Wackiest Ship In The Army, The (1961 with Jack Lemmon and Ricky Nelson)

USA / 1961

Director: Richard Murphy
Writer: Richard Murphy (story by Herbert Margolis and William Raynor from a story by Herbert Carlson)

Cast: Jack Lemmon, Ricky Nelson, John Lund, Chips Rafferty, Tom Tully, Toby Baker, Warren Berlinger, Patricia Driscoll, Mike Kellin, Richard Anderson, Alvy Moore, Joe Gallison, Teru Shimada, George Shibata

Reluctant navy Lieutenant Rip Crandall (Jack Lemmon), a peacetime sailing expert, is tricked by Lt. Commander Wilbur Vandewater (John Lund), Ensign Tommy Hanson (Ricky Nelson) and Wilbur’s attractive secretary, Maggie, (Patricia Driscoll), into accepting command of ageing tub, the USS Echo. It’s Rip’s job to navigate the rickety ship through enemy waters to a Pacific island, there to drop Australian scout Patterson (Chips Rafferty) on a crucial espionage mission.

What they don’t tell sourpuss Crandall, is that the crew he has to work with consists of a bunch of wise-cracking, naval novices. Writer/ director Richard Murphy (who scribed The Desert Rats and Compulsion ) fulfils the situation’s comic potential with a host of sight gags as the luckless Rip tries to drill his men into a shipshape unit.

The tone of the film gets serious, momentarily, when the ship falls into Japanese hands. But after a triumphant counterattack, the Echo crew accomplishes its mission and returns with information that leads to US victory in the Bismark Sea Battle.

Described by Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times as “a fast, confident comedy,” the film benefits greatly from Murphy’s extremely witty screenplay and Lemmon, as usual, drives the whole thing along.

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