THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT. O’FARRELL was mildly amusing viewed as a 13-year old, back in 1968, supporting The Devil’s Brigade on a double bill. A whole generation and more had been conditioned to like Bob Hope in general terms: the movies, hosting the Oscars, the Christmas specials, the Crosby & golf jokes. He was always there. His material started to go stale long before this;he hadn’t had a film ranking any higher than #21 at the box-office since the late 40s, and most were doing much worse. Grossing around $6,900,000, this bumped in at #49 *
On the South Pacific isle of ‘Funapee’ during WW2, the Japanese thoughtlessly sink a ship carrying beer to the thirsty (and of course, horny) American garrison. Rule-mastering Master Sergeant O’ Farrell (Hope, 65) schemes to retrieve the cargo, while romancing Gina Lollobrigida and foisting grotesque nurse Phyllis Diller off on hapless sap Jeffrey Hunter. A hiding-out Japanese soldier (Mako) tags along, to provide cover for a barrage of antiquated jokes. Professional desperation all around, as director Frank Tashlin ends an interesting career with a dud. Mako follows his Oscar nomination from The Sand Pebbles with a return to caricature similar to stuff he’d done on McHale’s Navy; former headliner Hunter is reduced to mugging with Diller; Gina L at least looks smashing in a bikini (the movie doesn’t bother much with period detail). Hope does his casual thing.
It looks okay, filmed in Puerto Rico, the Defense Dept. lending co-operation, thanks to Bob’s loyal stints supporting the services. Others in the cast: John Myhers, Henry Wilcoxon, Dick Sargent, Christopher Dark, Michael Burns and Robert Donner. Noted French actress Mylène Demongeot is wasted in a small role. Hard to say whether this is worse than 1968’s other WW2 comedy, The Secret War Of Harry Frigg, a low point for Paul Newman, but this may edge it for use of insensitive stereotypes (Dark plays a Native American and ‘Injun’ jokes abound). It does serve as a major commercial for Pabst.
* Bob’s next, How To Commit Marriage, an attempt to cash in on hippies, sank to 115th, then Hope finally abandoned the big screen in ’72, when Cancel My Reservation lived up to its title by crawling like a cur into 120th place. To take a bit of flak off the guy, with riots, assassinations, the descent of LBJ, the ascent of Nixon and the blasted-open Vietnam War, 1968 wasn’t exactly a banner year for comedy. Apart from a few nuggets like The Odd Couple and The Producers, ‘hope’ was AWOL with the likes of Candy, Salt And Pepper, Don’t Raise The Bridge Lower The River, Prudence And The Pill, How To Save a Marriage And Ruin Your Life, The Secret War of Harry Frigg, Inspector Clouseau, Skidoo, Speedway, How Sweet It Is, Stay Away Joe and What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?…..wanks for the memory.