Sailors with the U.S. Navy — including pals Danny (Russ Tamblyn) and Rico (Vic Damone) — are in the Arctic completing “Operation Ice Cream,” which requires them to swim in freezing waters. Luckily for the two friends, they’re able to get out of taking an icy dip by volunteering to bake a cake for the commander with their friend Bill (Tony Martin) after the cook falls ill. If the commander is impressed with the cake, they may have the opportunity to head home and leave the Arctic behind for good.
The men get a reassignment thanks to the cake… but they’re sent to the swampy, snake-infested “Operation Mud Pie.” Not a major improvement on “Operation Ice Cream.” A short relief from the perils of these operations comes when they’re given a two-day leave in San Francisco.
Each man has a different goal while in San Francisco. Bill visits his fiancé; Rico visits his mother; Danny visits his father. The leave unexpectedly leads them to romantic complications (with Jane Powell, Ann Miller, and Debbie Reynolds) and showbiz drama when Danny discovers that his sister is dating an actor.
Roy Rowland directs 1955’s Hit the Deck. The film is based on the stage plays Hit the Deck and Shore Leave, both of which had previously been adapted for the screen; Hit the Deck became a film of the same name in 1930, and Shore Leave became 1936’s Astaire/Rogers vehicle, Follow the Fleet.
This is one of several films I tuned in for when Debbie Reynolds was given a day in this year’s Summer Under the Stars TCM programming. My expectations weren’t too high, despite the likable cast, because no “sailor on leave” musical will ever compare in my book to my personal favorite, On the Town.
I’m glad I kept my expectations low for this one, because it isn’t any sort of brilliant film. While it’s an enjoyable watch for fans of the sugary-sweet, brightly-colored musicals of the 1950s, the story is pretty thin and doesn’t bring in any unique or unexpected elements.
There are a few things to love about Hit the Deck. The cast is good. The ladies, in particular — Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds, and Ann Miller — are delightful to watch. They handle their roles well and are very charismatic.
Best of all is the music itself. The songs are easy listening, with pleasant melodies and catchy lyrics. The musical numbers (and that quirky funhouse dance number) held my attention much more easily than the in-between scenes, and I wouldn’t mind having a copy of this film’s soundtrack to listen to again. Favorites: “I Know That You Know” and “Why, Oh Why?”
There are plenty of better musicals than Hit the Deck to be watched, but if you’re a big fan of the genre or in the mood for a light watch with very nice music, this one may be worth a viewing. The score: 2.5/5