A sweet, simple, warmhearted early talkie from Ford. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it doesn’t really try to be. If anything, I’m glad that Ford kept everything low-key and simplistic (I’m fearing the latter adjective will be used a lot to describe this film) but still managed to add some visual flair to the otherwise predictable proceedings. Maybe I managed to watch it at the right point in time, but I think I got as much out of this as I possibly could. It’s easy to see where it’s going (once you get a grasp on who is who and what is going on) very early on, but still, it is very fun.
A timid Paul Randall is about to be sent out to the Naval Academy, and it is the first true opportunity he’ll get to escape from the shadows of his older brother and West Point cadet, John Randall. John is the outgoing, good-looking, and athletic member of the family and Paul is the antithesis. While in Annapolis, Paul becomes fond of Nancy, but his inexperience with women does anything but work to his advantage. He remains oblivious to her advances and instead, spends most of his time lamenting the upcoming Army-Navy football game.
There’s several selling points here, even if you aren’t a die hard Ford fan. Depending on one’s opinion of Stepin Fetchit, this film is either a great opportunity or an embarrassing showing. I know there’s the issue of racial stereotyping that many hold against Fetchit, but in the eyes of a modern viewer, I think his performances are subversive, arguably brilliant but frustrating reminders of our not so flattering past. It creates this almost unbearable tension between the film and the audience, especially when Fetchit is given as many lines as he is here.
The other great curiosity is the newsreel footage of the Army-Navy game. Unfortunately, I have yet to discover what year it is from, but it is still fascinating to watch. Ford struggles to blend the newsreel footage with his own football footage. It’s probably most evident by the sound, the crowd is ear-piercing during the real footage, but no attempt is made to recreate their cheering during the fictional footage. It probably requires some interest in the history of (American) football to be impressed, but it is one of the earliest examples of Ford providing historical relevance to his art. There’s also a great “pre-code” tone to Ford’s style here, perhaps more in the vein of William A. Wellman than Ford himself. The shaky, free-to-roam handheld camera movements are fun to watch, even as they are capturing events that could be considered mundane. It’s fun movie, though definitely for people who are already familiar with Ford.