James Coburn (The Magnificent Seven), Dick Shawn (The Producers), Carroll O’Connor (TV’s All in the Family) and Harry Morgan (TV’s M*A*S*H) star in this hilarious film from comedy master Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther, Victor/Victoria) and Oscar-Winning screenwriter William Peter Beatty.
It’s World War II Italy and by-the-book Captain Lionel Cash (Shawn) is sent by his general (O’Connor) to take over a troop of misfit soldiers, led by the wily and resourceful Lieutenant Christian (Coburn). Cash’s orders? To capture a nearby village. He finds the Italian soldiers eager to surrender, but first they insist that the Americans join them in a night of carousing at the local festival. By the time everyone comes to, the entire German and American armies are certain a pitched battle is in progress. Who wins? Who loses? Who ends up in the village beauty’s bed? War may be hell, but it sure can be fun!
I have to start by saying that I thoroughly dislike war-related films as a general rule (although there are a couple exceptions, such as ‘Casualties of War’ and ‘Paths of Glory’).
I find them repetitive, frequently superfluous, additions to our pop landscape. But, mostly, I don’t really understand the appeal of wartime eras. I mean, war if is not fun and games whatsoever, and while cinema should also be thought-provoking, I don’t really want to think about war more than necessary – beyond how to avoid it, obviously.
So, having said this, I fail to see the pleasure in watching countries kill each other’s citizens for power and prestige (despite their purported intention). Turn it into a comedy or a satire, however, and maybe you’ll be able to reel me in – case-in-point: Dr. Strangelove, M*A*S*H.
Which leads me to Blake Edwards’ dismally dull ‘What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?’…
It’s pretty much the on-screen shenanigans of American soldiers who, in the process of liberating an Italian village, end up getting all too friendly with the locals. It’s a tad more complicated than this and there are twists, of course, but I won’t reveal them – even if I don’t suspect this film will make it very high on anyone’s “must-see” list.
In short: I saw a lot of contrived situational humour, lots of failed attempts at jokes and poor comedic timing. I saw a fairly uninteresting set of characters, a threadbare story (that I’ve enjoyed elsewhere before ;), and a pretty standard production – nothing outstanding or noteworthy.
The worst, for me, was leading man Dick Shawn – a whiny, annoying bore who I couldn’t wait to see off the screen whenever he was on. I can’t imagine who thought that he was the perfect actor to build a film around, but they were off their rocket launcher. Maybe it was just serious miscasting, but, consequently, I wouldn’t want to ever see another one of his films; it was a total turn-off.
From a technical standpoint, this is not a bad movie. And I’m sure that some people would say that the humour tickles their funny bone in just the right way. But I defy anyone to say that this is a memorable feature. So, without the support of its comedy, as was the case for me, it’s utter blandness. Meh.