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 


  1. I also watched some of this one recently. Definitely works better when your eyeballs are younger. Oddly enough I did not find Ladyfish sexy at all. Mist mean I get out more. The crab was still just as crusty you are right. Not as memorable as Chicken or Reluctant, more in the same bowl as Figg. I think GalaFINakis will also back out of this one. His drugs would get all wet.

  2. Ladyfish is not as sexy as transvestite Bugs Bunny.

  3. Nice post,, i'm very enjoyed to visit this site :D

  4. This movie touches on what Winston Churchill called the "wizard war" - clever engineers working up devices or techniques to give their forces an edge (like the Germans using directional beams to lead their bombers to their targets at night), or to defeat an enemy advantage (like the British spoofing those beams to throw the German bombers off target).

    You would think that if the Germans had invented a device that can target sound signatures they would be using it for a lot of other purposes before they got around to attacking Mr. Limpet with it but I suppose that this is not really a movie that begs to be nitpicked.

    1. You managed to come back down to Earth at the end there.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.