"See Here, Private Hargrove," is an earnest film that hasn't faired well over the past 67 years since its original release at the end of World War II. Based on Marion Hargrove's novel of the same name chronicling the author's own time in the Army, it's film probably best remembered as the prototype of the military comedy that would follow, and also as the first lead role for Robert Walker who would pass away only eight years later but having left a lasting mark on Hollywood with an iconic performance in Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train."
Walker fills the shows of the titular Army private, initially a well meaning but failing journalist. Eager to answer the call of the draft board, Hargrove finds himself in mixed company, earning the friendship of fellow soldier Mulvehill (Keenan Wynn, a friend of Walker in real-life) and the frustration of Sgt. Cramp (Chill Wills). To the modern viewer, Hargrove feels like he could have been Gomer Pyle's father. Inept at being a soldier as he was being an author, it's hard to discern what parts were the real Marion Hargrove and what were fabrications, because the character presented on screen is too cartoonish to believe. Walker turns in a one-dimensional performance, which winds up being par for the course, as the film itself is nothing more than a series of thinly plotted episodes loosely strung together against the backdrop of boot camp.
Despite being the penultimate film of director Wesley Ruggles' long career, nothing in "See Here, Private Hargrove" stands out as noteworthy. Even a young Donna Reed (two years away from starring opposite Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life") as Hargrove's love interest, comes off as one-note and nothing more than a plot contrivance to break up all the scenes on base. However, there's still a strong sense of charm throughout the picture and taking into account it came before all the "films that did it better," "See Here, Private Hargrove" still manages to mildly entertain.
It's also worth noting the film's release just months after the end of the war likely made it a crowd pleaser, offering viewers an escape from the horrors and reality of both fronts while still instilling a sense of pride and patriotism in service to ones country. One running plot thread in the film revolves around Hargrove and Mulvehill trying to hustle their way into an easy assignment, but the lingering notion of leaving their other buddies hanging out to dry in the mortar squad persists and ultimately viewers are fed a slightly clumsy moral: an imperfect soldier can still be a patriot. To the modern viewer, it's a saccharine, jingoistic theme, but to the average American in the mid-40s, military service had a higher meaning given the very different war going on. The film was ultimately a crowd pleaser and inspired a sequel, "What Now, Corporal Hargrove?" a few years later, with Walker returning once more to the title role. In 2011, "See Here, Private Hargrove" is more a curiosity than classic and while much better takes on the military comedy have come and gone, far worse could have learned a thing for two from this film.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer is shockingly strong for a nearly 70-year-old film. One only need look at the included trailer for the film to see just how bad things could have been. Contrast is a little higher than necessary and detail is merely average, bur print damage is minor. In short, a pleasant surprise on the image front.
The Dolby Digital English mono soundtrack is a little rougher for wear. Minor distortion is evident, almost always at the high end of the spectrum, while everything else is either flat or slightly tinny.
The film's original trailer is the lone extra.
"See Here, Private Hargrove" isn't going to knock anyone's socks off nowadays. It best serves as a blueprint for the comedy that would come in true classics such as "No Time for Sergeants." Taken as the first half of a double feature with "Strangers on a Train" and it serves as empirical evidence for how insanely talented Robert Walker is, even if his character is a glorified sitcom character. If you go in with dialed back expectations and an understanding of the film's place in time, "See Here, Private Hargrove" will at worst provide some light laughs. Rent It.