How about some good ol’ military humor this week?
Will Stockdale (Andy Griffith) is a big, burly country boy that can barely read and doesn’t like to wear shoes. He’s never been outside the woods that surround his Pa’s cabin, but he’s okay with that. Will likes the simple life. Trouble is, he’s been drafted, and his Pa was so worried about Will not being prepared for the outside world, he hid all the draft notices. So, now Will’s been drafted, but he’s also counted as a draft dodger. Not a good beginning.
Will is taken to town to get shipped out with the other draftees and finds that, sure enough, he sticks out like a sore thumb, from being a full head taller than everyone else, to being a little slower, to being a little kinder. He winds up becoming pals with the smallest fellow in their group, Ben Whitledge (Nick Adams) and they are all sent to the Air Force. Will sees this as a great adventure, but Ben is beside himself. Being the youngest and smallest of 6 brothers (or 5, I think it’s 6) he’s the only one who didn’t get sent to the Infantry, and it’s killing him. So Will makes it his personal mission to get through basic training and get himself and Ben transferred to the infantry.
At basic, they meet Sergeant King, a laid-back guy who enjoys his position of meager responsibility and wants nothing more than to get through this batch of trainees with as little hassle as possible. Unfortunately for him, he’s got Will and Ben in his barracks. After a series of ridiculously unfortunately events – most caused by Will’s well-meaning ignorance – King is given an ultimatum: either he gets Will through Basic and OFF of this post, or he loses his stripes and his cushy life he’s built for himself. Thus begins the second phase of the movie: getting Will and Ben successfully through Basic Training, in spite of themselves.
This is the role that made Andy Griffith really famous as a comedian. As the big-hearted, thick-headed Will, he’s downright charming in an “aw, shucks” kind of way. And while parts of the movie are dated – there’s discussion about how you treat female soldiers compared to male soldiers, for example, since Will didn’t know there were any female soldiers – it really has held up well, as long as you don’t nitpick too hard at the portrayal of the military. Authenticity is secondary to comedy.
One of my favorite scenes is when Will has to go through all the mental and psychological exams. Don Knotts makes a fantastic cameo here as a high-strung authoritarian mental aptitude examiner. He quickly finds out, he’s never seen the likes of Will before.
The running gag through the whole movie, adapted from a play and originally a novel, is that Ben is absolutely disgusted at being placed in the Air Force. Everyone else enjoys the Air Force, even Will, until Ben ’sets him straight’ and says, “Do you know what they call fellows in the Air Force? Airman! How you gonna like it if someone calls you airman?” He says it like a curse word and does throughout the movie. So there’s a decent amount of (humorous) discussion about being in the Army vs. being in the Air Force, which is always fun (but then I don’t take those things too seriously, and it’s not meant to be taken seriously.)
There’s only one part where I kind of cringe. At the beginning, Will says goodbye to his Pa. They’re simple mountain people, not educated, but guileless. When Will’s Pa sincerely tries to warn him – against Will’s protests – that “city folk” will judge him for being different, he talks in his own plain, heavily-accented language, tells of the last time he went to “the big city,” and felt hostile eyes around him that drove him back to the mountains for good. Will assures his Pa that the Army won’t be like that, that they’re all guys together, and not to worry about him. I’ve watched this movie with many groups of people, and while I know a lot of people find this simple conversation funny for its ignorance, I can’t help but be moved by its tenderness. Will and his Pa weren’t written to be ridiculed, at least not in this scene. Here is where we first see Will’s sincerity and unspoiled outlook on life, and the man who taught that to him. I don’t think that’s ridiculous, I think it’s precious.
Anyway, that one serious note aside, I promise, you don’t want to miss this one. We’ve seen it 100 times and every time it’s still hysterical. It’s got a great cast and fantastic dialogue, and it’s great to watch with the whole family (another wonderful thing about old movies).
No Time for Sergeants is coming on TCM Friday, at 3:00 p.m. CST. Be sure those DVRs are set!
(and netflix probably has it somewhere, but I still can’t get the dumb search feature to work for me. Really, I searched for “No Time for Sergeants,” and what does it pull up? “Hot Tub Time Machine.” I mean, wha…???)