At War With The Army

At War With The Army. York Pictures Corporation 1950.
At War With The Army. York Pictures Corporation 1950.

Before watching the movie:

This looks like another variety film loosely connected by a thin plot. But it’s just intended to be fun, so that doesn’t matter as much. And it’s set in WWII less than a decade after the fact.

I’m not sure I’ve seen anything by Martin and Lewis as a team, just one or the other separately. They sing to some extent. The songs might be interesting despite not being what I’m here for.

After watching the movie:

Although Alvin Korwin and Vic Puccinelli were great friends before the war, now that they’ve been drafted things are different. Stationed at the same stateside training camp, Korwin is a put-upon buck private who’d rather be at home with his wife and newborn, Puccinelli is a bored sergeant stuck behind a desk when he’d rather be out in combat, and as Korwin’s superior officer, Puccinelli takes out his frustrations on him. Puccinelli is also concerned ducking the girl he conned into dating him a year ago who has something very urgent to tell him, while Korwin is just trying to get a three-day pass to see his family or failing that, survive training.

The headlining duo beginning as old friends who never leave each other’s side may sometimes be a bit tired as a trope, but this is the result when it isn’t followed. I expected Dean Martin’s character would be likeable, but he wasn’t, and the contradiction only made him seem worse. Puccinelli is a pretty nasty guy. The film claims Korwin and Puccinelli used to be buddies, but from their onscreen relationship, I cannot believe it. Puccinelli’s abuse of Korwin at best shows he’s forgotten about their former friendship, and at worst goes out of his way to be hurtful and dismissive. While none of the men are very fair to women (a product of the times and their place in the army), Puccinelli lies his way into two women’s hearts (and other places) while slagging them off behind their backs.  The sexism isn’t even entirely endorsed by the story, since it shows that the camp commander’s wife and the Colonel’s wife are doing a lot to keep the place running despite their husbands’ interference.

Korwin is a typical Jerry Lewis character, and I think I would have found the stock character a better fit if he was alone. Again, Puccinelli’s treatment of him really rubs me the wrong way, and made Korwin overly sympathetic for a put-upon comedic character. He was pretty funny with the other superiors acting as foils to him, and Martin gave a good performance as a scoundrel when not with Lewis and a straight antagonist with him, but their two good performances clashed. When they’re together, either Lewis is too comic or Martin is too straight, depending on what kind of story the film wants to tell. I was more concerned with the straighter side of the story, but if it hadn’t been as straight I could have enjoyed the comic side more.

Perhaps on a future rewatch, I’d be more receptive to the standalone jokes and more aware of what scenes actually do advance the plot, but it seemed like the first two thirds were a series of not all that amusing jokes about army life and getting pulled in five directions at once by conflicting orders and regulations which only served to keep the story in stasis, mercifully punctuated by an occasional song. Then the last 15-30 minutes fired off all the twists set up early on, and it was suddenly interesting and funny.

Maybe this movie is funnier for people with actual army experience. Maybe I’m having a hard time losing my plot-first focus. I’ve enjoyed films where the plot was secondary before, but they had less consequential plots. This movie is ultimately schizophrenic, and I can recommend many individual parts, but the entire package is just a jumble.

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