Before watching the movie:
Every time I see this title, I get a little disappointed it’s not The Ship with the Flat Tire, which apparently didn’t amount to much of anything outside of the enjoyment of the few who read it and has probably been out of print since the 60s.
This looks like a pretty standard farce with a misfit crew and a leaky boat, but Jack Lemmon will probably give it a good turn. What will make it distinctive is how colorful the eccentric characters are.
After watching the movie:
Lt. Rip Crandall gets an urgent order to relocate to an Australian port and take his first command. He’s horrified to find that the ship he’s going to be commanding is the Echo, a tiny, ancient sailing vessel crewed with seamen who have no idea how to handle sails. Crandall intends to refuse the command, but his old sailing rival Lt. Commander Vandewater makes it clear to him that if he doesn’t take the command, his inexperienced Ensign Hanson will be made the skipper of Echo on its trip to Port Moresby in New Guinea, deep into Japanese territory, for purposes not even Vandewater has been told. Crandall does his best to train up his crew, and makes it to Port Moresby, where they learn that their orders are to take an Australian coastwatcher to a secret location only reachable through shallow water, disguised as a native fishing boat.
At times, the pacing felt kind of slow, and calling the ship “wacky” is greatly overselling. The inexperience of the crew is a source of comedy until they train up, and then there are only a couple of situations where they get put into funny situations. As the plot thickens, the comedy flattens.
The Japanese are mostly kept at arm’s length as “the enemy”, but there is one scene where two Japanese airmen talk in what’s at least partly fake Japanese designed to sound funny to English-speaking audiences. The main speaking Japanese character speaks English like an American because he went to an Ivy League school before the war, enabling them to get in jokes about Ivy League schools.
About half of the crew of the Echo don’t seem to have names or notable personalities aside from “inexperienced sailors”. There’s the young Ensign, the disgraced Chief, the radio man/engineer, the cook, and everybody else. That list is more or less in descending order of how interesting they are. The engineer has one joke once, the cook has the same joke a couple of times, and the Chief doesn’t have much to do but execute orders once they get out of port.
In terms of nautical comedy, The Boatniks is a more amusing outing. This is a ragtag bunch of misfits save the day kind of story, but they aren’t much of an underdog once the story gets going, and nobody individually is all that funny. This is a light adventure that doesn’t seem all that memorable.