Sailor's Luck

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Sailor's Luck
Sailor's Luck lobby card2 (cropped).jpg
Lobby card
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by Marguerite Roberts
Charlotte Miller
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Edited by Jack Murray
Distributed by Fox Film
Release date
  • March 10, 1933 (1933-03-10)
Running time
78 min.
CountryUnited States

Sailor's Luck is a 1933 pre-Code romantic comedy [1] film directed by Raoul Walsh for Fox Film Corporation. It stars James Dunn, Sally Eilers, Victor Jory, and Frank Moran. The plot has a sailor on shore leave falling for a nice girl, with a series of misunderstandings leading them to doubt each other's loyalty. A cast of colorful characters provides comic relief and the film concludes with a massive brawl between sailors and bouncers at a dance marathon. The film is noted for openly depicting homosexuality in the character of a gay swimming-pool attendant.



On shore leave in San Pedro Harbor, sailor Jimmy Harrigan agrees to phone Minnie Broadhurst on behalf of his mates Barnacle Benny and Bilge, though the last time the boys visited her, Minnie smashed chairs over their heads. Jimmy reaches Sally Brent instead, who hangs up when she hears he is a sailor. When Jimmy and his friends make a personal visit to the boardinghouse, Sally is on her way to a job interview at a swimming pool. Benny and Bilge are chased out of the boardinghouse by the proprietor and Jimmy, who tries to follow Sally, is chased by an Italian banana seller who had been robbed by his mates. At the pool, Sally is hired by the lascivious Nugent Busby, whose gay assistant keeps an eye out for the arrival of Busby's wife. After handing out bathing suits, Sally is instructed to take Jimmy as her first student, though she admits she doesn't know how to swim. In the pool area, Benny and Bilge take turns trying to dive and jump, with humorous results. The boardinghouse proprietor, banana seller, and a policeman all arrive on the scene, as does Busby's wife Mona, and amid arguing, everyone is thrown into the pool in their street clothes.

Later Jimmy sees Sally on the street and joins her and her drunken escort for dinner. Jimmy and Sally dance and become acquainted. Since Sally can no longer pay for her room at the boardinghouse, Jimmy rents a room for them at an apartment house owned by the lecherous Baron Bartolo. Sally is nervous about being alone with Jimmy in the room and stiffens when he maneuvers her over to the bed and oafishly grabs her for a kiss. Hurt, Jimmy tells her off and also gives her a spanking for agreeing to go to a room with a man she doesn't know, then walks out. The next morning, he returns with food for breakfast. Sally is more amenable to him, though he still fumbles to kiss her. Jimmy promises to return again that evening, but his ship sails for San Francisco and he is unable to send word. Sally feels abandoned and fends off the unwanted advances of Bartolo, who offers to arrange for her to win the $1,000 first prize at the dance marathon that he is sponsoring. Sally arranges to babysit for Junior, the son of Elmer Brown who lives on the same floor.

When Jimmy phones Sally from San Francisco, Bartolo answers and Jimmy is livid that Sally is cheating on him. Jimmy returns the following day with lingerie as a reconciliation gift. Seeing Brown exiting Sally's room, he insults Sally and rips up the lingerie. Sally decides to enter the dance marathon. Jimmy finds out that Brown had really been picking up his son from Sally's room and rushes to see her at the dance marathon, but is ejected by Bartolo's bouncers. Jimmy climbs up a tree and flings himself through a window, grabs Sally away from her dancing partner, and punches Bartolo. The fleet of sailors watching the dance marathon from a balcony jump onto the floor and a huge brawl breaks out between them and the bouncers while Jimmy and Sally escape. Safe in a taxi, Jimmy gives Sally her wedding ring and they embrace.




The sailors on shore leave Press photo of Frank Moran and James Dunn in Sailor's Luck (cropped).jpg
The sailors on shore leave

Before the start of production, the film's title was changed from Sailor's Luck to Bad Boy, ostensibly in order to associate it with James Dunn and Sally Eilers' first successful screen pairing in Bad Girl (1931). [1] [2] The studio reinstated the original title during production. [1] Fox later released Bad Boy in 1935, starring Dunn and Dorothy Wilson. [3]

Sailor's Luck was the last film that Raoul Walsh directed for Fox. [2] According to Walsh biographer Moss, the film's theme is expressed in a lyric in an onscreen musical number: "Love makes the world go 'round". [4] The film managed to evade censorship even though it showed the unmarried characters played by Dunn and Eilers renting a room together, lying together and kissing in bed, and Eilers scampering around the room and out into the hallway wearing nothing but a bedsheet. [5]

A gay pool attendant is seen in the swimming pool sequence. Played by Frank Atkinson, the character flounces about and uses effeminate body language. [6] [7] When he bids the sailors adieu, Dunn tells his mates in Pig Latin: "Gay-zee ansy-pay". [2] [7] Extant script files indicate that a more fully-developed male gay character named Violetta was originally planned for this sequence, being either a pool employee or the manager's brother-in-law. This character was later converted to a man named Cyril "whom the sailors engage in a mock flirtation". Finally the character was toned down even more to the nameless individual who appears in the film. [8]

Sailor's Luck was the first film for costume designer William Lambert, who worked for the studio until 1936. [9]


Publicity photo of James Dunn and Sally Eilers Press photo of James Dunn and Sally Eilers in Sailor's Luck (cropped).jpg
Publicity photo of James Dunn and Sally Eilers

