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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
Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1959)
Max Shulman, satirical short story writer and novelist, famed for his creation of Dobie Gillis, was a hot commodity in the fifties. Aside from creating Gillis in a pair of short stories early in the decade, which would later become the basis for a novel, movie, and television series, he also co-wrote the Broadway hit The Tender Trap, later made into a successful Frank Sinatra movie. When it came time to adapt his novel Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, it was an easy sell for the studios. Casting was pretty easy too, with hot new stars Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward eager to jump aboard something bound to be a smash hit. The two had become an item the year before, though Newman was married at the time, leading to his divorce from his first wife and marriage to Woodward in 1958. Given that infidelity was a key plot point in the movie, it was certainly helpful to the studios to have as much gossip as possible fly around the Hollywood rags about Newman and Woodward in connection with the movie.
Rally Round the Flag, Boys! takes place in the small community of Putnam's Landing, Connecticut, a town whose founder was scalped the day after its founding and whose scalping remains, according to narration by then unknown David Hedison, the last interesting thing that happened there. Until, of course, the military buys up some land and wants to use it for a missile base. That sends the town into action the only way the town knows how to go into action: form a committee and then form a women's version of said committee, chaired by Grace Bannerman (Joanne Woodward), wife of Harry Bannerman (Paul Newman), the one man in town who can't seem to get any time alone with his wife. When she, as head of the new committee to keep the military out, appoints Harry to go to Washington on the one day they were going to be together, neighborhood vixen Angela Hoffa (Joan Collins) sees the opportunity to go to Washington herself and keep Harry company, leading to the kind of mix-ups and misunderstandings one would expect from a thirties screwball comedy. Speaking of which...
Leo McCarey, directed of several screwball comedies including one of the greatest ever, The Awful Truth, was brought on to direct in the hopes of bringing some of his screwball expertise to the proceedings. Certainly the plot lends itself to his talents but the dialogue-heavy comedy worked against it. Many of the scenes in the movie (Harry and Angela driving home or sitting on her sofa, Harry and Grace arguing in their kitchen, Angela and Captain Hoxie (Jack Carson) sitting at a bar) involve stationary action and dialogue, not something McCarey seemed entirely comfortable filming. Despite not being adapted from the play, the movie oddly has the same feel, with long takes that work against the idea of frenetic screwball pacing.
Still, to its credit, Rally Round the Flag, Boys! is filled with talent. Paul Newman had the year of his early career in 1958, with The Long Hot Summer and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof being released earlier in the year. Newman, by the time of Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, had become a Hollywood sensation and his legendary status had begun. In just three years, he would take on the role that would eventually win him an Oscar, Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler (the Oscar came for the sequel, The Color of Money.
Joanne Woodward was already an Oscar winner by the time of the movie's release thanks to her performance in The Three Faces of Eve the year before. She and Paul Newman would stay married until his death and make several more movies together, the last being Mr and Mrs Bridge in 1990, for which Woodward received another nomination for Best Actress. Newman also directed Woodward on several more occasions.
Rounding out the cast are Jack Carson and Joan Collins. Carson had worked with Newman earlier in the year on the classic production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof but here was playing strictly for laughs. Carson was one of the best character actors in all of Hollywood and also one of its best comedians. His drunken scenes at the bar with Collins are some of the funniest in the movie. And Collins, who wouldn't really come into her own until television finally figured out how to use her in the eighties, does a fine job handling both the duties of straight man and seductive vamp. Comedy was an area she definitely should have been used in more with better results.
Rally Round the Flag, Boys! doesn't stand out as one of Leo McCarey's best efforts, nor does it for Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, but it does offer up more than enough to make it worth the time. The talent certainly does the job but the script also lets loose more than a few sharp, witty observations about small town life and the American way. It's satire-lite, pleasant and diverting but still potent enough to hit the target hard when it wants to and rally the audience around the movie.
By Greg Ferrara