“A Girl in Every Port,” a good silent comedy film from 1928, features Louise Brooks as a French circus performer (Marie) who comes between two extremely close male friends. The film begins as Spike (Victor McLaglen), a sailor, hits town, romances a girl in waterfront bar, and sees an anchor pendant on her wrist. Although not the brightest matey on the sea, Spike correctly surmises another sailor (Salami) owns the girl’s heart. When Spike goes on to meet other girls in other ports, he finds that Salami (Robert Armstrong) beat him to every one.
Inevitably, Spike and Salami meet, fight, make up and become close friends. They travel the world together as shipmates, and as the title card says, the other sailors could not mention one without the other. When Spike sees Marie performing at a circus in France, he falls madly in love with her. She’s a con woman, though, and resolves to take him for all the money he’s saved to buy a farm. Brooks uses all of her magnificent gestures to beguile not only Spike but the audience. As director Howard Hawks said, Brooks did what she wanted and it all worked beautifully.
Salami recognizes Marie immediately as a con woman he knew and romanced once on Coney Island. Spike is about as dumb as they come, a big lout in the style of Lenny in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” published in 1937. Of course, this movie pre-dates Steinbeck’s novel, and so do many of the buddy pictures of the 1920s and 1930s. Ultimately, though, the normally violent Salami redeems himself with the audience by showing his gentle side at a pivotal moment in the movie. I like the succession of port girls, evidently prostitutes, lounging around in waterfront bars from Hong Kong to Central America. Myrna Loy, in an exotic turn, plays “A Girl in China.”