Operation Mad Ball
Cast & Crew
Just after the end of World War II, at the American Hospital Division outside Le Havre, France, Hogan, a glib young private, lowers his rifle to talk to Lt. Betty Bixby, an attractive nurse who has just arrived at the base. Their conversation is witnessed by the self-satisfied, officious Capt. Paul Lock, who arrests Hogan for fraternizing with an officer and lowering his weapon while on duty. As Hogan awaits his hearing, he commiserates with his friend, Corp. Berryman, who laments that he will be unable to spend time with his sweetheart, nurse Lt. Schmidt, before he is shipped out to the South Pacific. As an antidote to Berryman's plight, Hogan envisions a romantic little inn where the lovers can spend their last night together. At Hogan's hearing, Col. Rousch, the post's kindly commander, questions Lock's hard-nosed determination to court-martial Hogan. When Hogan points out that the Geneva Convention forbids medical personnel to carry a rifle, thus rendering the charge of lowering his weapon moot, the colonel dismisses the case. Still determined to discipline Hogan, Lock reassigns him to the morgue. Afterward, Hogan, bent on finding Berryman a romantic rendezvous, drives through the countryside and comes upon a run-down inn. The landlady, the cantankerous Madame Lafour, orders the GIs off her property because she holds all Americans responsible for the damage done to her inn by a group of rowdy servicemen. When Hogan agrees to refurbish the inn in exchange for hosting a party there, Madame agrees. For the "mad ball," as Hogan terms it, Hogan enlists the base ambulance drivers to transport the nurses and asks the provisions agent for the officer's club to supply the repast. To win Betty's sympathy, Hogan shows her the x-ray of an officer's ulcer, claiming that it is his. This prompts the alarmed Betty to put Hogan on a special diet and order him to report to her every two hours. Occupied with the party arrangements, Hogan has no time for his morgue duties, and so asks an underling to pick up a corpse for him. Still suspicious of Hogan, Lock enlists Corp. Bohun to spy on the private and suggests that Bohun bad-mouth Lock to gain the men's confidence. Bohun, who secretly detests Lock for burying his promotion requests in order to assure that the corporal will remain his permanent assistant, is delighted to derail the captain's plans. When Rousch receives word that his brother has just been promoted to general and plans to pass through Le Havre, he decides to throw a party in his brother's honor on the same night as Hogan's mad ball. Rousch entrusts Lock with the arrangements and instructs him to have a crow's nest constructed in the officer's club because his brother is fond of nautical themes. Soon after, Lock calls for a surprise inspection of the base, and when Hogan is unable to locate the corpse he was to deliver to the morgue, he enlists Oskar, a German war prisoner, to pose as the deceased. When Lock arrives at the morgue, a soda bottle stuffed inside Oskar's pocket begins to leak, and Locke mistakes the liquid for blood. Suddenly detecting a heart beat, Lock panics and orders Hogan to find a hospital bed for the miraculously revived corpse. Afterward, Hogan tries to convince Betty to accompany him to the ball in order to "safeguard his health," but she is reluctant to defy regulations forbidding the fraternization of enlisted personnel and officers. The entire ball is jeopardized when the nurses are restricted to base and ordered to attend the party for Rousch's brother. To assure that Rousch's party will be cancelled, thus freeing the nurses, Bohun tricks the unwitting Lock into issuing orders that result in Rousch's brother being shipped out before the party. With the help of transportation sergeant Yancy Skibo, the general and his men are whisked out of Le Havre and sent to sea. On the night of the party, a disappointed Rousch gazes at the newly built crow's nest in the deserted officer's club. When Betty discovers Hogan's ruse and refuses to attend the ball, he accuses her of hiding behind her commission. Lock, ever vigilant, learns that a convoy of camp vehicles has been driving from the base toward Le Havre and enlists Bohun's help to investigate. When Bohun alerts Hogan, they conceive of a plan to give the captain his "comeuppance." Following Hogan's instructions, Bohun tells Lock that the men have planned a ball for that evening. Claiming not to know the location, Bohun suggests that Lock pose as an ambulance driver, pick up a load of nurses and follow the other ambulances to the party. When Lock, disguised as an enlisted man, drives an ambulance into the motor pool, Hogan's men, who have been told about the ruse by Bohun, load several German prisoners into the back. After Lock drives off, Hogan notifies Military Police Headquarters in Le Havre to stop his ambulance. Betty, meanwhile, has been waylaid by the lonely Rousch, who asks her to join him at the officer's club. After she bursts into tears, Betty makes Rousch promise to keep a secret and then tells him of her disappointment in missing the festivities. The sympathetic colonel offers to drive her there, and along the road, they pass Lock, who has been arrested for transporting German prisoners of war. After Lock insists that he is a captain at the hospital, the colonel, still angry at Lock for spoiling his brother's party, claims that Lock is impersonating an officer. When Betty and the colonel enter the ball, the servicemen spring to attention, after which Rousch tells them he promised Betty that he would ignore all infractions for the night. Hogan, who thinks that Betty spurned him, is glumly sitting alone in the barracks when the colonel dispatches a car to drive him to the party. Afterward, a flirtatious Madame LaFour tells the colonel that Hogan is the best good will ambassador he could have. When Hogan arrives, he thinks that he is going to be arrested, but instead, the colonel congratulates him and sends him over to Betty as the rest of the GIs and nurses whirl around the dance floor.
