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Film / Way for a Sailor

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Way for a Sailor is a 1930 film directed by Sam Wood.

It is a tale of the hell-raising, hard drinking sailors of the Merchant Marine. Jack (John Gilbert) and "Tripod" (Wallace Beery) are your standard-issue sailors, who spend months at sea, then eventually make port somewhere and chase after booze and women. All sailors agree, of course, that serious attachments to women are to be avoided, as women pull sailors away from the sea.

However, Jack is forming a serious attachment to a woman. Every time he gets back to home base in London he brings a present for lovely Joan (Leila Hyams), a clerk at a shipping company by the docks. Joan resists the attentions of love-'em-and-leave-'em Jack, for a while anyway, but eventually starts giving in. Does Jack really care about Joan, or is he just chasing a particularly difficult conquest?


Pay attention near the end and you will see Joan speaking briefly with a mustachioed officer on a ship. That bit part was played by a young Ray Milland, who was still several years away from hitting the big time.


  • Bar Brawl: Jack and Tripod's desire to beat up their friend Ginger winds up triggering a bar brawl between the sailors, some locals, and a whole crowd of U.S. Marines.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Jack determinedly pursues Joan despite her constantly insulting him. It's obvious that Joan likes Jack as well, but she's resisting him because she doesn't want to be another notch on his bedpost.
  • The Drunken Sailor: The sailors go on drunken binges every single time they land in a port.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Jack's cheery playfulness is established in his first scene, when he swings on a rope from a mast, lands behind Tripod, quickly cuts Tripod's belt in two, then swings away as Tripod's pants fall down.
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  • Heel Realization: Jack buys a suit and lies to Joan that he has gotten a job on dry land. They get married. But when she gives him her baby shoes, and tells him that her own mother meant it as a reminder for her husband to treat her well, Jack has an attack of conscience. He admits to Joan that he's still in the merchant marine and in fact is shipping out that very night. She dumps him immediately.
  • Horny Sailors: Jack, Tripod, and their friend Ginger chase whores and loose women in every port. In Singapore they go to a whorehouse and Jack gets his pocket picked.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: A Running Gag involves a young boy, the son of one of the bar girls who hangs around the docks, who always shows up when the sailors return to London. In one scene the boy stares at Tripod, who stares at him quizzically in return before giving him some change. At the end the boy shows up again, Tripod stares at the boy curiously, Tripod glances back at Ginger, and then Tripod scurries away.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "Tripod". They call him "Tripod".
  • Red Light District: Both London and Singapore have red light districts that the sailors frequent. In Singapore the gang goes to a brothel, a whore picks Jack's pocket, and the whorehouse manager calls the cops when he discovers that Jack didn't even have enough money to pay for the girls.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Not seen but a Discussed Trope, when Tripod remembers rescuing a sinking ship full of schoolteachers, and the "shapes" he saw when they were fished out of the water.
  • Title Drop: A title card early in the film when the ship pulls into Singapore says "SINGAPORE! Money to spend! Two days to spend it! WAY FOR A SAILOR!"
  • Wedding Ring Removal: After Jack admits he lied about having a job, Joan pretends that they are out of rum and sends him out to get a bottle. He comes back only to find both the bottle of rum that Joan still had, and her wedding ring, sitting on top of all the letters he sent her. Otherwise she has cleared out the apartment and left.

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