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MALE BONDING

 






 

A GIRL IN EVERY PORT

USA. 1928. Silent. B&W. 81 min.

Dir: Howard Hawks

Cast: Victor McLaglen, Robert Armstrong, Louise Brooks

Script: Howard Hawks

 

This is a buddy-flick which keeps hovering over the dark side and seems about to fall into gay romance on every scene. The two sailor protagonists have cast their lot with each other. If a woman comes between them, they can always get drunk or start a fight, redirecting their attention and their bodies towards each other. A light-hearted, fast and fun tale, such as the ones that became Howard Hawks’ specialty, A Girl in Every Port is, as the director once admitted, fundamentally “a love story between two men”. More is the pity when that love could not be expressed directly. The last shot of the film, so agonizingly long, is a statement in itself, because any other romantic comedy would have ended in a big kiss filmed in close up, but no one in 1928 would have dared to do the same with a gay love story. Hawks opts for a quiet protest, forcing the audience to mercilessly endure the very impossibility of a kiss.  

The two sailors seem to have bonded for life early on in the film, but if anyone can pose a threat to their ‘friendship’, it is this femme fatale, played by the luminous Louise Brooks, who came to embody androgynous elegance and a care-free eroticism. Brooks also cultivated a certain off-screen persona, and sometimes encouraged people (falsely, it seems) to think that she was lesbian. On the same year of A Girl in Every Port, she also co-starred in William Wellman’s Beggars of Life, another gay-friendly tale, with Ms Brooks looking rather fetching ‘passing’ as a young man for most of the film. But the true stars in A Girl in Every Port are Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong, and their chemistry on screen is undeniable. And yet, even after they have passed the test into adulthood, they remain boyishly charming and innocent. The film itself is an uneasy fit, a size too small for a romance, and a size too big for a buddy film. Perhaps this explains the cartoonish look, set, characterisation, and plot, and a generally breezy attitude which can accommodate a variety of readings without causing undue distress. Including a reading of the story as a screwball comedy, a buddy-flick, or a gay rom-com.


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