The Wackiest Ship In The Army (1960)
Jack Lemmon returns to sea duty in what audiences of the day surely connected to his Oscar winning role as Ensign Pulver in 1955’s Mister Roberts. This time out, Jack isn’t working for the legendary John Ford. It’s the workman like Richard Murphy. Still, that shouldn’t stop anyone from tuning in to another totally watchable performance from the always enjoyable leading man.
As our narrator points out after the cartoon credits come to a close, it’s Australia of 1943 and we quickly see officer Jack pulled from one ship and headed for another on a “special assignment.” Lemmon is just itching for a command of his own but is soon to realize he’s about to be conned by John Lund, an old nemesis in the Navy Brass. He’s been slated to command “The Echo”, a run down schooner with an assigned cast of misfit sailors. Apparently before the advent of war, Lemmon was a well known captain of such seafaring fun. He isn’t about to accept the command until he’s overwhelmed with guilt that the young inexperienced officer assigned to him will be ordered to sail the derelict to New Guinea. That officer happens to be heartthrob of the day, Ricky Nelson who had just starred opposite the mighty Duke in Rio Bravo. With very little experience sailing the open sea, let alone commanding a ragtag group of sailors, Jack steps up to do his duty.
Before heading for the high seas and attempting to elude Japanese planes and subs, we are treated to a bit of light comedy with Lemmon having a few drinks at the bar, playing piano to Nelson’s customary song on camera and even hitting on Lund’s secretary, Maggie Driscoll. Among the crew making the 400 nautical mile journey are some faces you’ll recall but not necessarily the name that goes with it. Folks like Warren Berlinger, Mike Kellin, Alvy Moore and Roy Jenson. Unbeknownst to Jack is that upon arrival at the seaside port in New Guinea, he is to turn the command over to the arrogant, Richard Anderson who lacks any personal or sailing skills.
Perhaps Jack might prefer to lead Ricky and the crew himself behind the enemy lines and face off against the Japanese forces that hold the next island. Care to take a guess?
There isn’t really anything wrong with this so-so military comedy, a genre that populated movie houses for a good many years until they moved to television in sitcoms like McHales Navy and even a spin off of this comedy under the same title featuring Jack Warden and a returning Mike Kellin from this film. No there’s nothing wrong with this film, it’s just that without Jack Lemmon, it probably wouldn’t even be but a blip on the radar of film buffs.
There is a bit of tame action down the stretch that sees a few skirmishes and even some casualties inflicted upon the Japanese actors which caught me by surprise just a might having become used to the Operation Mad Ball style of wartime comedies. That’s another Jack Lemmon film by the way which along with Mister Roberts gives Jack a trifecta.
Part of what puts this Wacky Ship in the so-so category are the rather lame attempts at ocean trickery with bathtub models filmed from below dodging and weaving through rocky shoals and mine fields. Honestly, it’s been done better. There are also the customary intercuts of real life planes in battle from what I suppose would be WW2 and Jack Lemmon on deck piloting The Echo through the harsh waters of a back screen projection.
I don’t mean to pick on this film so much but it’s too easy of a target I guess. On the plus side it does have Mr. Lemmon which makes my first time viewing long overdue. Jack is always a delight to watch and though he could be as good dramatically with the best of them, to see him in light comedic roles is always just a little extra special.