Flirtation Walk

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 1, 2015

Here’s a very nice entry in the Warner Brothers’ Archive Series, and a nice indication of its uses. Flirtation Walk is no masterpiece, but it’s plenty craftsmanlike, interestingly of its time, of more than sufficient narrative interest and entertainment value. In other words, here’s a 1931 example of many of the movies that we mostly go to, and are glad that we do. Commerce, with some craftsmanship and conscience.

As always, Ms. Keeler can neither sing, dance, nor act. As generally, it doesn’t matter much. As often, her counterpart Mr. Powell helps this situation no end. He really is terrific—the unaffectedness, the effortlessness, the aw-shucks beautiful voice, the impertinence pitched just right, with decencies lurking beneath. Not only does this add up to a very nice iteration of Borzage’s early sound urbanness (in a film not remotely urban; cf. the male leads in Bad Girl and Man’s Castle), it’ll eventually add up to Bing Crosby. Why didn’t Powell make as much of a multi-media splash? Cf. Maurice Tourneur, etc.—it’s the mysteries of Mammon, the vagaries of promotion, and All is Vanity.

This distinguished director seems most at home, or communicates in the most recognizable ways, through the Hawaii section. The white swains’ discovery of all those natives is pretty colonial: actual communities reduced to ceremonial or salvage ethnographic dress-up, overly pleased at the attention and investment of the conqueror. Having said that, the discovery of all those natives is also lovely, and the cooperative number that follows could as well be taken as a cultural meeting both generous and grateful. Leading us to this distinguished director’s signature moment. Predictably the young couples’ rapt idyll is powerfully infused by a simultaneously romantic/erotic/spiritual shimmer. (Who but he ever dared to attempt such an unlikely union? God, I guess. But it’s a pretty unique combination in the Here Below of Hollywood film. But, part 2: Borzage pulls it so effortlessly, so naturally that one wonders if he’s even attempting anything. It’s just him, and them, and it’s just true.)

The course-of-true-love complications are interesting. The military culture stuff is very interesting. An assignment? If so, it was professionally taken on; this isn’t exactly John Ford, but one gets the sense of a whole sub-culture, rendered in enough detail to leave awareness expanded and appreciation increased. Best is the O’Brien/Powell relationship. Hawks! Before Hawks had really made the dynamic his own. Real male excess gives way to real honourable antagonism, gives way to a very moving portrait of deep, abiding friendship. And remember, Flirtation Walk isn’t even a masterpiece!