Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959)
Directed by Norman Taurog (Skippy (1931) & Boys Town (1938)) this Jerry Lewis comedy also includes the lovely Dina Merrill. If you’ve never seen a Jerry Lewis film before this is a pretty good example of one. Most folks either love or hate his brand of humor; there’s not a lot of middle ground. If you love him you’ll enjoy his antics in this film which gives him ample opportunity for clowning mugging – goofy faces “hoo hawing” – exclamations physical comedy – pratfalls and otherwise being silly. If you don’t you’ll probably be annoyed every time he changes his normal tone of voice to a nasal-sounding one. The story which serves as a backdrop for the comic’s gags is about a Navy Lieutenant (Lewis) who’s charged with finding the ship he lost at the end of World War II some years earlier. Coincidentally the Navy catches up with him on his wedding day before he & his bride (Diana Spencer – ha!) have had a chance to begin their honeymoon. Merrill plays a Navy Ensign named Benson who helps him.
The film begins with a couple of mildly humorous montages which show the previous naval exploits really failures of one John Paul Steckler and his namesake heirs. Lewis plays all three including the current version John Paul Steckler VII. It then jumps to a congressional hearing being run by Congressman Mandeville (Gale Gordon – The Lucy Show). Mandeville is quizzing the Navy’s Vice Admiral Bludde (pronounced “blood” played by Robert Middleton) about a missing WW II destroyer support ship. The congressman wants to know what has happened to the $5 million vessel before he allows his committee to approve the Navy’s proposed $4 billion budget. Bludde promises to get to the bottom of it right away and is given 10 days to find out.
Of course Bludde finds out that the last person responsible for the ship was Lewis’s character Steckler VII though he assumes it might have been stolen. Cut to Steckler who is seen celebrating with his bride Prudence (Spencer) on their wedding day; his mother-in-law is played by Mabel Albertson. Mary Treen appears uncredited at the festivities. After a few funny moments the newlyweds depart the proceedings but their car is pulled over by an official Navy automobile. Claude Akins plays the Lieutenant Commander who informs Steckler of his orders to report to Washington D.C.. Thinking he’s going to receive a long overdue medal Steckler convinces his bride to go with him – they can have their honeymoon there. Of course once he’s there he finds out that he’s responsible for a valuable missing piece of government property which he must find immediately else he’ll be brought up on charges and jailed. Learning of his nuptials Bludde has Steckler forcibly removed from his hotel room and put up in the bachelor’s officers quarters. Fritz Feld appears uncredited as the room service waiter. This frustrates he and his bride who still haven’t consummated their marriage.
No progress is made until Steckler is ordered to report to a Top Secret department where Ensign Benson (Merrill) is assigned to assist him. She puts him under a sort of hypnosis so that he can relate the events on the Kornblatt the name of the ship in the final days of the war. Steckler is shown to be a bumbling Ensign when news of the war’s end is heard such that every officer who can resigns until no one’s left to command but Steckler. So Steckler assisted by Sergeant Wychinski (Mickey Shaughnessy) barely manages to get the Kornblatt underway from Pearl Harbor and on its way back to the mainland. Shortly thereafter they run aground on a reef near an unchartered island. Steckler and Wychinski go ashore where Steckler gets lost and then captured by some Japanese who have yet to hear about the end of the war. He’s almost executed before they do and then the entire battalion surrenders to Steckler. And that’s all he remembers until Benson brings him out of it and Steckler mentions he’d heard that Wychinski had taken the Kornblatt to San Diego. This leads Benson and Steckler on a trip to Florida to find now professional wrestler Wychinski. Naturally this will lead to a misunderstanding by his bride and mother-in-law who had traveled to Washington to stay with her daughter when they learn that Benson is a woman and that he and she returned from Florida in the same overnight train compartment.
But never fear everything works out in the end with a surprise though not entirely unexpected twist.