SHORE LEAVE (John S. Robertson, 1925)

Hubert Osborne’s play Shore Leave becomes a sensitive film sparked by a dazzlingly inventive, hilarious lead performance by— Richard Barthelmess. Who knew Barthelmess had a sense of humor?! Indeed, sailor “Bilge” Smith was the star’s favorite among his roles—and no wonder. It provides a whole new perspective on his talent, and in a role that ignores his most celebrated asset: what co-star Lillian Gish would call the most beautiful male face in cinema.
     On a day leave in Nantucket, Bilge—we never do learn his real first name—strikes up a conversation with Connie Martin (Dorothy Mackaill, wonderful), a spinsterish dressmaker who invites him home for dinner. Bilge dreams of piloting his own ship; Connie has her own ship, inherited from her sea captain father. “On the level?” Bilge, mistrustful of women, keeps asking her. He makes his one night stand-move but, upon seeing that Connie is unpracticed in the seduction-game, withdraws. Before Bilge exits, Connie nags a promise from him that he will return. She is already in love with him; Bilge will forget all about her by tomorrow’s dawn.
     Heartbreakingly, Connie keeps her love alive despite not hearing from Bilge for two years; when they re-meet, he doesn’t even remember her. Memory snaps back, and Connie’s loyalty reaches and grips his heart. One last wall defends Bilge’s fragile male ego: Connie is “rich,” and Bilge won’t be supported by a woman. Money is nothing to a woman in love, and Connie takes steps to divest herself of her inheritance.
     Replacing Henry King, who replaced D.W. Griffith, John S. Robertson well directs this great romance and tender slice of Americana that was extravagantly remade, with added Irving Berlin songs and Astaire and Rogers dancing, as Follow the Fleet (Mark Sandrich, 1936).

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