' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Navy Blue and Gold (1937)

Friday, October 18, 2019

Friday's Old Fashioned: Navy Blue and Gold (1937)

“Navy Blue and Gold” is a nice movie. That’s not to suggest “Navy Blue and Good” is a good movie, per se, though that is not to suggest it’s a bad movie, necessarily, just that it’s, you know, nice. Like, it’s apple-cheeked, fresh-faced, scrubbed and shampooed and ready to go. It’s a Navy recruitment film, after all, in the guise of a Hollywood production, where despite its football scenes being filmed at the L.A. Coliseum, plenty of Annapolis footage is still served up, letting viewers behind the hallowed walls of the Academy, a how the silver screen of the 1930s could double as a tourist trap. And that seems the point as much as the drama, which is all dutifully recounted, emphatically hitting each story beat right on cue, in the manner that you would expect a Naval plebe to, I suppose, where rigorously adhering to the inherent structure is preeminent. That might be why they don’t offer a film directing program at the Naval Academy. Film encourages mavericks and, as we all know, Maverick wasn’t admitted to the Naval Academy.

As military films often do, comedic, dramatic, or otherwise, director Sam Wood brings three disparate personalities together as dorm mates at Annapolis, each one a football player, or aspiring football player. Dick Gates Jr. (Tom Brown) is a more privileged Rudy, obsessed with football and desperate to make the team; Roger Ash (Robert Young) is the lazy rebel, walking out on his current team once he gets accepted to the Naval Academy, punching out his hard-charging coach’s lights along the way, but loafing around on the field for Navy, wasting his considerable talent; Truck Cross (Jimmy Stewart), meanwhile, is something of the man in the middle, emblemized in how Stewart pulls the neat actorly trick of managing to both look like he finds Roger’s light razzing of Dick funny while simultaneously sympathizing with Dick for putting up with the razzing in the first place. Truck is also, though, the one with a secret, which becomes the one angle that skews a little less than nice.

The lesson here, of course, is one for all and all for one, imparted through a series of events we’ve all seen a hundred times before, whether it’s Roger getting even with the upperclassmen who take their hazing of Dick too far or Dick and Truck tracking down Roger when he goes on a bender, all of which is rendered professionally if less than thrillingly. Not that a movie like “Navy Blue and Gold” wants to make too much of an aesthetic stink. No, like Roger, praying to the statue of Tecumseh, the moment when he truly goes all-in on the Naval tradition he has resisted, the film colors inside the lines, only getting a little hot under the collar in the form of an instructor unwittingly telling a story about Truck’s Dad that Truck stands up to say isn’t true, revealing that he used a false name when enrolled, meaning possible dismissal right before the big football game.

If you can figure out how it ends, Stewart still makes it count. Indeed, in the last couple years I’ve watched a few of Jimmy’s old westerns for the first time, most of which are not only refreshingly morally ambiguous but studies of an individual reluctantly forced to work within a collective. “Navy Blue and Gold” is sort of that in reverse, at least where Stewart’s Truck Cross is concerned, a guy excited for the collective but only wants to remain within it so long as he is able to maintain his individual honor which in what’s otherwise an Arrow Shirt Man of a movie feels pretty radical.

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