Powell Delivers the Goods in Ship Ahoy

Powell Delivers the Goods in Ship Ahoy
During World War II, studios endeavored to produce war dramas showcasing courage and patriotism. In addition, Hollywood musicals best known for offering lighthearted escapism, many times offered comedic plots that included – or at least alluded to – the war effort.

Ship Ahoy is one such film.

Released in 1942, the film stars Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton. After the opening sequence, a lengthy number by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, the plot is quickly revealed: the government needs a dancer to transport a top-secret invention that could change the course of the war.

Musicals have been known to ride on flimsy storylines, and this film is no exception. This should not deter you from screening the film; there are plenty of entertaining bits that make it worthwhile, even though the plot is predictably shaky.

Eleanor Powell plays Tallulah Winters, lead dancer for the Dorsey troupe, and after the final curtain, she is quickly whisked to the local constabulary to meet with the Chief of Police. He convinces Tallulah that, as a patriot, she has been selected to smuggle a top-secret invention – a floating magnetic mine – to the band’s next engagement in Puerto Rico. Tallulah is not only a talented tapper, she’s smart. When she askes why she was chosen for such an important mission, the Chief explains that, as a dancer, she won’t be suspected by the “bad guys” who might be looking to “procure” the valuable invention.

After Tallulah agrees and exits, it is revealed that the police chief who hired her is actually working with enemy foreign agents. By playing Tallulah as a sap, the invention will be successfully delivered to the enemy at the hands of the hoofer.

How did the enemy develop such an inventive and infallible plan? The answer is in the form of a dime-store graphic novel entitled the “Exploits of Olga, the Beautiful Spy,” written by none other than Merton Kibble, played by Red Skelton.

Kibble is famous for writing pulp fiction thrillers, sometimes three at a time. The sequence of him dictating three stories to three secretaries simultaneously is worth a giggle or two.

Due to overwork, Kibble is headed for a breakdown and his playboy assistant, Skip, played by Bert Lahr, puts Kibble on a cruise ship to beautiful – you guessed it – Puerto Rico.

The film is sprinkled with slapstick antics, wisecracking dames, and hip lingo spoken by the hep cats from the Dorsey Orchestra. As expected, it is the dance numbers which are slick and give the flick its kick.

Beyond the main plot line – and the real reasons anyone should watch the film – are the dance numbers. In “I’ll Take Tallulah,” Powell once again demonstrates why she is considered the world’s best tap dancer. Performed enthusiastically with Buddy Rich, this number is full of physical antics and some amazing drum work by Rich. Luckily, a clip of this number is available free of charge on YouTube, so anyone who doesn’t want to invest in the full film can enjoy the benefit of this snappy sequence.

Powell isn’t the only talent shipboard; James Cross and Eddie Harman (also known as the comedy/dance team of “Stump and Stumpy”) perform a comedic tap number as part of the floor show. Also, a young Frank Sinatra makes an uncredited appearance as the male singer with the Dorsey band.

As a whole, Ship Ahoy isn’t a gem of a film, but it does offer some top-notch entertainment, despite the sluggish plot line.

The film is currently available on Amazon Prime for rental for a nominal rental fee.

***I screened this film at my own expense and did not receive any compensation for this commentary.

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