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All Hands on Deck

From the mid-1950s through the early 1960s, Hollywood produced a flood of wacky military comedies. It probably started with Mr. Roberts (1955), a serio-comic look at life on a navy ship during World War II; it was a huge critical and financial success. But whether they looked back at World War II, or were set in present day, stories about ships full of misfits and their misadventures were very popular. With titles like The Wackiest Ship in the Army (1960), Operation Petticoat (1959) and Don't Give Up the Ship, (1959), they usually featured an attractive and relatively sane leading man trying to keep order on a ship full of loonies.

In All Hands on Deck (1961), the sane young officer is played by pop singer turned movie star Pat Boone. Since the mid-1950s, the clean-cut Boone had been second only to Elvis Presley in popularity, embraced by both teens and their parents, who found Boone's blander brand of rock and roll less threatening than Elvis's more hip-swiveling style. Boone had been signed to a seven-year contract by 20th Century Fox in 1957. All Hands on Deck was his fifth film. Boone plays a singing naval officer who has to deal with the antics of a wealthy, eccentric American Indian (Buddy Hackett), his pet turkey, and a stowaway reporter (Barbara Eden), who is the young officer's love interest. Eden was also under contract at Fox, from 1956 to 1962. Although she co-starred with Presley in Flaming Star (1960), and had a supporting role in the big-budget Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), it was on television that Eden became a star in the fantasy sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, starting in 1965.

Veteran Norman Taurog, who directed All Hands on Deck, was no stranger to wacky ship movies or teen idols. Two years earlier, he had directed Don't Give Up the Ship, starring Jerry Lewis. In 1960, Taurog directed Presley's first film after his return from the Army, G.I. Blues, and so impressed the star's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, that he went on to direct eight more Elvis movies. Taurog, who was by then in his sixties, had begun his career in silent film, and won an Oscar® for Skippy (1931), which starred his nephew, child star Jackie Cooper. In his autobiography, Cooper claimed that Taurog got him to cry by threatening to shoot his dog.

The songs in All Hands on Deck are by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, who wrote music for dozens of films, and won three Best Song Oscars®, for "Buttons and Bows" from the 1948 movie Paleface; in 1950 for "Mona Lisa," from Captain Carey, U.S.A; and in 1956 for "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)" from Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. None of the songs in All Hands on Deck are as memorable as those three, but they are pleasant and nicely sung by Boone.

All Hands on Deck was the fourth feature film for Buddy Hackett, a former Catskills comic who had become a familiar guest on television talk and variety shows in the 1950s, famous for his manic personality and risqué jokes. His most memorable film appearances were in The Music Man (1962) and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Hackett's zany performance in All Hands on Deck stole the show. "Mr. Hackett is a funny fellow when he so much as screws up his face and represents a bewildered moron taking a quizzical look at life," Bosley Crowther wrote in the New York Times. "And though his involvement in the fiction doesn't require him to do much more than this, he is droll every time he does it." Crowther also noted that "Mr. Boone is a wholesome fellow who can take a joke as well as dish one out." With strong comic support from veterans like Gale Gordon and Dennis O'Keefe, and Eden adding glamour and romance, All Hands on Deck is a fine example of the midcentury military farce.

Director: Norman Taurog
Producer: Oscar Brodney
Screenplay: Jay Sommers; based on the novel by Donald R. Morris
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Editor: Fredrick Y. Smith
Art Direction: Jack Martin Smith, Walter M. Simonds
Music: Cyril Mockridge
Cast: Pat Boone (Lieut. Victor Donald), Buddy Hackett (Shrieking Eagle Garfield), Dennis O'Keefe (Lieut. Comdr. Brian O'Gara), Barbara Eden (Sally Hobson), Warren Berlinger (Ensign Rush), Gale Gordon (Admiral Bintle), David Brandon (Lieut. Kutley), Joe E. Ross (Bos'n).

by Margarita Landazuri



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