In the months preceding the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was already girding for possible involvement in World War II, and it began drafting young men into the military. Motion picture companies were doing their part to support preparedness, making movies that emphasized patriotism, the threat from abroad, and the need for men to answer the call. But America was still officially at peace, so the message was often subtle.
The classic draft-related movie from this period is "Sergeant York." As every film fan knows, it's a fact-based story about a devout pacifist who initially resists taking up arms but then becomes a hero in combat. "Three Sons o' Guns," released around the same time, is a different and far inferior film, but with the same "soft sell" approach to military duty. It's a comedy (an anemic one) about three likable brothers who dodge the draft because they've never learned a sense of responsibility.
This movie looks somewhat odd today. It's a pro-draft movie, but it never mentions why a draft is necessary. It's a pro-war movie that steers clear of the subject of war. The emphasis here is on how service in uniform can turn a deadbeat into solid, dependable man. You don't get the sense that there's much danger or sacrifice involved.
The plot revolves around the misadventures of the Patterson brothers -- played by Wayne Morris, Tom Brown and William T. Orr -- as they bicker, chase women and pursue outlandish career schemes while avoiding any real work. When Uncle Sam calls, they initially see no reason to change their plans. The boys' widowed mother (played by Irene Rich) is very indulgent of all their nonsense, but their hardnosed aunt (played by Marjorie Rambeau) is determined to see them in uniform.
Life in the Pattersons' hectic household, with a parade of beautiful girls and certifiable oddballs, is faintly reminiscent of "You Can't Take It With You," but without the laughs. While "Three Sons o' Guns" is lighthearted and even strangely innocent, its attempts at humor misfire. Its real value is as a historical curiosity.
Speaking of history, all three of the "draft dodgers" in this movie eventually served in World War II. While William T. Orr was assigned to a Stateside film unit, Tom Brown and Wayne Morris saw considerable combat. Morris, a Navy air ace in the Pacific, wound up as one of Hollywood's most celebrated real-life heroes of the 1940s.