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The working titles of this film were You're in the Navy, We're in the Navy Now and They're in the Navy. Modern sources also include Hello Sailor as a working title. The film was also known in trade publications as Abbott and Costello and Dick Powell in the Navy and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and Dick Powell in the Navy. The opening credits begin with actors Bud Abbott and Lou Costello hoisting a flag with their names on it, then hoisting a flag with the title "Buck Privates" written on it. After Bud slaps Lou in the face, they both hoist flags with "Dick Powell" and "In the Navy" inscribed on them. (Universal had trouble with the picture's title, as Paramount, in March 1941, was also considering using the titles You're in the Navy Now and We're in the Navy Now for a planned service comedy starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, written by Eddie Moran and produced by Paul Jones. Although the Paramount film was not made, Universal changed the working title of its film to They're in the Navy.) The film includes the following prologue: "To the United States Navy and to the Officers and Enlisted Personnel of the San Diego and San Pedro Bases. This picture is dedicated in grateful appreciation of their invaluable cooperation.
In the Navy was to be the third Abbott and Costello release of 1941, but with the unexpected success of their service comedy Buck Privates (see entry above), Universal executives decided to withhold their second film, Oh, Charlie (later released as Hold That Ghost, see entry above) and release this film first, as it was also a service comedy made with superior production values. During the film's production, Universal executives then decided to make a series of service comedies starring Abbott and Costello, and this film was followed by Keep 'Em Flying , which executives felt would work well in the Latin American market.
When this picture was still in the planning stages, Hollywood Reporter announced that Commander Clyde Lovelace of the U.S. Naval Base in San Diego, CA would act as the film's technical advisor. That position was later credited to retired naval officer H. E. Harris, and it has not been determined to what extent, if any, Commander Lovelace contributed to the production. According to Hollywood Reporter, dance director Nick Castle was borrowed from Warner Bros. to work on this film. Hollywood Reporter also reported that the musical number "Gimme Some Skin" was recorded "live" on a Universal sound stage. This number included the use of 250 extras, and was filmed with members of the press in attendance. During production, writer John Grant signed a seven-year contract with Universal. Grant had worked on previous Abbott and Costello films, as well as writing for their radio show. According to a May 8, 1941 Hollywood Reporter new item, Carol Lou Costello, the two-and-one-half year old daughter of Lou Costello, made her acting debut in this film. It has not been determined, however, if she appears in the released film.
Universal publicity materials state that this was the first picture in which actor Dick Powell agreed to sing after a three-year singing hiatus. Press materials also state that the battleship sets for the film were based on actual U.S. Navy blueprints, and in order to reproduce the Royal Palms Hotel of Hawaii, Universal was required to haul to the studio lot 200 ruckloads of dirt and sand, as well as sixty palm trees. Publicity materials further claim that the song "We're in the Navy Now" became the official training tune at the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego, CA after the release of this film. Hollywood Reporter new items of June 1941 stated that In the Navy was doing forty per cent more business than Buck Privates, while breaking box office records in such theaters as the Orpheum in San Francisco. Modern sources state that the film's overall grosses exceeded those of Buck Privates, and it was among the top grossing films of 1941.
Modern sources also report that the film suffered censorship problems with the U.S. Naval Department. In the original shooting script, "Pomeroy Watson" disguises himself as the captain of a battleship to impress the Andrews Sisters. He then mistakenly takes over command of the ship, steering it though a series of wild maneuvers during a war games exercise, which ends up impressing the supervising admiral and a visiting senator. The Naval Department felt that this scene "made fools of the entire American fleet" and refused to allow the film to be released with it. Associate producer Alex Gottlieb then came up with the idea of re-shooting part of the controversial scene to have "Smokey" mistakenly drink a sleeping solution, thus establishing that the entire sequence was only a dream. The film was then approved by the Naval Department.