I Saw A Film!
Blake Edwards, best known by me for the ridiculous Pink Panther films, much beloved by me as well, directs this massive comic fiasco about a stiff Captain ordered to take Valerno with a company of misfit soldiers. Much to the surprise of the Americans the Italians are not interested in fighting any more and are quite willing to capitulate if they can have their festival scheduled the next day. More outlandish nonsense probably happened in actual warfare but this “madcap” adventure aims to double down on the ludicrous and silly. There are some remarkable stars in this escapade including Caroll O’Connor as the bushy-eyebrowed general and Dick Shawn as the martinet Captain with Coburn as the wily Lt. Christian and Harry Morgan as Major Pot who would later be Major Potter on M.A.S.H. for many years. It’s Morgan’s part that is hardest to embrace as he goes mad in the city’s underground. The sort of comedy wrapped around hopping, skipping and nursery rhyming madness is something I feel has lost its flavor in modern times. It’s the stuff that left the generation of Morgan and O’Connor weak with fits of laughter, but for us (I’m an X) this stuff never seemed particularly funny and more just seems anxiety ridden.
Dick Shawn looks just like Alec Baldwin’s daddy in this film, and you can expect some cross-dressing and a German officer infatuated – men in drag fooling other men into sexual liaisons were also the funniest Bugs Bunniest type of comic form of the day. Still much of the film, while it relies a great deal on heads bonked by bottles and surprise tunneling accidents is still a rather mild sort of sweet film-making. There are gorgeous Italian ladies – and I’m sure they all looked mind-blowing to the yanks. One, Giovanna Ralli, has those flashing gorgeous eyes and easy familiarity in the comedy that she’s almost expected to appear like a goddess and arrange what needs to be done. The film really couldn’t work without her the same way Monty Python could not have functioned without Carol Cleveland, though she was rarely included in the comedy “troop”. And the outstanding Sergio Fantoni, who passed away earlier this year, is terrific as the Italian leader.
While the Italians and Americans manage to annoy one another the Germans arrive wholesale screwing up the easy transition of power. High anxiety indeed. We’ve by now entirely forgotten that this is war and that blood an death are par for the course, but this film will have none of that. And even Nazis, while always the butt of every joke, are treated gently. I feel like our modern youth are much more precious about their feelings than the previous generations, and we don’t have be red-faced and spitting while having a field day with irreverence about WWII. I’m sure the film offended some, but I’m glad for once to not be facing Rat Patrol or Law and Order. If you watch old film of the Americans in Italy, rolling into the cities after liberation, you’ll see a great deal of youthful irreverence. The young folks who put their lives on the line to fight back the fascists were not stiff Captain Cash types in any way–but were normal young people, full of sexual vigor, silliness, and an appetite for lampooning their superiors. We should never forget the humanity of all sides of our conflicts because eventually we’ll recognize ourselves on all sides.
While this film falls just short of two hours and much of it takes place on a dusty “city” set – the shenanigans’ do get tiresome, and I’m just not the right audience for most of Edwards’s vision. This is running free on Prime and good for sleepless nights.