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DVD SAVANT

The Wackiest Ship in the Army


The Wackiest Ship in the Army
Columbia TriStar
1960 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 99 min. / Street Date Oct 12, 2004 / 24.96
Starring Jack Lemmon, Ricky Nelson, John Lund, Chips Rafferty, Tom Tully
Cinematography
Production Designer
Art Direction
Film Editor
Original Music
Written by Richard Murphy, Herbert Margolis, William Raynor based on a story by Herbert Carlson
Produced by
Directed by Richard Murphy

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

As a general rule, a movie with 'wacky' in the title is not going to be a laugh classic.

This okay comedy was pleasant enough in 1960 but isn't going to turn any heads now. Jack Lemmon is only marginally more convincing as a sailing man than he was in the disastrous Fire Down Below a few seasons before. Not quite Ensign Pulver but also not a convincing man of action, Lemmon gets the film off to an uneven start as a tame service comedy (Operation Mad Ball?) and ends up a so-so imitation of Blake Edwards' Operation Petticoat.

Synopsis:

Navy Officer Rip Crandall (Jack Lemmon) ships out on a leaky schooner with a bad winch motor, after being tricked into the command by old buddy Lt. Commander Vanderwater (John Lund) with the knowledge that he's the only one with the needed sailing experience - next best is Tommy Hanson (Ricky Nelson), a kid with minimal training. They skip northward to Borneo from Australia, and then find out that the real mission is to drop a spotter-spy (Chips Rafferty) on a remote island held by the Japanese. Crandall reluctantly elects to continue rather than let his new crew do the job under an unfriendly officer.

Jack Lemmon used some of his Columbia contract films to try to stretch his screen possibilities, only to find his only route forward to be in straight comedies, preferably with very good scripts such as those provided by Billy Wilder.

In 1960 Hollywood serious war dramas were waning while light comedies with a war background were on the rise. Here we have a UCLA-educated Japanese officer verbally sparring with our Navy heroes as if preparing for a basketball match. We're told that the mission of the leaky vessel Echo is a one-way suicide trip but the whole movie says otherwise, what with slapstick on the decks and broad comedy everywhere else. The important joke is a low ceiling in the captain's cabin, see, that everyone knocks their head on. Will the Japanese commander konk himself on the head too, thus giving our heroes a chance to get the upper hand?

Being fair, The Wackiest Ship in the Army isn't bad, but it doesn't distinguish itself. The screenplay dawdles for half an hour while Lemmon balks at accepting a command we know he'll eventually take. There's hardly a hint of romance with perky Australian secretary Patricia Driscoll. There are some okay cast members, like Jack Mullaney's chief and Tom Tully (The Caine Mutiny) as a good commander at Port Moresby. Richard Anderson (Forbidden Planet) is the creep officer that motivates Lemmon's character to steal the boat and do the mission himself.

Throwing a bent wicket into the works is wonderboy Ricky Nelson, Teen idol and canned radio star. In 1958-59 he made a play for film stardom that resulted in one respected film, Rio Bravo. By any fair measure he's terrible in it. The Wackiest Ship in the Army isn't a dog but Nelson drags it down the drain with a lack of charisma, personality, or anything to make us want to see him on screen. He just stares with his cute puppy looks and warbles a song from inside that acoustic echo chamber that gives him a voice.

That leaves Lemmon to carry the film alone, which he almost does. He's a convincing sailor, as the rather good water-based scenes show him doing well on deck and in the rigging of his ship. And it's the only movie where you'll see Lemmon get run through with a samurai sword, which of course only adds up to a momentary inconvenience.

The production is good, the bad coffee jokes are bad and the scenery is good. The gag of watching the extendable keel of the boat raise just enough to clear a minefield is used three times too often. Perhaps the victim of studio politics (Ricky Nelson? I'll take Frankie Avalon ... Fabian ... anybody!), The Wackiest Ship in the Army is a mixed bag of okay but undistinguished comedy.

The unfunny machinist who can never get the boat's engine to turn over when needed is Warren Berlinger, a normally engaging actor. I liked him in 1960, but I was 10 and didn't know any better.


Columbia TriStar's DVD of The Wackiest Ship in the Army makes the film look like new. I remember seeing it on the screen of the Hickam Air Base outdoor theater when I was eight years old, and this sharp and colorful picture brings the experience back, even the fragrance of flowers in the air. The enhanced image has good detail. There are no extras except some unrelated trailers, which Columbia now puts in an anonymous stack.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Wackiest Ship in the Army rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 2, 2004





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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