What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?

What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?
The Mirisch Company 1966.

Before watching the movie:

The two keywords that got me interested are “Blake Edwards” and “James Coburn”. There are quite a lot of WWII farces around by now, and I’m certainly no stranger to them, but a Blake Edwards farce sounds highly promising, and I’ve enjoyed James Coburn in comedies from the time as well.

From what I’ve seen, I’m not sure the title has much to do with how the story is told, unless all of the summaries I’ve read completely ignore a framing device. The unreliable narrator aspect shown on this poster is a good starting point for what I’d want to do with a story with a title like that, but I don’t expect to see it in the movie.

After watching the movie:

By the book army officer Capt. Lionel Cash is assigned to lead a dead-on-their-feet group of men commanded by laid back Lt. Jody Christian, the last detachment available, to capture the strategically important Italian town of Valerno. When they arrive, they find the Italian soldiers led by Capt. Fausto Oppo more than happy to surrender without a fight, but Oppo insists they can’t actually march out of Valerno right away, as there’s a festival that night that he won’t deprive his men of. While Cash is emphatic that surrender means now, Christian talks him into allowing the delay so that they don’t have any friction. Cash tries ineffectively to keep his men on their guard during the festival, but Christian and the Mayor of the town manage to get Cash to have a little wine to relax, and the Americans enjoy the festivities. In the morning, the Americans are wearing the Italians’ uniforms and vice versa due to a poker bet, strategy officer Major Pott is on his way to assess the “battle”, and Cash is dead drunk and spent the night with Oppo’s girlfriend, so the surrender is off. Lt. Christian has to finagle a way to keep everyone out of trouble while the brass think the battle of the century is ongoing at Valerno.

Coburn is fun as the breezy guy who gets things done any way that works, and I can’t place where I’ve seen Dick Shawn before (probably a lot of places), but a lot of the best parts were supporting roles. Harry Morgan is almost entirely alone in his subplot going mad. Leon Askin arrives in the third act to do what you get Leon Askin for. And Carroll O’Connor has a few charming scenes as the war-weary general who’s tired of how lonely it is at the top.

There’s a surprisingly high level of production value here. There are a lot of scenes with what seems like hundreds of extras, firearms, and explosives. But what’s really impressive is that the entire picturesque Italian town was built somewhere in California and it looks perfect. This is a really high budget comedy with a lot of moving parts, and really the only thing I could’ve done without was the protracted sequence with Cash disguised as a woman. This is everything a wartime farce movie should be.

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