At War with the Army

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When Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis first started in the movie biz, their contract with Paramount Pictures was such that they were able to make one film away from the studio each year through their own production company. The team’s first film, My Friend Irma, was a hit and a sequel went into production, but not before the boys made this little military comedy away from the studio. The film ended up leading to a long legal battle for the comedy team and they ended up relinquishing their financial interest in the film so they wouldn’t have to make any more films away from Paramount. This eventually led to the film being booted over to that place we know as the Public Domain. Stand at attention for 1950’s At War with the Army.

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The film takes place at an army base during World War II. Deano plays Sgt. Vic Puccinelli, who is anxious to leave his desk job and be moved overseas where the action is. Trade in a desk job for the front lines!  That’s the army spirit there, Dean!  Jerry plays his pal, and former partner in a nightclub act, Alvin. He’s a bit anxious to get a three day pass so he can see his wife who is due to give birth at any moment.

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The boys end up engaged in various hijinks dealing with various situations around the base. There is a former girlfriend of Vic’s named Millie (Jean Ruth) who is trying to track him down. Oh, did I mention she’s PREGNANT! At one point Alvin ends up at a bar dressed in drag where he gets hit on by one of his drunk sergeants. Later, the boys have to deal with a strict colonel who tries to straighten things up on the base. Of course, there’s also time for both Dean and Jerry to sing a few tunes and do some of their act.

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I’ve been catching up with quite a few of the Martin and Lewis films over the course of the last year or so, and this is by far the dullest I’ve run across yet. At War with the Army is based on a play, and it shows. I have no background with the play, but it was clearly one of those door slamming comedies. Most of it takes place in one military office with people coming and going, running from one room to another. Lots of characters enter, leave, come back again, etc, and if their names aren’t Dean Martin or Jerry Lewis, they pretty much just blur together.

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What’s really strange about this film is that Martin and Lewis have almost no chemistry with each other. I wouldn’t have thought that possible. I mean, Deano is always a little bit hard on the little guy but in this film he’s a royal jerk. Jerry, on the other hand, almost feels like he’s in a completely different movie. Many of the scenes the duo has together are painfully dull and there’s not even much that stands out about Dean’s handful of musical numbers. Jerry actually gets the film’s best song with “The Navy gets the Gravy but the Army gets the Beans.” To be honest, the funniest member of the cast is Jean Ruth as the somewhat ditzy Millie. I found myself somewhat wishing that she were the central character.

Of course, Martin and Lewis went on to much more success in the movie industry. This was only their second movie filmed, third to be released (My Friend Irma Goes West made it out before this one). I’m not really surprised that the boys kind of pushed this film to the side, ‘cuz it could’ve possibly derailed their film careers before they even got started.

Note: This is Forgotten Films’ entry in the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon being hosted by our good friend, and Walt Sent Me podcast co-host, Kristen Lopez over at her site, Journeys in Classic Film. Dean Martin is the star being highlighted by TCM on August 31st. Be sure to check out the other contributions to this series.

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