Funny stories about con men in the military are nothing new, and this one seems especially implausible (even though it allegedly has some basis in truth). But that doesn't matter. Archie Hall is an unforgettable character, and the great Robert Mitchum brings him splendidly to life. For all the pros in the supporting cast, I'm not sure this quirky tale would even have worked without Mitchum.
Archie is a lowly GI serving on an obscure Stateside post during World War II. He and his pals feel the Army cheated them out of the plum assignments they deserved, but Archie doesn't waste his time complaining. Instead, with a mix of genius and audacity, he creates a splendid life for himself right where he is. Soon he's virtually running the camp.
The fast-talking Archie charms every beautiful woman in sight, including an enigmatic Japanese-American (played by France Nuyen) who may be involved in an espionage plot. His superiors are in awe of him and fall all over themselves to give him special privileges. And though his comrades in arms see through his games, and sometimes gripe about him, he's so successful that they can't resist jumping on his gravy train.
Jack Webb, who also produced and directed this film, plays the most strait-laced character in it, though not the self-righteous, uptight Webb usually seen on the screen. He plays Archie's buddy, Bill Bowers, who genuinely likes the con man but fears he's getting into something he can't talk his way out of. Thanks to Archie, Bowers finds his own love interest (played by Martha Hyer).
This movie has some laugh-out-loud moments but occasionally hits a serious note. It's neither as flag-waving as the military comedies of the 1940s nor as dark and anti-war as those of the '70s. It manages to be entertaining, moving and believable at the same time. For the believability, I give Mitchum the credit.
As many movie fans are aware, Bill Bowers and Arch Hall Sr. were real-life Army buddies who also happened to be in the film industry. When the movie came out, Hall disputed Bowers' recollections of their life in uniform. So how accurate this story is may never be known. And it's possible the main character was embellished, too. But even if the "Archie" we see here is mostly fictional, he's a great guy to spend a little time with.
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