James Cagney plays a wise guy, dreamy sailor aboard the U.S.S. Arizona in Here Comes the Navy


Released on July 21, 1934, ‘Here Comes the Navy’ pairs James Cagney and Pat O’Brien with the U.S.S. Arizona (tragically lost in Pearl Harbor less than a decade later). Will Cagney be a ‘fish out of water’ or an unlikely hero in this week’s patriotic Throwback Thursday?


December 7, 1941, is a date which will live in infamy. Japanese fighter planes attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, claiming the lives of more than 2,500 people and destroying 18 American ships and nearly 300 airplanes in the process. One of the most famous ships that was destroyed was the U.S.S. Arizona, which sustained nearly half of the casualties. Bombed four times before sinking to the bottom of the Pacific, the U.S.S. Arizona lost approximately 1,177 crewmen on that bleak morning.

Although it’s been more than 70 years since the attack, the statistics are still pretty sobering. Did you know that fuel continues to leak from the U.S.S. Arizona’s wreckage? It’s as if the ship continues to bleed because those ugly wounds will never properly heal. As you fire up your grills and prepare your colorful desserts in anticipation of the patriotic July 4th weekend ahead, you may be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with this week’s Throwback Thursday?”

Here Comes the Navy was filmed aboard the U.S.S. Arizona & U.S.S. Macon in 1934. Both ships were later tragically lost.

Recently remastered and released on DVD by the Warner Archive Collection, Here Comes the Navy was filmed aboard the U.S.S. Arizona in the spring of 1934. An avid history buff, I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of this DVD for review. While perhaps an obscure title in the vast archive of remastered Warner Bros. films out there, Here Comes the Navy provides a rare glimpse of what life was like for the sailors aboard the ship during its heyday. In addition to the historically significant footage aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, parts of the film were also filmed aboard the U.S.S. Macon – a large airship that would also be tragically lost the following year when it crashed into the Pacific Ocean on February 12, 1935, off the coast of California. The U.S.S. Macon (along with her twin, the U.S.S. Akron) held the world record for being the biggest helium-filled airship. Thanks to the continuing efforts of the Warner Archive Collection, you and your children’s children can see black-and-white footage of both historic ships in this film, which was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

James Cagney does what he does best – he plays a feisty, wise guy with a heart of gold. 

Released by Warner Bros. on July 21, 1934, Here Comes the Navy stars James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Gloria Stuart, Frank McHugh, Dorothy Tree, Robert Barrat and George Irving. As Chesty O’Conner, James Cagney does what he does best – he plays a feisty construction riveter-turned-sailor with a heart of gold buried beneath his wise guy, “always looking for a fight” exterior. Although he’s quick-tempered and cocky, Cagney gives the character enough convincing emotional depth to make him truly likeable. One can’t help but feel sympathy for him when naval officer Biff Martin (Pat O’Brien) waltzes into town, bests him in a fist fight and steals his girl Gladys (Dorothy Tree) right out from under him during a dance. To make matters worse, Chesty also loses his job after not showing up for work for a few days. Down-and-out but not willing to give up, Chesty decides to enlist in the U.S. Navy. If nothing else, Chesty figures it will provide a paycheck and a chance to maybe get even with Biff should their paths ever cross again.

Spoiler: Their paths do indeed cross again aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, where Biff is Chesty’s commanding officer. Biff makes Chesty’s life as a sailor a living hell, especially after Chesty begins pursuing his sister Dorothy (Gloria Stuart) against his wishes. While Chesty may have begun dating Dorothy to spite her brother, it becomes more than obvious that he has real feelings of adoration for her. Every time she enters the room or the ship, he flashes a million-watt smile in her direction that will make you easily fall in love with the “dreamy, dewy-eyed” Cagney. I enjoyed watching their tender 1930s courtship unfold.

During his time aboard the ship, Chesty develops an easy friendship with the amicable but perhaps mentally slow Droopy (Frank McHugh), while managing to piss off the rest of his fellow sailors because of his bad attitude. However, he redeems himself by becoming an unlikely hero – not once, but twice – putting his life on the line to save the lives of others. I would say heroism is one of the main themes of the film, making it a perfect choice for your patriotic holiday weekend plans.

 If Popeye and Bluto were able to conceive a love child, the scrappy but honorable Chesty O’Conner would be it. 

While Cagney may be best known for playing gangster types, I don’t feel like he was a “fish out of water” in Here Comes the Navy. His portrayal of Chesty O’Conner is synonymous with his “tough guy” image, but he’s also rather tender and funny. Borrowing from other recognizable 1930s images, if Popeye and Bluto were somehow able to conceive a love child, the scrappy but honorable sailor Chesty O’Conner would be it. This film also marks the first time Cagney paired with O’Brien – the two would co-star together many more times over, including Devil Dogs of the Air, Boy Meets Girl, Angels with Dirty Faces, The Fighting 69th and Ragtime. Frank McHugh is also reunited with his co-stars in several of those titles. Here Comes the Navy is a classic film which should not be missed because it delivers plenty of laughs, heart and historical appeal.


Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

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