25 May 2010 | tarmcgator
Conventional Wartime Film, with little war
First, I'll confess that I didn't see the first few minutes of THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT A SOLDIER, because of a timing error with my DVR. (I hope TCM will run it again sometime.) What I did see was a fairly conventional Hollywood wartime confection, though more reminiscent of the "preparedness" films made in 1941 or 1942 than most other Hollywood war movies released in 1943.
There's little if any combat in this film. It's set in a stateside training camp and focuses on a group of non-commissioned officers who are training to become second lieutenants in the Army's antiaircraft units, then part of what was called the Coast Artillery Corps. There is an unusual amount of technical information in the film about the Army's principal antiaircraft guns, for military buffs, as well as scenes of classroom and field training.
The personal story focuses on two of the soldiers: Wally Williams (Tom Neal) -- young, cocky, relatively new to the Army -- and Frank Molloy (Bruce Bennett), an older soldier and a combat veteran of the 1942-43 North Africa campaign. Molloy carries the memory of losing a close friend, Capt. Harkness, in combat, and it just so happens that Carol Harkness (Evelyn Keyes), the dead friend's sister, has gone to work for the Army at Frank's training camp. Carol also catches Wally's eye, and a rivalry over her develops quickly. In the classroom, Wally is a math whiz, but he refuses to help Frank and other officer candidates who are struggling with the numbers. Eventually, Wally comes to appreciate the relationship between Frank and Carol, but goes too far in trying to help Frank pass the course and get his commission. It's a conventional triangle story that had been used many times before and would be employed many times afterward by various filmmakers.
This was a low-budget quickie by Columbia, with a sizable cast but just a few minimal sets. Much of the film was shot, apparently, at Camp Davis, N.C., the Army's principal antiaircraft school at that time; but it's evident that the second-unit location photography was used to provide rear-projection backgrounds for the main actors on a Columbia soundstage. It's not an awful film, but it contains nothing that military movie buffs haven't seen before, save for the focus on antiaircraft guns. Neal is appropriately annoying in his self-centered behavior, and Bennett is suitably stoic (actually, kind of wooden -- he was much better in later films like MILDRED PIERCE and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE). Evelyn Keyes -- probably best-known as Suellen O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND -- was a lovely actress and quite credible here. If you look quickly, you also can see the youthful Shelley Winters in her first film, and LEAVE IT TO BEAVER fans will enjoy seeing Hugh Beaumont as a hard-nosed training officer.
All in all, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT A SOLDIER is a conventional wartime programmer. Military buffs and completists, as well as fans of the principals, may enjoy it, but all in all, it's not a memorable movie.