Even though he was a versatile director who worked in many different genres (Days of Wine and Roses come to mind), Blake Edwards was mostly known for his mastery with slapstick comedy in Peter Sellers classics like The Pink Panther series and The Party. His 1966 World War II comedy What Did You Do In The War Daddy lives up to Edwards' reputation with colorful goofy comedies and presents an excellent comedy of errors/slapstick classic.
In the middle of the war in 1943, by-the-book Captain Cash (Dick Shawn) is ordered to take over a small Italian village with his men. When they reach the village, they find an entire Italian troop led by happy-go-lucky Captain Oppo (Sergio Fantoni). The Italians are more than willing to surrender, but first, they must party all night during an elaborate and exuberant festival. The American troops would love to join the festivities, chief among them party monster Lieutenant Christian (James Coburn), but of course Captain Cash wants all soldiers back at headquarters ASAP. However, Cash's strict stance against partying fizzles when Christian and his men hook him up with the gorgeous hotel maid Gina (Giovanna Ralli).
All seems well after a night of drinking and gambling, until Oppo finds out that Cash slept with his beloved Gina. A fight breaks out among the soldiers, leading leaders from both sides to think that their soldiers are waging a valiant war. When attack orders come rushing in from both the American and Italian sides, the soldiers in the village decide to fake a battle so they won't get court-martialed.
During perhaps the funniest scene in the film, Christian directs a rehearsal of the "battle" as both sides shoot at each other with blanks and pretend to get killed. The deaths look fairly realistic, apart from a little bit of over-acting, if only the prostitutes clapping the soldiers' performances and old women nonchalantly hanging laundry two feet away from a "bloody battle" didn't compromise the realism of the production. Unfortunately, the premiere of the war show never takes place, since the Nazis also smell the possible political advantages of the village and show up announced to help a battle that didn't exist in the first place.
It's hard to call Edwards' film a war satire, since it's not interested in skewering the many moral and logical fallacies of war, nor does it try to present any kind of pathos regarding the its hardships. All it tries to become is a bright and colorful slapstick comedy that happens to have World War II as its backdrop. If there has to be a lesson to be learned here, perhaps it's that all sides in war are full of morons.
William Peter Blatty's screenplay (Yes kids, the writer of The Exorcist used to write goofy comedies in the 60s) is paced really well and Blatty has a deft handle on the genre. Blatty and Edwards never let a comedy bit become too stale as they constantly introduce new conflict for the characters to deal with. Even when the Germans arrive and real, tangible danger presents itself to our protagonists, the delightful slapstick tone never falters into a misguided attempt at serious drama.
For those not familiar with classic Hollywood actors, James Coburn will probably be the most familiar name in the cast, who basically repeats the party loving soldier he portrayed in The Americanization of Emily. However, it's the odd couple chemistry between Shawn and Fantoni that really shines here.
The 1080p presentation is almost perfect when it comes to representing the bright colors that pop. There isn't any video noise to speak of. The only issue is the frequent appearance of dirt and scratches on the print. It's hard to fault Olive Films for this, since a frame-by-frame clean up is usually an expensive process. Otherwise, this transfer is the best this comedy classic will look on home video by a long mile.
There isn't any indication on the box or the menu, but I'm betting that the DTS-HD 2.0 track that's provided is actually a mono mix. I did not catch up on any difference between the two channels. If that's the case, it should have been a 1.0 presentation, but otherwise the audio is clean and crisp.
We only get a Trailer.
What Did You Do In The War Daddy is a smartly written and executed comedy that's also refreshingly lighthearted. It's as far away in tone from more brutal war satires like MASH and Catch 22 as one can get, and that's what kind of gives it its charm.