Shipmates Forever (1935): Borzage’s Musical, Starring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler

Directed by Frank Borzage, and written by Delmer Daves (who would become a director too), Shipmates Forever is a boisterous musical set at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Starring the popular team of Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, the film was released by Warner on October 12, 1935.

Powell and Keeler had previously worked with Borzage and Daves in Flirtation Walk, a film about the U.S. Military Academy.

Dick Melville (Powell) and June Blackburn (Keeler) meet during naval review in New York Harbor. Both come from Navy families, but Dick aspires for a singing career and June, her father and brother having been killed in war, has vowed never to marry a Navy man.

Admiral Melville (Lewis Stone), Dick’s father, is the new superintendent of the Naval Academy and he hopes that his son will follow in his footsteps. He maneuvers Dick into enrolling by charging that he’s afraid of failing the exams.

Dick passes the tests and enters the academy to be near Ruth, who teaches dance in Annapolis. Dick’s roommates are “Sparks” Brown (Ross Alexander), a radio operator from the South; “Coxswain” Lawrence (John Arledge), a sailor appointed from the fleet; and “Cowboy” Lincoln (Eddie Acuff), from the West.

They all receive hazing from the upperclassmen, but Dick is a special target of teasing because of his father and his fame as a singer.

During Dick’s final summer cruise, Coxswain’s love of the Navy makes Dick uncomfortable and he places his ring on his finger. During gunnery training, the ship’s steam line bursts and starts a boiler fire. Coxswain tries to shut off the fuel leads and is overcome by smoke and fire. Dick tries to save him, but Coxswain is killed. Both men are badly burned and Dick is recognized as the survivor by his class ring.

When he returns to the academy, Dick is greeted warmly by his classmates, and proudly leads the Brigade of Midshipmen at the graduation parade.

The U.S. Navy provided technical assistance for the filming, and some scenes were shot at the Naval Academy. The story’s “final cruise” segment included footage of the battleship Arkansas (BB-33) which conducted the cruises for the Navy in the 1930s.