1941 was an incredible year for army films. Suddenly with the peacetime draft, Hollywood decided to make a long string of comedies about army life--and they are too numerous to count. A few examples I can think of off the top of my head are Abbott & Costello in "Buck Privates", Bob Hope in "Caught in the Draft", William Tracy in "Tanks a Million" and even the almost elderly Laurel & Hardy in "Great Guns"--heck, EVERYONE seemed to be making army pictures in 1941! All of them were reasonably funny and watchable but, believe it or not, the low-budget "Tanks a Million" is probably my favorite--even though it is clearly the least familiar and lowest budget of the films I mentioned (and, by the way, there were MORE such films in '41!).
Well, not wanting to be left out of the act, Warner Brothers decided to make one of these films--but they really didn't have a good headliner or comedy team for such a film. So they decided to try pairing two journeymen comedians, Phil Silvers and Jimmy Durante, and hope for positive results. Considering they didn't instantly become a comedy sensation or remain a team, you can assume it was not a rousing success.
Like almost all the films above, the ANY army taking these over-age and extremely unqualified men into their ranks does strain credibility! While Silvers was only 30 (though he looked at least 45), Durante was 48--way past the age of serving--even in the armies of Liechtenstein or Costa Rica! And, being diminutive (a nice politically correct way of saying he was a shrimp), there is no way Durante could have served! But, if Oliver Hardy (who was about the same age and pushing 350 pounds) could make a film, I guess I can't fault the casting of Durante too much!
The film begins with Durante and Silvers playing obnoxious vacuum cleaner salesmen. Eventually, to make a sale to a recruiting officer, they accidentally join the army (can anyone be THAT dumb?!). Most of the film consists of them going through basic training and making total nuisances of themselves! Along the way, they meet up with the obligatory girl (Jane Wyman) and the obligatory foil (actually, there are several--including Regis Toomey, Donald MacBride and Joe Sawyer). And, like most of these army films, there are quite a few completely out of place musical numbers--including an amazingly ridiculous one involving a prop plane. I don't know why Hollywood thought they needed to add songs to comedies and I am glad that cliché has died over the years! They just seem to bog down the film--though I must admit I liked some of Durante's numbers--as he sang so badly that they were clearly comedy!!
Some highlights of the film was seeing Durante in drag (my gosh, he was so hideous that he made me laugh!) as well as Durante's banter. In fact, he clearly came off better than Silvers (who didn't have a lot to do by comparison) and this sort of film seemed to fit him--even if he was the most ridiculous soldier! In fact, while I truly HATED Durante in his ill-fated teaming with Buster Keaton in the early 30s, here he is a pretty funny guy. As a result, the film is very watchable and fun--though one of the lesser such films of '41. It is better than "Great Guns" (Laurel & Hardy were NOT up to their old standards in their later films) but not as funny as the other three films I already mentioned. Good...but not a must-see!
By the way, I do have one question about this film. In the bizarre ending (that really did not work for me), you see Silvers and Durante as old men. How is it that as old men Silvers actually has a lot more hair than he did at age 30? Just a thought.