Sailor's Luck was the fourth screen pairing of the popular acting duo of Dunn and Eilers. [10] Several character actors from Walsh's previous production, Me and My Gal (1932), were also cast—including Frank Moran, who plays the same character as he did in the earlier film. [11] This was the first major screen role for Victor Jory. [2]


Production took place from January 12 to early February 1933. [1] According to a February 24, 1933, item in Variety , "[a] new dissolve is used which is a cross between a corkscrew and an iris". The magazine called the technique novel but overused in the early scenes. [1] Smith notes Walsh's use of "depth staging" in the swimming-pool, Hawaiian restaurant, and dance marathon scenes, which involved "utilizing multiple focal points in the foreground, middle-ground and background". The film also incorporates wipes "in which one image replaces another by spiraling out from the middle of the screen". [12]


Sailor's Luck was released on March 10, 1933. [1]

Critical reception

Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote that the film's "lusty humor" was a hit with the screening audience. He did not find the story particularly original, but said that the constant infusion of "wisecracks and comic incidents" smoothed over dramatic scenes and lapses in continuity. He made special note of the swimming pool sequence—"No matter how many times fully clad persons are beheld falling into water, it is an idea that always tickles the risibleness of an audience"—and the climactic fight at the dance marathon—"Bottles fly through the air and all movable furniture is smashed. James [Dunn] goes through a frightful pummeling, but looks unscathed immediately afterward". [13]

An exhibitor's report in the Motion Picture Herald also noted the positive audience response to a screening, adding, "A little off color in spots, but seemed to go by unnoticed". [14] The Brooklyn Times-Union praised the film for "driving away the depression", writing: "Not only has the picture many good wisecracks but some of the incidents are very comical and keep the audience in good humor from start to finish". [15]

The Pittsburgh Press skewered the film, calling it "a cheap and humorless story of vulgar implication". But while the reviewer considered the film the epitome of bad taste, she was surprised that the theater audience loved it, noting that they laughed at every comedic line and drunken-sailor gag. She concluded: "It is obvious that I have no grounds for my displeasure over the picture, except my own standards of what constitutes good taste. Because it seemed to me exceedingly common and trashy, it simply could not amuse me". [16]

The Dayton Daily News wrote that Dunn and Eilers "work together like real young people and have no actorish manners. This is a real advantage in such a picture as 'Sailor's Luck'". [17] The Northern Star also called the duo "two of the screen's most natural actors". [18]

The Star Tribune reviewer was pleased with the presence of "two comics who are comics"—Sammy Cohen and Frank Moran. In addition to their funny demeanors, "the gag men have been furnished with some good situations and some better lines". [19] Victor Jory's performance as a lecherous landlord was also singled out for praise in reviews. Erickson calls his portrayal "deliciously slimy", [2] while Leonard Maltin says he is "insanely funny". [20]

In modern reviews, Maltin gave the film three stars, describing it as "funny" and "offbeat". [21] Scheuer and Pardi accorded it 1 ½ stars, typing it as a "routine comedy". [22] Film historian William K. Everson called the film "fast…raucous…racy…the relaxed censorship is well in evidence". [11]

The film is rarely screened in the twenty-first century, possibly due to its ethnic and gay stereotypes. [12] [23] calls it "one of the least politically correct films of the 1930s". [24]


Walter S. Lawrence, author of The Marathon Dancer, sued Fox Film for copyright infringement, claiming that the film extracted significant material from his book which he had shown to studio executives in 1932. The judge upheld Fox's demurrer and dismissed the case. [1]


  1. The character is called Baron Bartolo in the script and on a sign seen in the film, but is listed as Baron Darrow in the screen credits and by reviewers. [1]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Sailor's Luck (1933)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films . American Film Institute. 2019. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Erickson 2012, p. 137.
  3. "Bad Boy (1935 film)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. 2019. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  4. Moss 2011, p. 137.
  5. Moss 2011, pp. 137-8.
  6. McElvaine 2004, p. 388.
  7. 1 2 Doherty 1999, p. 121.
  8. Barrios 2005, p. 105.
  9. Leese 2012, p. 171.
  10. "Capitol Has Changes for Opening Day". Quad-City Times . April 9, 1933. p. 17 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  11. 1 2 "Sailor's Luck". ArtsEmerson. 2020.
  12. 1 2 Smith, Michael Glover (April 27, 2011). "Bringing It All Back Home (Sailor's Luck and When Movies Mattered)". White City Cinema. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  13. Hall, Mordaunt (March 17, 1933). "James Dunn and Sally Eilers in a Farcical Yarn Involving the Troubles of a Romantic Bluejacket". The New York Times . Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  14. "Did For Me". Motion Picture Herald . May 6, 1933. p. 74.
  15. "A Farcical Display of A 'Sailor's Luck' At the RKO Albee". March 25, 1933. p. 16 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  16. Parry, Florence Fisher (April 8, 1933). "On With the Show". The Pittsburgh Press . p. 5 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  17. Muir, James (April 8, 1933). "Gloria's New Film Now at Loew's; Dunn-Eilers Reunited at Keith's". Dayton Daily News . p. 11 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  18. "Team of Dunn-Eilers: 'Sailor's Luck'". The Northern Star . December 2, 1933. p. 4. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  19. Alden, John (March 29, 1933). "Seeing the Movies". Star Tribune . p. 9 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  20. Maltin 1994, p. 448.
  21. Maltin 1995, p. 1114.
  22. Scheuer & Pardi 1987, p. 678.
  23. Jones, J. R. (2020). "Sailor's Luck". Chicago Reader .
  24. "Crucial Viewing". April 22, 2011. Retrieved November 4, 2020.


Further reading