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The husband and wife acting team of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward takes an unexpected comedic turn in Leo McCarey's spirited 1958 suburban farce Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!. Newman and Woodward play married couple Harry and Grace Bannerman, whose lives are turned upside down when their small town is selected by the U.S. government to be the site of a nuclear missile base. Grace's devotion to civic-minded duties routinely leaves Harry frustrated and longing for some alone time with his wife. When Grace enlists him to help fight the military infringement, Harry soon finds himself in over his head. In the meantime, Harry must resist the charms of beautiful lusty neighbor Angela (Joan Collins) who pulls out all the stops to make him forget he is a married man.
Newman and Woodward were newlyweds fresh off the success of their first feature film collaboration The Long, Hot Summer (1958) when they decided to team up for the second time in Rally. Doing a comedy was a departure for the New York Actors Studio trained pair who had made their mark in serious drama.
The director for Rally was veteran Oscar®-winner Leo McCarey. McCarey's light touch with romantic comedy had garnered him great critical and commercial success over the years with classics such as The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup (1933), The Awful Truth (1937), Going My Way (1944), and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945).
Even though Joanne Woodward had just won an Academy Award for her riveting performance in The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Paul Newman had to convince 20th Century Fox to allow her to star opposite him in Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!. The chemistry between the two may have worked in drama, but the studio wasn't convinced that the pair would have enough commercial appeal in a comedy. "Paul really had to sell them on me," said Joanne Woodward according to the 1988 book Paul and Joanne by Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein. "It's funny," she continued. "The same people who gave me the award are afraid to use me, because they're not sure people really know my name."
Newman and Woodward also had to fight the studio to use up and coming actress Joan Collins in the role of Angela. According to Collins, Fox originally wanted Jayne Mansfield for the part. "Joanne and Paul had insisted to director Leo McCarey that Mansfield was far too tarty and obvious for Angela, that the character should have a touch of class and an impish sense of humor, and they persuaded him to cast me," said Collins in her 1978 autobiography Past Imperfect. "They were good friends and I appreciated their loyalty. Few actors go out of their way to try and get a role for a friend, but the Newmans have always been generous and supportive in their relationships with people they care about."
Dwayne Hickman, who would go on to become well known on television for playing Dobie Gillis, was cast in the role of motorcycle enthusiast Grady, who romances the Bannermans' babysitter. Hickman had been working regularly on the popular TV series The Bob Cummings Show, and he looked forward to making a major feature film during his summer hiatus with such luminaries as Newman, Woodward and McCarey. It didn't hurt that Joan Collins was involved, either. "A gorgeous brunette from England, Joan Collins, rounded out the cast, and I do mean rounded out," said Hickman in his 1994 autobiography Forever Dobie. "She was the most sultry, sexy woman I had ever seen, and although Joan and I were the same age, she seemed much older and more sophisticated...she was far too intimidating for me to do anything about it."
It was the beautiful but more down to earth teenage actress Tuesday Weld who was cast as Grady's love interest Comfort Goodpasture. Hickman took notice of her, too, though she wouldn't give him the time of day when they weren't shooting. "I drove her home a few times," said Hickman, "and when I suggested that we go out on a date, Tuesday responded with a curt no. Then I made the mistake of pressing her for a reason. She rolled her eyes and said, 'For heaven's sake, don't be such a simpleton...And anyway, you act like a farmer.'" Little did Weld realize that she would be playing opposite Hickman again just a short time later as the money-grubbing object of his affections, Thalia Menninger, in the popular TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! was based on the popular 1957 novel of the same name by Max Shulman. According to Dwayne Hickman, Shulman had taken the first stab at adapting a screenplay based on his original work. However, the studio was unhappy with it and hired another writer, Claude Binyon, to rework the material. Upset, Shulman walked away and had nothing more to do with the film. It would be just a short time later that Max Shulman and Dwayne Hickman crossed paths again since Shulman was also the creator of the Dobie Gillis stories that would make Hickman a household name on television.
The set of Rally was predominantly happy, even though it seemed clear to many that director Leo McCarey was perhaps a little past his prime. McCarey, an accomplished and beloved director, according to Joan Collins, "was old, seemingly feeble, and had lost the zest and comic flair which had flourished in the thirties." Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward had trouble finding their way in the unfamiliar territory of comedy under McCarey's direction, though they tried their best. "This was my first crack at comedy," recalled Newman in Shawn Levy's 2009 biography Paul Newman: A Life. "I wasn't comfortable enough so that I could relax in it. As a result, I overplayed a lot of things." Woodward's appraisal of her work in the film wasn't much different. "When I wasn't playing small," she said, "I was busy making faces. I loathed myself in it."
Even though Newman, Woodward and Collins weren't quite on the same page with McCarey's approach to Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!, they still managed to have some good laughs along the way. The scene in which Angela tries to teach Harry to dance the cha-cha while drunk was a particularly memorable experience for Collins. "We had to laugh all day--take after take--from dawn till dusk," said Collins. "Mascara ran endlessly down my cheeks, and it got so that just the sight of each other would set us off...We became so carried away that we couldn't stop even when we sat on canvas chairs between takes and tried to be coherent. It was catching. The crew were laughing helplessly too. Everyone was having a wonderful time."
While Rally didn't turn out to be the commercial success that everyone hoped for, it still received plenty of reviews that singled out the fresh comic efforts of Woodward and Newman as well as newcomer Collins. "Newman sustains a couple of first-rate scenes of slapstick seduction," said Time magazine, "and Collins is a comic siren with plenty of oogah." The New York Times said, "Miss Woodward makes a cheerful farceuse, on the order of the late Carole Lombard, and Mr. Newman plays it broadly for howls."
Producer: Leo McCarey
Director: Leo McCarey
Screenplay: Claude Binyon, Leo McCarey; Max Shulman (novel); George Axelrod (uncredited)
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Art Direction: Leland Fuller, Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge
Film Editing: Louis R. Loeffler
Cast: Paul Newman (Harry Bannerman), Joanne Woodward (Grace Oglethorpe Bannerman), Joan Collins (Angela Hoffa), Jack Carson (Capt. Hoxie), Dwayne Hickman (Grady Metcalf, Comfort's suitor), Tuesday Weld (Comfort Goodpasture), Gale Gordon (Brig. Gen. W.A. Thorwald), Tom Gilson (Corporal Opie), O.Z. Whitehead (Isaac Goodpasture, Comfort's Father).
by Andrea Passafiume