THE LIEUTENANT WORE SKIRTS, a strained and dated sex-tease comedy from 1956, little remembered today, was moderately successful at the time. Directed by Frank Tashlin, written by Tashlin and Albert Beich, it’s only sporadically funny, but carries some residual interest in the several tasks it laid out to accomplish.
The plot gimmick has middle-aged war hero-turned TV writer ‘Greg Whitcomb’ (Tom Ewell) summoned to the Air Force reserves. He flunks the physical, but his younger wife ‘Katy’ (Sheree North) has meanwhile re-joined (she’d been an officer) to be near him. Worried she’ll fall for some young hotshot, Greg follows her to her station in Hawaii to try and get her discharged. Assorted misjudgments follow.
20th Century Fox gambled $970,000 on the hopes that (1) Ewell’s recent score with Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch would spill over; (2) pushing new Foxbomb North as a viable counterpunch for the increasingly unreliable MM; (3) giving 2nd-stringer Rita Moreno a leg up (using her perfect gams in the process) with a better part than she’d been tossed into; (4) blending then-popular service comedies with the boom in farces that put older men slavering over hot young numbers (hangdog/horndog Ewell was 43, Sheree and Rita both 23) who somehow find old goats appealing. With all the breast-ogling that the furtive 50s frantically thrust forth, the real boobs out front were the men.
Payoff was mixed. Boxoffice did a comfortably brisk $6,400,000, tagging 36th place in the endless relay race for receipts. The same year Ewell also starred with another Fox non-starter, Monroe-wanna be Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It, again directed by Tashlin. Along with her gyrating in How to be Very, Very Popular, North got substantial press (“Life” had her on the cover), but despite talent—a pleasing persona underscored by being a whirlwind dancer with fabulous legs—the expected career didn’t fully blossom. Neither did that of the copiously talented Moreno, though this movie and her ‘Tuptim’ in The King And I allowed her the best chance to shine until West Side Story five years later. She’s sexy and very funny doing a Monroe impression playing off a joke about The Seven Year Itch. *
For a showcase (CinemaScope, color, the Sheree-Rita limbs array) Tashlin and cameraman Leo Tover chose a mostly uninspired visual layout, dropping the ball by shunning closeups that would have given many of the more obvious gags more oomph.
With Les Tremayne (amusing as Ewell’s randy agent), Rick Jason (an arrogant jet ace who makes plays for North), Edward Platt, Jean Willes, Gregory Walcott, Leslie Parrish (briefly but brightly), Sylvia Lewis (as ‘Henrietta Hipslider’). 99 minutes.
* Talent misused. North was demoted to less showy roles in No Down Payment, In Love and War and Mardi Gras, then for years mostly made do with TV. Moreno was wasted in junk like The Deerslayer, This Rebel Breed and several D-grade items made in the Philippines before getting a break with West Side Story, only to be relegated to the sidelines again.