As I’m somewhat of a completest I hate the fact that there are still a few Best Picture nominees out there that I’m yet to watch. Imagine my pleasure then when one day I came across a copy of 1934 nominee Flirtation Walk especially as it was a film that had eluded me up to now. Even though Frank Borzage’s film was still in circulation I could never quite find a copy up until now so at the first opportunity I had I dove in to watch the movie.
Flirtation Walk is part romantic drama, part musical with a bit of a military backdrop thrown in for good measure meaning that it’s all a bit of a muddle. Dick, played by Dick Powell, is the film’s protagonist; an enlisted man in the army who often falls afoul of his commanding officer Scrapper Thornhill and who is nicknamed ‘The Canary’ by his comrades due to his singing voice. When Dick’s commanding officer arrives on the Hawaiian base alongside his daughter Kit, played by Ruby Keeler, he ends up escorting her round the island with the pair absconding and falling for each other. However when Kit’s intended finds them and berates Dick he gets angry and decides to become an officer and a gentleman in order to live up to her expectations. The second half of the film takes place in West Point where Dick is training to be an officer and for some reason has to keep reciting the production process for leather. When Kit’s father becomes superintendent at West Point, she arrives once again but Dick gives her the cold shoulder only to discover that the rest of his classmates have persuaded her to appear in the production that he’s written. The musical element of Flirtation Walk then takes over and I have to say it was a rather an odd experience as a lot of it seemed to be shoehorned in to what was a rather standard army procedural drama with hints of From Here to Eternity. The Flirtation Walk musical saw Kit playing a female general who fell in love with Dick’s lieutenant and gradually the pair fell in love all over again much to the displeasure of Kit’s fiancee.
Flirtation Walk was one of twelve films nominated for Best Picture and provides one of the reasons why the category was streamlined as the years went on. Oddly Flirtation Walk had a lot in common with that year’s winner It Happened One Night particularly in its romance between an upper class woman and a working class guy. But whereas Frank Capra’s classic had snappy dialogue and memorable performances; Flirtation Walk had long luau sequence instead. Although Borzage has impressed elsewhere I found Flirtation Walk to be quite a baggy picture with not a lot of merit and with a lot of elements that have been done better elsewhere. That being said I found Dick Powell to be a compelling lead and he gave a sympathetic turn as the loutish army man trying to better himself by enrolling in West Point. Ruby Keeler was seemingly cast for her singing ability but she and Powell did have a believable chemistry that really helped the romantic element of the plot. The songs themselves weren’t particularly memorable and I honestly believe that Flirtation Walk would’ve been better if it had scrapped the musical element altogether.
Whilst I didn’t find Flirtation Walk to be a particularly arduous watch there was nothing about it that will particularly stay with me. Instead it’s one of a number of underwhelming early Best Picture nominees that seems to have been included in the category for no apparent reason. Whilst I’m glad I watched it so I could tick another film off my list, I can’t see any other reason that somebody would actively search out Flirtation Walk other than the fact that it was once nominated for Best Picture.
Next time I return to my Best Director category films as I once again attempt to watch the movie to be helmed by the first woman ever to be nominated for a directorial Oscar.