Follow the Fleet

Follow the Fleet

original theatrical poster
Directed by Mark Sandrich
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Written by Allan Scott
Dwight Taylor
Lew Lipton (add'l dialogue)
Based on Shore Leave
by Hubert Osborne
Starring Fred Astaire
Ginger Rogers
Music by Irving Berlin
Max Steiner
Cinematography David Abel
Edited by Henry Berman
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • February 20, 1936 (1936-02-20) (US)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $747,000[1]
Box office $2,727,000[1]

Follow the Fleet (RKO) is a 1936 Hollywood musical comedy film with a nautical theme starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their fifth collaboration as dance partners. It also features Randolph Scott, Harriet Hilliard, and Astrid Allwyn, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Lucille Ball and Betty Grable also appear, in supporting roles. The film was directed by Mark Sandrich with script by Allan Scott and Dwight Taylor based on the 1922 play Shore Leave by Hubert Osborne.

Follow the Fleet was extremely successful[2] at the box office, and during 1936, Astaire's recorded versions of "Let Yourself Go", "I'm Putting all My Eggs in One Basket", and "Let's Face the Music and Dance" reached their highest positions[3] of 3rd, 2nd, 3rd respectively in the US Hit Parade. Harriet Hilliard and Tony Martin made their screen debuts in this film. RKO borrowed Randolph Scott from Paramount and Astrid Allwyn from Fox for the production.[4]


Seaman "Bake" Baker (Fred Astaire) and Sherry (Ginger Rogers) are former dance partners, now separated, with Baker in the Navy and Sherry working as a dance hostess in a San Francisco ballroom, Paradise.

Bake visits the ballroom with his Navy buddy "Bilge" (Randolph Scott) during a period of liberty, reuniting with Sherry (but costing her job), while Bilge is initially attracted to Sherry's sister Connie (Harriet Hilliard). When Connie begins to talk about marriage, Bilge quickly diverts his attention towards a friend of Sherry's, Iris (Astrid Allwyn), a divorced socialite.

The sailors return to sea while Connie seeks to raise money to salvage her deceased sea-captain father's sailing ship. When the boys return to San Francisco, Bake attempts to get Sherry a job in a Broadway show, but fails amidst a flurry of mistaken identities and misunderstandings. He redeems himself by staging a benefit show which raises the final seven hundred dollars needed to refurbish the ship – although he has to jump ship in order to do so. Bilge, now a Chief Petty Officer, is ordered to locate and arrest him, but allows Bake to complete the show.

After the concert, Bake and Sherry are offered a show on Broadway, which A.W.O.L. Bake accepts on the proviso that Sherry asks him to marry her. Of course, he first has to be sent to the Brig and take his punishment.


Cast notes:

Musical numbers

Hermes Pan collaborated with Astaire on the choreography. Two songs, "Moonlight Maneuvers" and "With a Smile on My Face" were written for the film but unused.


Contemporary reviews were positive. "Even though it is not the best of (Astaire and Rogers') series it still is good enough to take the head of this year's class in song and dance entertainment", wrote Frank S. Nugent in The New York Times. "They tap as gayly, waltz as beautifully and disagree as merrily as ever."[10] "With Ginger Rogers once again opposite, and the Irving Berlin music to dance to and sing, Astaire once more legs himself and his picture into the big time entertainment class", Variety wrote in a positive review, although it found the 110 minute running time "way overboard" and suggested it could have benefited from being cut by 20 minutes.[11] "Well loaded with entertainment for mass satisfaction", reported Film Daily.[12] John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that "Fred Astaire bobs at his best ... I don't think he's done any better stepping anywhere then he does in this picture, and trim little Ginger Rogers keeps up with him all the time." They were enough, Mosher wrote, to overcome the film's excessive length and a plot that lacked "any of the lightness of the Astaire feet."[13]

Dance commentators Arlene Croce and John Mueller point out that, aside from the obvious weakness[14] a discursive and overlong plot lacking quality specialist comedians[15] the film contains some of the Astaire-Rogers partnership's most prized duets, not least the iconic "Let's Face the Music and Dance". According to Arlene Croce: "One reason the numbers in Follow the Fleet are as great as they are is that Rogers had improved remarkably as a dancer. Under Astaire's coaching she had developed extraordinary range, and the numbers in the film are designed to show it off."[16] That this film's remarkable score [17] was produced immediately after his smash-hit score for Top Hat is perhaps testimony to Berlin's claim that Astaire's abilities inspired him to deliver some of his finest work.[18] As an actor, however, Astaire makes an unconvincing[19] attempt at shedding the wealthy man-about-town image by donning a sailor's uniform, while Rogers, in this her fifth pairing with Astaire, brings her usual comedic and dramatic flair to bear on her role as a nightclub entertainer.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Box Office

The film earned $1,532,000 in the US and Canada and $1,175,000 elsewhere making a profit of $945,000. This was slightly down on that for Top Hat but was still among RKO's most popular movies of the decade.[1]



  1. 1 2 3 Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p55
  2. Croce: "with all its flaws Follow the Fleet was a shattering hit", p.84
  3. Mueller p.412
  5. A separate recording exists of Irving Berlin singing this song to his own piano accompaniment, a recording which was featured by Astaire's choreography partner Hermes Pan and rehearsal pianist Hal Borne in the 2004 ARTE documentary l'Art de Fred Astaire.
  6. Mueller p.92
  7. Astaire: "I got the flying sleeve smack on the jaw and partly in the eye", p.220
  8. Astaire: "The No. 1 take was perfect. It was the one we all liked best.", p.220
  9. Satchell, p.251:"I have never spent two more miserable hours in my life. Every scene was cheap and vulgar. They don't realise that the thirties were a very innocent age, and that should have been set in the eighties — it was just froth; it makes you cry it's so distasteful."
  10. Nugent, Frank S. (February 21, 1936). "Movie Review – Follow the Fleet". The New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
  11. "Follow the Fleet". Variety. New York. February 26, 1936. p. 15.
  12. "Reviews of the New Films". Film Daily. New York. February 19, 1936. p. 4.
  13. Mosher, John (February 29, 1936). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 50.
  14. Croce: "its plot is a dead weight", p. 82; Mueller: "bogged down by a sour, labored plot", p. 89
  15. Mueller p. 90
  16. Croce, p. 82
  17. Astaire: "one of his best" p. 218
  18. Mueller p. 78
  19. Mueller: "no one is taken in", p. 89
  20. "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-13.


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