The Wackiest Ship In The Army

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THE WACKIEST SHIP IN THE ARMY , released for Christmas in 1960, is another of the bottomless supply of WW2 adventures with a scanty factual base. The Echo was a schooner, borrowed from New Zealand, used for various duties around New Guinea during the war, and was subject to a 1956 story in Argosy Magazine (remember them?) called “Big Fella Wash Wash”, the reminisces of the boat’s skipper, one Meredith ‘Rip’ Riddle. This in turn was transformed into a lighthearted* script, directed by Richard Murphy, starring Jack Lemmon (as ‘Rip Crandell’) and Ricky Nelson.

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It seemed a lot cuter back when, and even generated a brief-run TV series in 1965 (with Jack Warden and Gary Collins), but today it seems pretty forced and foolish, with Lemmon and his crew of water-shy clods stumbling around in situation-comedy style.  A dramatic turnabout is added in the last part of the 99-minute feature and it doesn’t jell too neatly. Charles Lawton Jr. provides pleasing cinematography of sea & sailing.

With Chips Rafferty, John Lund, Mike Kellin, Tom Tully, Warren Berlinger, Joby Baker, Richard Anderson, Jack Mullaney and Alvy Moore. It made $7,600,000.

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*This barnacle-encrusted oldie joins the curious lineup of ‘nostalgic war-comedies’ set in the South Pacific: South Sea Woman, Operation Petticoat, Father Goose, Don’t Go Near The Water, The Private Navy Of Sgt. O’ Farrell, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Ensign Pulver and of course Mr. Roberts.  On TV, in 1962, came McHale’s Navy.  This followed Combat! on Tuesday nights at 8:30.  My Dad and I battled amiably back & forth between alternating ABCs Combat! with CBS rival Rawhide (I usually was allowed to win). When it came to McHales Navy, I have a fond memory nudge of Dad, who served in the Merchant Marine (Pacific & Atlantic) during the war, growling “there wasn’t anything goddamn funny about fighting the Japs in World War Two”, shaking his head over the trivialization of something so savage (and so recent). Needless to say Hogan’s Heroes was not big on the agenda, either….

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