DVD REVIEW: AT WAR WITH THE ARMY (1950)

The comedy duo of Martin & Lewis, comprising of actor/singer Dean Martin and comedic slapstick artist Jerry Lewis, team up for a comedic romp that takes place in the army entitled AT WAR WITH THE ARMY. The story, based off a play by James B. Allardice, encompasses Pfc. Alvin Korwin (Jerry Lewis) who is a low ranking soldier and always at the end of everyone’s yelling, orders, and the pulling of rank throughout the film. I guess it does not help that Korwin is a major spazz, a smaller stature than all the other soldiers, and usually screws up every assignment or order given to him. Of higher rank is Korwin’s best friend (hard to tell at times throughout the movie) 1st Sgt. Vic Puccinelli (Dean Martin), whom is part of a singing group with Korwin (outside of the military and now inside the army), but seems to take great pleasure in pulling rank on Korwin and busting his balls at every given moment. I guess everyone seems to enjoy busting Korwin’s chops on a regular basis. The plot of the film revolves around the antics of Korwin (Lewis) mucking up every duty and complaining about everyone ranking above him and the sexual escapades of Sgt. Puccinelli who has developed a ruse for getting the pretty ladies to give him a kiss, and quite possibly more. Being that this film came out in 1950, I doubt that the “something more”, in regards to this wholesome studio film from Paramount Pictures, is anything other than some heavy petting and maybe a groping of the breast. One can only hope Martin at least gets some head from these attractive dames for the work he is putting in.

As for the attractive dames cast in the film, there are quite a few lookers. One of the more enjoyable performances and quite a beauty is actress Jean Ruth, playing Millie, who is the dame to fall for the 1st Sgt.’s love games and is adamant on speaking with him about their relationship. The 1st Sgt. Pucinelli (Martin) of course is trying like hell to avoid her and gives orders to everyone in the office on base to tell her he is not around and there is no telling when he may be back, if ever, for quite some time. The soldiers on hand, all the way up to the highest ranking officers sure don’t mind the eye-candy milling around the offices, though. I sure enjoyed the beauty of Jean Ruth, as well. I got tired of watching the antics, as well as the musical interludes with singing from Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and even a duet with Polly Bergen (portraying Helen Palmer) inside a recording booth at the bar/club whom Martin is trying to romance.

As I said before, since the story was written for a play on stage, most of the action (or lack of) occurs in the dumpy office setting at the army base and at the bar/club where the guys go to get drunk, hook up with the ladies, and enjoy some singing, dancing, and theatrical numbers from guess who: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. In one scene, Jerry Lewis dresses up as a woman so he can sneak off into the bar and let his buddies know that they forgot the sheet music that Sgt. Puccinelli was going to use for his number, and there is some goofy scenes involving him and another higher-ranking officer, Sgt. McVey (portrayed by Mike Kellin (SLEEPAWAY CAMP)in his debut role). This scene was almost amusing, yet really overused in Hollywood films, but one that directors and producers always go to for laughs. I guess the movie did have some humorous moments, but I found myself only squeezing out a slight grin from time to time, but delivering more of a look of grimace when enduring the musical duets. I am not a big fan of musicals and certainly found out that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are not who I would choose to listen to sing if given a choice.

There is some more beauty mixed into the film with a few more scenes with not only Polly Bergen in her film debut, but also Angela Greene (FUTURE WORLD) who plays Deborah, the wife of Capt. Ernest Caldwell (William Mendrek). At times it was a bit confusing with characters jumping into scenes left and right, many of them off the screen as quickly as they were on the screen, and only to come back later into the film briefly. I definitely had a hard time keeping track of everyone and that probably had something to do with the movie being based upon a play and not written for the big screen. Director Hal Walker (ROAD TO BALI), having a little bit more experience as a Second Unit Director than THE director, helmed a decent comedy that did lag in the excitement department and seemed cramped at times because of its office setting throughout most of the movie.

I found it of interest that this film is in public domain, and that there are quite a few releases of this movie available on dvd, but that Film Chest (the version of the movie I am reviewing) has upgraded the quality of the print to HD with the restored version and from what I have read is much better than any of the other grainy prints around. It is dvd, so it is not perfect, nor pristine, but I watched it on my 21″ screen LCD  and it looked great. I have no complaints with the quality of the picture and was happy that Film Chest kept the original aspect ratio of 4×3 and did not stretch the film to a larger ratio. As for extra features on the disc, one only gets the 93 min. film with a chapter menu for skipping to certain parts. Bare bones, but with so subpar prints of varying levels of terrible quality, I guess one should be grateful and happy that Film Chest took the time to restore AT WAR WITH THE ARMY. This is the first film of the classic duo and Martin & Lewis went on to make movies together for six more years.

One of the reasons some feel that this film is still in public domain and the movie’s copyright was not renewed by the studio is because of the fact that when Martin & Lewis signed on with Paramount Pictures, they did so under the condition attached to the agreement that they (Martin & Lewis) could make one film outside of the studio every year for their own company, York Productions. This, AT WAR WITH THE ARMY, being the first film from that negotiation had the stars Martin & Lewis exchange their usual salaries for a 90% cut of the profits. Upon the film’s release, both actors were in the middle of a legal battle over the contract and profits. It got ugly, I imagine, and resulted in them relinquishing all financial interest in the film in exchange for dropping their stipulation that they make films outside of Paramount. Some think all the legal battles are probably why the copyright was not renewed in 1977 and the film going into public domain. Although Martin & Lewis had appeared in films twice before (MY FRIEND IRMA and MY FRIEND IRMA GOES WEST), but they were only in supporting roles and AT WAR WITH THE ARMY is notable because it is their first film in which they starred in it as the lead comedy duo.

I also read some other consumers comments on various websites of commerce where they left mini-reviews of the film and some of the comments were from veterans of the military and quite a few commented on how realistic and humorous the interactions between the various officers of rank were. Of course, I can’t confirm whether these interactions were accurate or not since I have not even been in the military around the time of the movie, or even any other time period. I believe if this film had a bit more interesting locations for it, some being out of doors instead of all the shots filmed at the office, it may have a bit more appeal for me. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992) it was not.

I feel that for the historical elements that this film possesses for a film buff and one interested in Hollywood, this is a must-own film. It is the first film that the comedic duo of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis star in with lead roles and an important part of Hollywood’s history for that reason. I saw this film about four times before writing this review, and probably another several times during the course of researching and writing it and I will say that the film did grow on me and aside from the singing bits within, the film does have its moments more often than not. I recommend picking up the Film Chest version of the film and get rid of the other copies of it.

 

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