Tuesday, July 29, 2014

WTF? The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964)


 

                This may be the strangest war movie review I will ever do, but what the hell?  I got the idea for doing this movie because I threw Don Knotts into my satire of war movies entitled “Where Dirty Heroes Dare”.  Since the satire can be on the silly side, Knotts’ character makes references to wanting to be a fish.  LOL right?  This inspired me (with some trepidation) to revisit a fondly remembered Hardy boys’ movie.  The Hardy siblings, sans female, had a mix of movies that helped define our childhoods.  The exemplar of this eclectic mix was “The Great Escape”.  Another that we always watched when it appeared on TV was “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”.  (The list also includes another Knotts classic – “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”.)  Everyone of my generation has these pre-VCR favorites that came along once a year or so and became must-resee viewing.  I saw “The Great Escape” approximately ten times as a minor not because I popped it in the VCR (those machines that DVD players replaced) ten times, but because it appeared on CBS once a year ten years in a row.  You kids don’t know how easy you have it.  My son watched “Monster Squad” (the equivalent of “Limpet”) every time he wanted.  And he did not have to walk to school ten miles through the snow uphill both ways.  “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” exemplifies why my generation is so tough.

Mr. Limpet amd Mr. Midshipman Limpet
                The movie was Don Knotts’ first star vehicle.  I was surprised to find out he had not exactly jumped ship from the “Andy Griffith Show” (like McLean Stevenson did to “MASH”).  Griffith had told him the show would run five years and Knotts had explored other options towards the end of the five years.  When Griffith changed his mind, Knotts had already worked out a contract with Warner Brothers.  This resulted in five memorable films of which “Limpet” was the first.  The movie was directed by Arthur Lubin (Abbott and Costello, Francis the Talking Mule, Mr. Ed – ‘nuff said).  It was not a big hit because the studio could not figure out what it had on its hands and it was mis-marketed.

Limpet and Ladyfish -
progenitors of a super race of fish
                Knotts plays Henry Limpet, who is a milquetoast fishophile.  His nagging wife Bessie (Carole Cook) is critical of his obsession.  She makes him choose between his aquarium and her.  He hesitates, but realizes he has married way out of his league.  On a trip to Coney Island, Henry falls off the pier and turns into a dolphin.  The movie does not even bother to come up with some bull crap pseudo-scientific explanation for this.  His clothes are gone, but he still has his glasses (because this will be an important plot point later in the film).  He gets a comic relief side kick in a crusty hermit crab creatively called Crusty and a love interest in a dolphin-next-door creatively called Ladyfish. Normally I would prefer the characters speak in their appropriate language and we get subtitles, but in this case it is acceptable that the fish speak English.  Henry discovers that instead of a nervous swim bladder, he thrums (honks like a constipated jackass) when he is threatened.  This comes in handy against sharks and German u-boats.  With this awesome power in his fins, he makes contact with the U.S. Navy and is paired with his buddy/Bessie-condoler George (Jack Weston).  The humorously skeptical Navy decides to use its new secret weapon to protect a crucial convoy.  Meanwhile the Germans have developed an anti-thrum submarine.  It is designed to home in on the sound.  They send out a wolfpack to destroy Mr. Limpet and it is heading right for the convoy.  To make matters even more suspenseful, Limpet inconveniently loses his glasses at this pivotal moment in the war.  See the movie to find out if the Allies win the war.  And before you sneer at the ridiculous scenario, its more believable than “Inglourious Basterds”.

                “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” is a bit of a strange kettle of fish (sorry,  I could not resist that one).  It is one of the few war movies that are a hybrid of live action and animation.  The animation is worthy of the Saturday mornings of my childhood.  The live action is reminiscent of the post-Poppins Disney doldrums.  It is also one of the rare war movies that is not a musical, but has some original songs in it.  The most famous is the ear-wormish “I Wish I Was a Fish”.  The refrain of that number is decades memorable.  Thank goodness it’s only that line that is stuck in my head because the rest of the lyrics to it and the other songs were stolen from Disney’s reject pile. 
Limpet and Crusty -
winners of the Battle of the Atlantic


                The cast is that of a B-movie.  No other name should have appeared on the marquee besides Don Knotts.  This is his film.  Surprisingly it is not a typical Knotts film and I am not referring to the animation.  He does not play his usual neurotic coward.  In fact, Limpet is a take-charge hero.  This is part of the reason the movie is not laugh out loud funny.  But at the same time it is not laugh at incompetence funny either.  The animation is low rent, but serviceable and the sub warfare effects are about what you would get from “McHale’s Navy”.  The audience does not care that the Atlantic Ocean was apparently only 30 yards deep.  Neither did the U.S. Navy since it provided the U.S.S. Alfred A. Cunningham for the production.  It is interesting to theorize what the Navy thought it would get from cooperating with this movie.

