AT WAR WITH THE ARMY wages war on your ability to put up with Martin & Lewis in this 1950 groaner, their first official starring vehicle as a comedy duo. Release was delayed until two other pictures that they’d been introduced and co-starred in, My Friend Irma and My Friend Irma Goes West had succeeded (wildly) to match the mania for their insanely popular nightclub act fame. This stage-bound adaptation of a play caught the Dean-Jerry hysteria wave and grossed $9,400,000, #8 for the year. Too bad it stinks.
Hal Walker, experienced with the Crosby-Hope comedy outings, drew director duty for a script written by Fred F. Finklehoff (Meet Me In St.Louis, The Egg and I), based of James B. Allardice’s play that he’d drawn from his time in the Army, snowed under by the service’s absurd levels of bureaucracy. Effectively plotless, with three-fourths of it unimaginatively confined to two adjacent rooms, it may have worked on the stage, but on film, like basic training, it wears out welcome in a hurry.
Playing a flustered and unlikable sergeant to Lewis’s doltish man-child private, Dean’s relationship with Lewis in this outing has an Abbott & Costello feel to it, as in Bossy to Clod, but without the charm. Paramount would follow the A&C formula by putting M&L in two more service flicks, again Allardice material, Sailor Beware and Jumping Jacks, both big hits, both at least smoother than this first grating go-round. *
A few decent lines—“I ain’t gonna stop drinkin’ until she looks good to me.” Plenty of bad ones, including the tasteless “A concentration camp’s gotta be better than this.” Supporting cast reliable Tommy Farrell, handles the banter better, but otherwise it’s an endurance contest. 19-year-old Polly Bergen was “introduced” here.
With Mike Kellin (here almost as annoying as Lewis), Jean Ruth, Angela Greene, Jimmie Dundee and Dewey Robinson.
* After being introduced with a supporting bit in One Night In The Tropics, Abbott and Costello were bumped to stardom by Buck Privates, followed quickly by In The Navy and Keep ‘Em Flying, all in ’41. Any of those rat-a-tat pre-war spoofs are preferable to the post-war sourness of At War With The Army.