red Skelton, Eleanor Powell, Bert Lahr, Virginia Mayo, courtesy of Amazon.com
Ship Ahoy, a patriotic musical comedy of the WWII era, swings to the tempo of its big-band times. Eleanor Powell plays a leggy lead dancer on a cruise ship who is asked to transport a mine to Puerto Rico. Neither she nor her pulp-fiction-author beau (Red Skelton) knows she’s actually working for spies who got the idea from one of his potboiler novels! The supporting cast includes Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz) and Virginia O’Brien (Till the Clouds Roll By). All of the festivities are set to the swing of Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra featuring a very young Frank Sinatra as vocalist.