A Girl in Every Port (Howard Hawks / U.S., 1928):

A savvy winnowing of What Price Glory? for the ribald implication underneath, roughnecks in love as Howard Hawks' great running joke. "The mate with a date" (Victor McLaglen), off the schooner and on the prowl, always one port behind his fellow Lothario (Robert Armstrong). They finally cross paths at the Panama City cantina, the ensuing fracas leaves Armstrong's womanizing anchor-heart emblem on McLaglen's massive jaw. Out of jail the rivals saunter, hand in hand, to tumble off the edge of the pier and drip all over each other as new chums. (The cigarette exchange from To Have and Have Not gets a dry run, so to speak.) Their nautical chart is a little black book: Amsterdam with the beaming milkmaid (she bicycles away in a gag much later picked up by Verhoeven's Zwartboek) then Rio de Janeiro with the Bizetian spitfire, a brood of children and dagger-wielding ruffians are equal terrors to the sybaritic wanderers. The big-top carnival in Marseilles at last, a carrefour (Dupont's Variety on one side, Pabst's Pandora's Box on the other) where "Neptune's Daughter" (Louise Brooks) dives in slow-motion. McLaglen is splashed and smitten. "A ship divided by water from land—friends divided by a woman." The dread is less of intruding skirts than of creeping domesticity, a toy boat in a basin sums up family life for a harried ex-flame and Popeye's "orfink." His analytical comic eye already in full sway, Hawks pans from the besotted lug polishing a high-heeled pump to the sofa on which his friend is having his thigh squeezed by Lulu. The palooka's cry of betrayal and the vamp's knowing glance, quite the modern formulation. "You're not in love, you're just broke out all over with monkey-bites." The punchline is that it was a rough draft for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes all along. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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