Hit The Deck (1955)

Hit The Deck is a fluffy MGM musical which is preceded by the 1930 RKO film of the same name, which is based on the 1927 Broadway musical, which is an adaptation of the Hubert Osboure dramatic play Shore Leave.

The 1955 version is a reunion of the Pontipee family from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Russ Tamblyn and Jane Powell), an excuse to watch Ann Miller execute her superb tap dancing skills, a delight to see perky little Debbie Reynolds flirt with Tamblyn, while Tony Martin and Vic Damone belt out their love songs accompanied by an invisible, omnipresent orchestra. You know, fun stuff.

Its difficult to find anything about the plot of the original musical. If the 1948 radio adaptation is any indication, the plot of the original is about a seaman named Bill Smith who falls for café owner Loo-Loo, who pines for him while he’s away.

MGM abandons the melodramatic plot and creates a light comedy partly about people who are involved with putting on a production of Hit The Deck. This alteration allows the film to keep many of the original tunes in the show while tossing the context. The spunky new musical even changes lyrics.
Russ Tamblyn and Debbie Reynolds ham it up. They are so adorable.

For instance, in the song “Loo-Loo,” the darker tone of the lyrics from the play were changed to something more cheerful.


It will even warm you quicker
Than a double shot of liquor
When you’ve been on deck
And skies are cold and grey

becomes this

To delight you coffee drinkers
We have sugar-coated sinkers
And if you guys want to dunk ‘em
Dunk away

There’s much more jolly imagery in the updated version of the song.

The other part of the plot involves the widowed Admiral Smith (Walter Pidgeon) whose efficiency on the job leads to neglecting his two young adult offspring. Daughter Susan (Powell) wears a red dress with a neckline cut to there and sneaks out with the producer of the stage show, who is a married man. Her brother Daniel (Tamblyn) is on shore leave and starts a row with the civilian with the help of his fellow seamen, Bill (Martin) and Rico (Damone). This makes Naval authorities very unhappy and the three guys spend the rest of the film in hiding as Daniel tries to keep his father out of the problem.
Susan: You can take me to the opening of a new show. And I'm sure Dad will approve since it's very, very naval.     Danny: So's your dress.

Everything works out in the end, of course: parent and children begin to understand each other, Susan finds a non-married guy to date - Rico, Daniel falls for a young lady in the play (Reynolds) and Bill finally marries his showbiz fiancée of 7 years (Miller).

My favorite number in the film is Ann Miller’s show-stopping portion of the finale. The seamen on deck prepare for the “admiral’s” inspection, which is Miller wordlessly tapping out orders to the men with her feet. They respond by syncing their march to complement her taps. It’s an arresting last few minutes which leaves the film on an upbeat note.


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