Thursday, August 02, 2007

McCarey's "Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!" (1958)

I had been planning to devote a Cinema Obscura post to Leo McCarey's jaunty 1958 comedy of manners and sex, "Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!," when Fox Home Video, perhaps tapping into my dreams, unexpectedly released this long-unseen minor gem on DVD. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time the McCarey film has been on home entertainment in any format.

Which is strange, considering that it is an absolutely affable little farce with something of a pedigree cast. The very estimable Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, each taking a rare stab at comedy, head a cast that also includes the very bewitching Joan Collins, the indispensible Jack Carson (was he ever bad or less than entertaining?) and the two young leads from the old "Dobie Gillis" TV series which was airing at the time - Tuesday Weld (cast here as Comfort Goodpasture, no less) and Dwayne Hickman.

Based on the popular book by Max Shulman, adapted for the occasion by McCarey, Claude Binyon and an uncredited George Axelrod, "Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!" is set in Putnam's Landing, Conn., where budding suburban activist Grace Bannerman (Woodward) lures her husband Harry (Newman) into a scheme to upset the U.S. Army's plans to set up a missile base in their town.

Made at a time when Doris Day was busy at Universal making her sex comedies and Debbie Reynolds was doing the same at MGM, "Rally" offered Woodward a similar chance to cut loose in a role that calls for her to be alternately brainy and scattered. She pulls it off naturally, mixing intelligence with zaniness, as if Day and Reynolds were looking over her shoulder offering some sage screwball advice.

Collins, ever game, has fun as the resident femme fatale of Putnum's Landing, the saucy Angela Hoffa, and Tuesday Weld is jailbait fun as the incorrigible Miss Goodpasture.

"Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!" is being released in tandem with three other titles that Collins made for Fox - Richard L. Breen's "Stopover Tokyo," co-starring Robert Wagner; Henry Hathaway's "Seven Thieves," with Rod Steiger and Eli Wallach, and the essential "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing," directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Ray Milland and Farley Granger. Also in the set is Bob MacNaught's independent film, "Sea Wife," which pairs Collins with Richard Burton.

Of that group, "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing" is a must-see, a lavishly gaudy biopic/exposé which casts Collins as Evelyn Nesbitt and Milland as Stanford White, setting them adrift in the famous turn-of-the-century sex scandal. It's silly, irresistible fun, and the film looks positively gorgeous with all sorts of colors going berserk in wide-screen CinemaScope.

"Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!" and the other individual titles in the Joan Collins set sell for $19.98 each; the entire boxed set is $49.98.

(Artwork: Poster art for Fox's "Rally, 'Round the Flag, Boys")

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5 comments:

chris schneider said...

Did you know that Robin Wood wrote about "Rally 'Round the Flag"? Wish I had his essay within grabbing range. Wood's one of those critics I don't entirely *trust*, but I make it a point to read.

For some reason, I ran into "Rally 'Round The Flag" a lot on TV when I was growing up. It's a bit dim in my memory. I recall Collins putting a necklace to her forehead and doing a fake-Asian dance of seduction. I also remember it's not being very funny. But why did I keep watching it?

I suppose that it stands up at least as well as "A New Kind of Love." The question is, though, where would one rate it in comparison with "Good Sam" or "Once Upon A Honeymoon" as an example of McCarey comedy?

chris schneider said...

Did you know that Robin Wood wrote about "Rally 'Round the Flag"? Wish I had his essay within grabbing range. Wood's one of those critics I don't entirely *trust*, but I make it a point to read.

For some reason, I ran into "Rally 'Round The Flag" a lot on TV when I was growing up. It's a bit dim in my memory. I recall Collins putting a necklace to her forehead and doing a fake-Asian dance of seduction. I also remember it's not being very funny. But why did I keep watching it?

I suppose that it stands up at least as well as "A New Kind of Love." The question is, though, where would one rate it in comparison with "Good Sam" or "Once Upon A Honeymoon" as an example of McCarey comedy?

joe baltake said...

Very low, Chris, but what can I say? "Rally" is one of my childhood guilty pleasures and it was great to savor it again.

jbryant said...

I became a huge Dobie Gilis fan in syndicated reruns, so several years ago I searched used book stores and found a couple of Max Shulman's novels, including "Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!," which I read and enjoyed very much. The first time I saw the film version, I was disappointed, possibly because the novel was so fresh in my mind. I saw it again a few weeks ago on the Fox Movie Channel and this time, with many of the novel's particulars faded into the mists of time, I thought it was a lot of fun. Shulman's distinctive comic voice is not exactly McCarey-esque, but the film is funny and made all the more interesting for its glimpse into the American mindset of the era.

As usual with McCarey, one of the highlights is a musical moment -- Weld being serenaded with a rock 'n' roll ditty called "You're My Boojum" by a worldly private who knows how to pull impressionable young chicks (he's played by Tom Gilson, who was killed a few years later when he drunkenly broke into the home of his estranged Playboy playmate wife. She blasted him with a shotgun in self-defense). The film is too uneven to rank with McCarey's greatest (which include such top-rank masterpieces as "Duck Soup," "The Awful Truth," "Make Way for Tomorrow" and "Ruggles of Red Gap"), but it's a surprisingly effective late effort in his career. Nice write-up, Joe!

By the way, last year I went to one of those collector's shows at the Burbank Hilton just to meet and get my picture taken with Dwayne Hickman. I enjoyed quite a nice, long chat with him, but unbelievably forgot to ask him what it was like to work with my favorite director, McCarey. Still kicking myself about that!

joe baltake said...

B. Bryant - McCarey deserves a resurgence. Fascinating career.