I had been planning to devote a "lost film" essay 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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