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Advance to the Rear / Don’t Go Near the Water / The Honeymoon Machine


Old-school military comedies ahoy!

Rod Lott May 23rd, 2011

Did “M*A*S*H” do in the military comedy, or was it the unwinnable Vietnam War?

advancetotherear

The subgenre of lazy-day laffers used to be standard-issue Tinseltown fare, as three new, made-on-demand releases from Warner Archive show.

From 1964, “Advance to the Rear” is a Civil War comedy starring the legendary Glenn Ford (“Superman: The Movie”) as Jared Heath, captain to a Union army of misfits who get in trouble for retreating — they play CYA by calling it “attacking in a new direction" — and moved west to where they can't "contaminate rest of the army."

What a wacky group it is! One's an arsonist who likes "the way people come running and screaming out of the burning buildings" (that’s pleasantly dark for a mainstream comedy), another enjoys dislocating the backs of his enemies, and yet another makes a hobby of blowing up latrines (a full 37 years before such a thing became de rigueur for the “Jackass” crew).

Like a hornier "F Troop" that’s colorful despite being in black and white, it relies upon a lot of cartoon sound effects of the "boing!" variety to hammer home its jokes, particularly — appropriately, understandably, perfectly — whenever Stella Stevens is onscreen, vacuum-packed into her whore character's corsets. Or is she a Confederate spy? With boobs like those, who cares? (Forgive the bluntness, but that's what Ford says in so many words. In fact, the sheer amount of double entendres is surprising, even one that’s right there in the title.)



Ford also starred in 1957’s “Don't Go Near the Water,” a World War II-set comedy in which he graduates to lieutenant status and is stationed on a South Pacific island. He and his Navy boys never see combat, because they’re in charge of the macho duty of public relations. There’s a morale problem among them: no women. (I’m guessing Bob Hope stole this idea for 1968’s eerily similar “The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell.”)

Not as much fun as “Rear,” the best  thing that “Water” has going for it is an elaborate slapstick sequence set on a construction site, presaging one audiences would see repeated in 1986’s "The Money Pit,” but with Tom Hanks. “Honey West” herself, Anne Francis, provides some much-needed va-va-voom.



Finally, there’s “The Honeymoon Machine,” an early vehicle for the ultra-cool icon Steve McQueen. Ironically, he’s the only thing that makes the piece of 1961 fluff worth seeing, although he’s quite out of his element, and appears genuinely uncomfortable with the material. Let’s face it: Feather-light comedy was not his strong suit.

As Lt. Howard, he has the big idea of using their ship’s new highfalutin computer to predict, say, the point at which a roulette wheel’s might pay out big. Risking their rank, he, goofy hick Lt. Gilliam (Jack Mullaney, “South Pacific”) and the lanky computer scientist (Jim Hutton, TV’s “Ellery Queen”) take time off at a nearby Venice hotel and casino to try it out.

What they don’t count on is — wait for it — love!

It’s predictable and corny, making it nonchallenging comfort viewing. It’s not great, but it beats most of what passes for today’s rom-coms. —Rod Lott
 
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