A Girl in Every Port is a “buddy film,” the comedic story of two sailors and their adventures with various women in various ports of call. Under contract with Paramount, Louise Brooks was loaned to Fox for the film.
The film received glowing reviews. TIME magazine stated, “A Girl in Every Port is really What Price Glory? translated from arid and terrestrial irony to marine gaiety of the most salty and miscellaneous nature. Nobody could be more charming than Louise Brooks, that clinging and tender little barnacle from the docks of Marseilles. Director Howard Hawks and his entire cast, especially Robert Armstrong, deserve bouquets and kudos.” Weekly Film Review noted that the audience “Cheered it – and loved it!”
What many critics focused on was the bond between the two male characters, sailors played by Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong. Bland Johaneson of the New York Daily Mirror wrote, “A Girl in Every Port at the Roxy is a man’s picture. It’s a good character comedy. But the love interest is the love of two men friends. The girls are all rats. And that limits the picture’s appeal to the romanticists. . . . Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong do fine acting, and the comedy is neatly handled.” Limitations aside, women also liked the picture, according to the Newark Star-Eagle. “Women laughed delightedly in the Fox Terminal yesterday at what was supposed to be exclusively a he-man picture. Victor McLaglen starred as a true adventurer in A Girl in Every Port, and although the film was mostly fast battling, feminine spectators found delightful entertainment in it. . . . He has a prize associate in Robert Armstrong, who was the fighter in the stage version of Is Zat So, and Louise Brooks, cast as a sideshow siren, does capitally as the crisis of McLaglen’s career as a seaport Don Juan. . . . This is a salty, virile picture, full of flying fists and colorful rows in strange climates and distinguished by the unmovielike and emphatic characterizations of the two leading males.”
The salty nature of the picture did not go unnoticed. According to Irene Thirer of the New York Daily News, “Director Howard Hawks has injected several devilish touches in the piece, which surprisingly enough, got by the censors.” An exhibitor from Michigan wrote in the Exhibitor’s Herald, “the salesman said that this was a good picture when he sold it to me… time must have rotted it for it is one of the smuttiest pictures on the market. If you want to promote immorality, by all means play this one. I have to use care and precaution in the selection of pictures, and this one brought plenty of criticism”.
Aside from its popularity in the United States, the film had an even bigger impact in Europe, especially France. Writing in 1930 in his “Paris Cinema Chatter” column in the New York Times, Morris Gilbert noted “ . . . there are a number of others – mostly American – which have their place as ‘classics’ in the opinion of the French. . . . They love A Girl in Every Port, which has the added distinction of being practically the only American film which keeps its own English title here.” The film enjoyed a long run in Paris, where to this day it is still highly regarded.
It has been claimed that G. W. Pabst cast Brooks in Pandora’s Box after having seen her in A Girl in Every Port. Looking at a chronological list of the actresses’ films, this assumption makes sense. Hawks’ buddy film (in which Brooks plays a kind of temptress) was released in the United States in February 1928. In Germany, Pabst was attempting to cast Lulu in the Spring and early Summer of the same year. The claim that Pabst chose Brooks after having seen her in A Girl in Every Port was made by James Card in his 1956 article “Out of Pandora’s Box: Louise Brooks on G. W. Pabst.” And, it was repeated by Brooks herself in filmed interviews in the 1970’s. Why did Brooks say as much? Perhaps because Card said so. And why did Card say so? We may never know.
As records show, Blaue jungens, blonde Madchen (the German title for A Girl in Every Port) was not shown in Berlin until December 1928, after production on Pandora’s Box was finished. Could Pabst have seen the Hawks’ film prior to its German release? It seems unlikely. Or, might Pabst have noticed Brooks in one of her earlier films — such as Die Braut am Scheidewege (Just Another Blonde) or Ein Frack Ein Claque Ein Madel (Evening Clothes) — each of which was shown in Berlin before Pabst cast Brooks as Lulu? That seems more plausible.
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“Sailor Spike Madden, a happy-go-lucky Lothario, finds that another sailor is a rival for his girl friends in various ports of call. He finally overtakes Salami, the other sailor, and they become fast friends. Spike believes he has fallen in love with Marie, an especially attractive gold digger in France, but his friend dissuades him and they continue their merry way.”
The film was shot in November and December, 1927 at Fox’s studios in Hollywood. Location shooting was done on a boating trip to Santa Cruz Island, located along the California coast.
Under its American title, A Girl in Every Port, documented screenings of the film took place in Australia, British Malaysia (Singapore), Canada, China, France, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, New Zealand, and the British Isles (England, Isle of Man, and Scotland). Elsewhere, this motion picture was known to have been shown under other-language titles including Una novia in cada puerto (Argentina); Una chica en cada porto (Argentina); Das Verdammte Herz – Zwei lustige Matrosen (Austria); Een liefje bij elke landing (Belgium); Une fille dans chaque port (Belgium); Dívka v každém prístavu (Czechoslovakia); En Pige i hver Havn (Denmark); Ein Liefje in iedere Haven (Dutch East Indies); Poings de fer, coeur d’or (France); Une femme dans chaque port (France); Une fille dans chaque port (France); Blaue jungens, blonde Mädchen (Germany); In jedem Hafen eine Braut (Germany – contemporary television title); Kaerasta i hverri hofn! (Iceland); Capitano Barbableu (Italy); Il Capitano Barbableu (Italy); Capitan Barbablù (Italy); Ein zeitgemasser Don-Juan (Latvia); Meitene katra osta (Latvia); Mergina kiekviename uoste (Lithuania); Poings de Fer – Coeur d’Or Blaue Jungen – Blonde Madchen (Luxembourg); Una novia in cada puerto (Mexico); En pike i hver havn (Norway); A kochanek miał sto (Poland); Dziewczyna w kaz.dym porcie (Poland); Era Pogoni Za Bogatym Memzem (Poland); Uma Rapariga em Cada Pôrto (Portugal); Uma companheira em cada pôrto (Portugal); Uma noiva em cada porto (in Portuguese-American newspapers); O fata in fiecare port (Romania); Una novia in cada puerto (Spain); Un Amor en Cada Puerto (Spanish); and En flicka i varje hamn (Sweden).
The film is extant, and has been released on VHS and DVD. A 35mm positive print is archived at the International Museum of Photography and Film at George Eastman House.
RELATED ARTICLES & REVIEWS:
— “Review: A Girl in Every Port” (Variety, December 31, 1927)
— “A Girl in Every Port” by Ian Johnston (notcoming.com, February 12, 2009)
— “Film Notes — A Girl in Every Port” by Kevin Hagopian (New York State Writers Institute)
— “A Girl in Every Port — The Birth of Lulu?” by Thomas Gladysz (University of Wisconsin Cinematheque, December 2, 2013)