"set your depth charges for 30 yards -
the u-boats are resting on the bottom"
                Since Hollywood has no new ideas (ex. Planet of the Apes), it won’t come as a surprise that they are going to remake “Limpet”.   In fact, the idea has been around for decades with Jim Carrey’s name attached to the early attempts.  Supposedly the animation could not do Carrey justice which seems weird considering the advanced state of animation since 1964.  The latest is that Richard Linklater will direct Zach Galifianakis in the title role.  I’m not sure if the plot needs to be reworked, but I pray the songs are.

                In conclusion, I enjoyed my first rewatching of the movie in several decades.  It was about as much of a curio as I had remembered.  You definitely have to be a Knotts fan, but who isn’t?  I was a little surprised at how much of a war movie it is.  Lately I have seen war movies that are not as firmly in the genre and are much worse as entertainment.  Check out some of my recent reviews.  With that said, it is certainly not a good movie.  It gave me a nostalgic glow, but also made me glad I’m no longer waiting eagerly for it to appear on TV annually.  I would like to say I am also glad that war movies have come a long way since 1964, but let’s wait and see what the new one is like.  It wouldn’t be the first modern war movie to suck worse than the original.  One thing I can safely recommend is that you should make the Knotts version your son’s first war movie, not the Galifianakis version.

GRADE  =  C 
 
 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

WAR CHICK FLICK: I Was a Male War Bride (1949)



 
                “I Was a Male War Bride”  is a Howard Hawks / Cary Grant romantic comedy released in 1949.  The exterior scenes were filmed in Heidelberg, Germany.  Terrible weather resulted in illnesses to much of the cast and crew.  Grant suffered from hepatitis and jaundice which pushed back production for three months.  He had to regain thirty pounds to finish the movie.  The movie took a total of eight months to complete.  It was worth it as the film was a box office success and ended up being Hawks’ third highest grosser after “Sergeant York” and “Red River”.  It is actually based on a biography by Grant’s character, but I would assume it is highly fictionalized.


A woman in pants on a motorcycle!
                The movie is set in post-WWII Germany.  Grant plays a French soldier named Henri Rochard.  He is paired with the very feisty Lt. Catherine Gates (Anne Sheridan).  She's a WAC.  They had been paired before on missions to locate stolen art treasures.  Working together has not led to fondness and in fact they dislike each other immensely.  Imagine that.  Their banter is vicious even for the 1940s.  He calls her a “bubblemouth” and she calls him a “blistering idiot”.  This being the good ole days before feminism, Henri threatens that he is “going to kick [her] bowlegged".  She is bossy and he is mean.  They have what the movie calls “sex antagonism”.  Do you think they will get together before the end of the movie?


Spoiler alert:  they get together
                Their route to matrimony begins with a feverish motorcycle with a sidecar adventure with Catherine donning slacks to drive.  Sheridan did some of the stunts which included the accidental demise of a goose.  As in all romantic comedies of this time period, they end up in the same hotel room and misunderstandings ensue to postpone the inevitable coupling.  Oh, and they are supposed to be on a mission to bring in a valuable lens maker who is now a black marketeer.  They find him and love.  Their first kiss is in a hay stack.  Three weddings later (don’t ask), we get to see Anne Sheridan in a night gown.  She fills it nicely.  They would have lived happily ever after except that Catherine gets orders back to the States and would you believe the law covering military spouses assumed they would be females?  So here comes the big payoff for sitting through this long snooze fest – the sight of Cary Grant in drag!  Go back in a time machine so you can get a thrill out of this.


Trust me, this is actually Cary Grant
                Cary Grant enjoyed making this movie and is quoted as saying it was the best comedy he had done up till then.  Sure!  And “The Green Berets” was John Wayne’s best war movie.  The movie is terrible no matter what Grant said in his hepatitis induced delirium.  It feels like it is lasting longer than the war when it is actually only 105 minutes.  Parts are redundant and all of it is predictable (except the stunning sight of Grant in drag).  The movie gets worse as it goes along.  Just when you think it can’t get any more tedious, it does.  The acting is average.  Sheridan is game and holds her own, but Grant appears to be going through the motions and does not even attempt a French accent.  I did not find they had much chemistry.  The biggest problem is the movie is just not that funny.  I smiled a few times, but never laughed out loud.  Apparently audiences howled at the sight of Cary as a female.  And they guffawed over Milton Berle in a dress back then, too.  Different times.  Back when war brides were topical I suppose the movie was humorous.  However, if you want to see a WWII comedy that holds up, watch “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”.

GRADE  =  D

Friday, July 25, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: MY BOY JACK (2007)


  

                “My Boy Jack” is a television production of the play by David Haig that premiered in 2007.  Haig wrote the screenplay and stars as Rudyard Kipling.  In a great marketing move, Harry Potter was cast as Kipling’s son Jack.  The movie does not include the full third act of the play which carries the story into the 1930s. 

