I am dead sure I never saw this when it came out, and I have a good memory. This is The Sad Sack, featuring all-American comic Jerry Lewis. It came out in 1957, after Martin and Lewis split up their irrepressible comic team, and it relies heavily on Lewis’ standard routine—the perpetual foul-up and acting the fool in public. The Sad Sack is, of course, inspired by the comic strip created by George Baker.
It’s from Paramount Pictures, produced by Hal B. Wallis, and it also features Phyllis Kirk, one of the hottest items with her clothes on at the time. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.
Lewis is Private Meredith Bixby, the quintessential Army screw-up we have all met at least once in our lives. Where to start? Start with Bixby on a train with fellow soldiers Corporal Larry Dolan (David Wayne) and Private Stan Wenaslawsky (Joe Mantell). In an attempt to quench a bothersome lighting fixture so the others can get some sleep Bixby pulls the stop cord and throws the train into chaos. The fun is just beginning.
Directed to drive a dump truck away, Bixby pulls the wrong lever and dumps a load into the sergeant’s Jeep.
Out on liberty (that’s what we called it in the Navy) with Dolan and Wenaslawsky , Bixby is given the job of driving the three back to the barracks at night. He misses the enlisted men’s barracks and delivers everybody at the women’s barracks, where they spend the night unnoticed. But not for long after reveille. They are soon discovered and all land in hot water. It’s funny.
Seeking to undo the mistake it made recruiting Bixby, the Army enlists the services of Army psychologist Major Shelton (Kirk). Dolan is assigned to assist and becomes immediately enraptured by Major Shelton’s charms. The attraction is reflected, and their lips become dangerously close.
Finagling gets Bixby past his basic marks to become a soldier, and he, along with Dolan and Wenaslawsky, get shipped off to an Army base in Morocco. There has been some trafficking in stolen Army weapons, and the three fools eventually get involved in the workings.
At a Moroccan night club, Bixby is charmed by an exotic dancer named Zita (Liliane Montevecchi), who reminds him of a girl he knew back in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She gets sucked into the plot, as well.
Within his encyclopedic memory, Bixby has stored the instructions for assembling the Army’s super, rapid-fire canon. The arms gang gets interested. Abdul (Peter Lorre) takes a special interest in Bixby, impatiently awaiting the time when he is allowed to slit Bixby’s throat. Now you have seen it all. Previously you saw Hungarian Peter Lorre play a German child killer, a Japanese detective, and now an Arab cutthroat.
More comedy comes sliding our way, as the three get trussed up in a desert dungeon with chains. This is high hilarity, watching the three buffoons working to unravel the chains, reach the key on the floor, and unshackle themselves.
Once free, they defeat and capture the bandits. Of course there is a big ceremony, where they are all awarded medals and kissed on the cheeks by a French general. Zita goes back to Scranton to await Bixby’s return, and Major Shelton flies out to Morocco to put the move on Corporal Dolan.
Yes, this is dumb, and that’s how this movie landed in the BMotW. The comic situations are strung together like mismatched beads. The plot moves from one unrelated situation to another, with altered states of consciousness separating them. The romance with Major Shelton sort of ties the latter parts together, but only artificially, with Shelton coming to Morocco for no apparent reason. Zita simply disappears after being rescued by the soldiers at the desert dungeon, never to be seen again.
This could have been a story titled The Redemption of Private Bixby, but Bixby’s redemption is not a constant theme throughout. Comical situations (sleeping over in the women’s barracks) are dropped in with little thought of continuity.
If there is a constant theme, it’s Lewis being Lewis, the butt of all jokes. But there is no running line of comic verbal chatter, no recurring comic gag line to keep the momentum going.
The film pulled $3.5 million, not bad for a 1957 release.