Archive for The Private Navy of Sgt O’Farrell

The Private War of Representative Wilson

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2017 by dcairns

Both Frank Tashlin and Mike Nichols ended their careers with films about, one might say, private wars, but there the resemblance more or less ends. Though, if Bob Hope in THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT. O’FARRELL and Tom Hanks in CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR were to trade places, I don’t know how much difference it would make.

The Nichols film makes for an interesting capper. Scripted by Aaron Sorkin, who always does these things, it hashes up an unruly true story into a palatable dramatic shape. The REAL story buried inside the true one is that Wilson’s covert funding of Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet invaders eventually led to the Taliban, and a US invasion which we’re still dealing with today. The film does its best to acknowledge that without admitting any culpability on the part of its protagonist, which is an impossible balancing act. And when the movie denounces the immorality of funding the mujahideen just enough to make the USSR waste resources fighting them, without giving them enough support to win, it has to kind of ignore the fact that this policy gave us Glasnost, whereas Charlie Wilson’s policy gave us… some very bad things indeed.

What else is bad? Oh yes, the warnography, which consists of strange montages of expensive battle reenactment and cheap stock footage, scored by Thomas Newton Howard with militaristic romanticism. Most of this is just montage stuff, presumably thrown in to stop this just being talk, but the talk is what’s good about it. One little scene showing Russian pilots discussing their sleazy love lives while strafing women and kids, before being heroically taken out of the skies by Wilson’s freshly-supplied rocket launchers would be enough to make you sick were it not immediately followed by a tight closeup of Amy Adams’ tightly-skirted ass, which makes things even worse, but somehow I can’t bring myself to blow chunks while looking at Amy Adams’ ass. But it’s probably an all-time career low in taste for Sorkin and Nichols.


When the film is dealing with dialogue, it’s on EXTREMELY sure footing, though. Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman are terrific in slightly different modes, and we get great scenes with them and Om Puri and then Ken Stott. Ken Stott as an Israeli? Is it the thing about Scotsmen and Jews both being mean? Whatever, when a terrific Brit character actor turns up completely by surprise, we rejoice.

As this is a political drama, this is fairly male-dominated. Among the females being dominated are Adams, gazing worshipfully at Hanks, and Emily Blunt. Julia Roberts is sexualized, but in charge. Her extraordinary makeup impressed Fiona, if it’s not historically correct for the true-life character, then it’s an inspired invention.

“She’s doing her eyelashes like Audrey Hepburn! And those weird-painted on shadows around her eyelids…” It’s the Caligari approach to cosmetics.

Nichols sure sense of casting and timing is undiminished in all the scenes of scheming and arguing. His compositional sense is less pleasing since he stopped working with Harold Michelson on storyboards, and his sense of structure is diminished without Sam O’Steen as editor — though I’m not sure whether executive interference had something to do with the dumb action scenes and the choppy transitions in the last third. But what you get in this film is just-passable coverage assembled with incredible zip into scenes which showcase terrific actors speaking terrific words. And that’s somewhat rare today, as it was ten years ago when this thing came out and I apparently didn’t bother to see it.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2008 by dcairns

MARRY ME AGAIN may be the first romcom snuff movie. Early on, we see hero Robert Cummings flying his plane in WWII, a big picture of his fiancee, Marie Wilson in his cockpit. He scores off his kills on this pic, all part of the movie’s cartoony approach (it’s by Frank Tashlin, a former Warner Bros animator).

What slightly chills the marrow is the way Cummings’ activity is intercut with real WWII aerial combat footage — real exploding aeroplanes, real death.

When later on Marie Wilson dreams of her honeymoon, we see a Spanish bullfight with a real, bloody beast, spears sticking from its sides.

There’s funny. And then there’s NOT funny.

In general, the movie has a stop-start quality stemming from Tashlin’s tendency to think only of getting from one gag to the next in the shortest possible time. Only later would he master feature-length story structure and pacing so that his great features, like WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? don’t appear like a series of black-out sketches, but as coherent narratives — even with all the whizz-bang visual gags exploding in every corner. The jokes become architecture rather than decoration.

Marie Wilson, whose work I didn’t know, is very cute and endearingly goofy, but maybe she and Cummings are trying a little too hard. Cummings certainly is. When somebody isn’t a natural comedian, but they want to show how keen they are, the results are apt to get a little gruesome. I think of Jeffrey Hunter’s efforts in Tashlin’s final, misbegotten abortion of a film, THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT O’FARRELL*, and can scarce suppress a shudder. Every time Hunter pulls a funny face a Japanese fighter pilot explodes.

*Although this last film is indeed bad — horribly, savagely bad — it is not entirely devoid of interest. When a plane full of women is flown in to satisfy the libidinous grunts in Bob Hope’s unit, Tashlin cranes in on each of the expectant faces, awaiting the disembarkation of Lollobrigidian lovelies. Hatchet-faced Phyllis Diller appears and Hope’s erect bouquet promptly wilts. It’s not exactly witty but it’s served up with surprising filmic gusto for such an arthritic comedy. (Bob Hope, at this stage in his life, has acquired a crinkled, harsh, cruel face which does not inspire laughter, ever.)

Joe Dante, a Tashlin fan, rightly disparages this last movie, but that didn’t stop him quoting the mass-crane-in sequence above in THE ‘BURBS, during what is nominally a Sergio Leone parody. What it actually is, is a Tashlin swipe. Dante trumps the maestro’s hand by tracking in on not only all of the main characters, but also the dog.