                The movie opens in Great Britain in 1914.  When WWI breaks out, chip-off-the-old-block Jack is insistent on enlisting for the great adventure.  Rudyard is not only supportive, but upset when Jack can’t get in because of bad eyesight.  Kipling is working at the Propaganda Ministry and is pushing for all good Englishmen to donate their sons.  When the first casualty figures come in he argues that publishing them will have the salutary effect of shaming men into joining the Army.  Putting his son where his mouth is, the elder Kipling pulls strings to get Jack into the big show.  Jack’s mother (Kim Cattrell) is upset, but British females have stiff upper lips, too.  Jack goes off to boot camp and becomes an effective and popular officer.  He still needs daddy’s help to get fast-tracked into the big upcoming push at Loos.  Can you guess what happens to the poster boy for dead meat?
the Kiplings

                “My Boy Jack” is a commendable work.  It manages to breaks the bonds of the stage and yet retains the quality dialogue.  The scenery around the Kipling home is beautiful and the trench set is realistic.  The movie makes a point of shifting back and forth from the Western Front to the home front.  Quite a contrast!    We also get the shifting perspectives of the two male Kiplings.  Not as much of a contrast here as both are gung-ho.  The combat scene features “Band of Brothers” style cinematography and is well-done.  It is a powerful scene as it intercuts with the Kiplings learning of the fate of their son.  Now on to the big question – how is Daniel Radcliffe?  He is actually pretty good, although Haig takes the acting honors.  Radcliffe’s performance bodes well for the upcoming “All Quiet…” 


This ain't quidditch
The story is meant to be thought provoking, but it is a bit simplistic and pulls its punches in the end.  It ends up not being as anti-war as it should have been.  Instead of contrasting the patriotism of Rudyard to the motherly instincts of his wife, the movie has Mrs. Kipling stoically accepting her son’s death and Rudyard justifying it.  The play goes up to the storm clouds of WWII and has Kipling wondering whether his son died in vain.  The movie is an accurate retelling of the Kiplings in WWI, so I guess Rudyard was a poor father, in my opinion.  I feel that it’s one thing to support the war effort, it’s another thing to pull strings to get your son in harm’s way.  If he’s going to get killed, don’t abet it.

GRADE  =  C+

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

FORGOTTEN GEM? Sabre Jet (1953)



               

                I have to admit that I have a stake in this movie.  My father flew F-86 Sabres in Korea after the war.  That was enough motivation to watch the movie, but imagine my excitement when parts of the movie were filmed at Itazuke Air Base in Japan.  When my father was flying in the Vietnam War from 1964-67, my family was stationed in Japan and one of the bases we lived on was Itazuke.  The movie was directed by Lewis King who was a B movie director.  He got the seal of approval from the Air Force and there were numerous technical advisers so the movie gets off to a promising start.  “This picture is dedicated to the Air Force wives who shared their men with a world made desperate by the most brutal aggressor in history.”  Exaggerate much?
the rare war movie wife who puts her
career ahead of her husband


"Stuka at nine o'clock"
                The plot focuses on the wives of the fighter pilots.  A female journalist named Jane Carter (Colleen Gray) comes to Itazuke to write a feature on the wives.  Surprise, she is the estranged wife of the squadron commander Col. Gil Manton (Robert Stack).    They separated because he wanted a traditional wife and she wanted a feminist career.  Note how she is using her maiden name.  She discovers that the wives are all supportive of their husbands in a very sappy way.  However, I have to say that I recognized my mother in their portrayals.  The movie at least attempts to show the feelings when the men are away.  There is an extended take-off scene that intercuts the agonized faces of the wives (with patriotic music swelling in the background).  Unfortunately, the acting by the actresses is terrible so the theme is diluted.  Some of the dialogue does open a window to the women’s lives. 

                For the guys in the audience there is some air combat.  Much of it features gun camera footage provided by the USAF.  This is blended pretty well with shots of F-86s and F-80s.   Too much of a good thing can be a problem as the footage begins to look like a mix tape of unconnected missions, strafing, and dogfights.  There is no continuity to the footage.  The filmmakers are a bit patronizing by throwing in scenes from WWII that include the shooting down of a Stuka!  To make matters worse, the MIGs are played by F-86s.  I hate to be sexist, but I guess it was assumed the ladies in the audience would not notice any of this.  On the plus side, there is none of the silly pilot chatter that you usually have to endure in low grade air combat films like this. 


                The plot is totally predictable.  And rife with clich├ęs.  There is a newlywed pilot who has only five missions to go.  Can you guess what happens to him?  While you are guessing, try figuring out which feuding couple reconciles at the end.  Speaking of which, the one twist in the plot is that Jane is the jerk who put her job ahead of her husband.  There is some comic relief in the form of Fuji the cook.  Nothing like old school racism to remind you this is a 1950s movie.

the best actor in the movie
                Kudos to the Air Force for wanting a film to commemorate the wives.  Unfortunately, this movie does more harm than good by sucking big time.  In that respect it joins most of the other Korean War movies.
 
GRADE  =  F-