Among many patriotic musicals of the day, The Singing Marine (1937) is a lighthearted tale of a likable Everyman whose identity is reshaped through fame and fortune. While Dick Powell was a multitalented star established himself as a fine dramatic actor and talented director, his initial image was that of a romantic crooner, as evidenced in The Singing Marine. Typically cast alongside the likes of Ruby Keeler, Powell’s breezy personality onscreen entertained many fans of the movie musical.
The Singing Marine features Powell portraying Bob Brent, a Marine from Arkansas, who impresses his fellow Marines (and their girlfriends) with his striking voice. Due to his singing ability, the Marines collectively raise funds for him to travel to New York in an effort to partake in an amateur contest. Though Brent is in the midst of a romance, his success as a singer soon vastly alters his personality and priorities as the film continues.
The film was directed by Ray Enright, with Busby Berkeley directing the musical numbers. Additionally, the film was written by Delmer Daves with music by Heinz Roemheld. The full cast for this film is as follows:
- Dick Powell as Private Robert Brent
- Doris Weston as Peggy Randall
- Lee Dixon as Corporal Slim Baxter
- Hugh Herbert as Aeneas Phinney / Clarissa
- Jane Darwell as “Ma” Marine
- Allen Jenkins as Sergeant Mike Kelly
- Larry Adler as himself
- Marcia Ralston as Helen Young
- Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams as Dopey
- Veda Ann Borg as Diane
- Jane Wyman as Joan
- Berton Churchill as J. Montgomery Madison
- Eddie Acuff as Sam
- Henry O’Neill as Captain Skinner
- Addison Richards as Felix Fowler
- Ward Bond, Richard Loo, and Doc Rockwell (unbilled)
By the time of the film’s release, Powell’s interest in continuing on as a crooner was waning. Though he would appear in several more movie musicals, he would soon reinvent himself as a dramatic star. Nonetheless, The Singing Marine marks a gradual transition in Powell’s career, namely due to the fact that he was not performing alongside his usual love interest in films: Keeler. Keeler was his leading lady in seven films, though she is replaced by Doris Weston–in her first film role–for The Singing Marine. As Powell continued to work in musicals, he did so without Keeler as his co-star, allowing him the opportunity to work with actresses like the Lane Sisters, Alice Faye, and Madeleine Carroll.
Nonetheless, Powell expressed that it was difficult for him to work without Keeler by his side, after appearing in so many films together. In an interview during the production of the film, Powell offered, “The hardest thing for me to do is listen well. You have to react to what you hear, and as a reactor, I’m dead from the neck up. Ruby Keeler used to react to me, and she was good at it. But yesterday I had to react to Doris Weston while she sang a song in The Singing Marine (1937), and I sank like a chain anchor.”
Interestingly, there are small hints of Powell’s own life that emerge in the film. His character, Brent, hails from Mountain View, Arkansas, where Powell was actually born and raised. One can’t help but wonder if Powell had some say in the development of this character or if the film’s writers purposely delved into Powell’s past to inspire aspects of the character.
As with previous Warner Bros. musicals in which Powell appeared, many notable songs were highlighted in the film. Among them, Powell performed “You Can’t Run Away from Love Tonight,” “‘Cause My Baby Says It’s Son,” “The Lady Who Couldn’t Be Kissed,” and “The Song of the Marines.” Weston performs “I Know Now” in the film.
Additionally, The Singing Marine would be the last installment in a trio of service-related musicals released by Warner Bros., with the previous two being Flirtation Walk (1934) and Shipmates Forever (1935).
Despite not being among the most recognized Powell musicals, released on July 3, 1937, The Singing Marine was among the most popular releases for Warner Bros. that year.