L. Q. Jones
Betsy Jones Moreland
Robert C. Ross
Carter Dehaven Jr.
Charles Lawton Jr.
Emil Oster Jr.
Homer Van Pelt
Operation Mad Ball (1957)
Operation Mad Ball is sometimes called a precursor to Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (1970), but the medical unit setting is about the only common thread. The satiric black comedy M*A*S*H shows medical officers rebelling in wartime; Operation Mad Ball is among those service comedies that play it safe by having the high jinks occur in peacetime. In this case, boredom has set in amongst the GIs at the 1066th General Hospital base in France shortly after the close of World War II. The many nurses on base have been given officer ranking, which puts them out-of-reach for the enlisted men. Private Hogan (Jack Lemmon), a natural "fixer" and the most decorated soldier in the outfit, decides that what the men need is a big blow-out party to let off steam and dance uninhibited with the nursing staff. The greatest barrier in Hogan's way is Captain Paul Lock (Ernie Kovacs in his first big film role), a by-the-book, cigar-chomping blowhard. Hogan works to put the elements in place - he finds a suitable venue in a local shell-worn tavern owned by Madame LaFour (Jeanne Manet), and enlists Master Sergeant Yancy Skibo (Mickey Rooney) to procure a band and suitable party favors. At the same time, Hogan attempts to romance pretty dietetic nurse Lt. Betty Bixby (Kathryn Grant); when the usual methods fail, Hogan steals a general's X-ray and pretends to suffer from an ulcer, which has the dietician nurse at his side with sympathetic remedies. Hogan is helped in his plans by others on the base including Lock's assistant, Corporal Bohun (Dick York), but his plan may be further thwarted when the kindly base commander, Colonel Rousch (Arthur O'Connell), decides to throw a party for his newly-promoted brother Joe on the same night as Hogan's "Mad Ball."
From the opening credits, under which blasts the sprightly theme "Mad Ball" sung by Sammy Davis, Jr. (and cowritten by Fred Karger and Richard Quine) to the not-unexpected fade on a mass of writhing, dancing bodies, Operation Mad Ball delivers as a satisfying screwball romp. The goals of the film (based on an unproduced play by Arthur Carter) are modest, but the cast strikes a near-perfect tone, effortlessly gliding through the silliness without a hint of the desperation that mars many a latter-day screwball comedy. There are several standout bits, but an extended mid-film sequence - in which Hogan must produce a cadaver in the mortuary during one of Lock's snap inspections of the base - is inspired.
In the New York Times, reviewer A. H. Weiler called the film "a light-hearted and enjoyable entertainment" and, of the plot, wrote that "it's all as improbable as, say, stealing the Eiffel Tower and the story is tissue thin and obvious. But this freewheeling charade is full of good cheer, if not the truth, and the laughs and high jinks come across with excellent effects." This critic gives great kudos to Kovacs, saying "...the dark-haired, mustachioed, cigar-smoking clown of television makes the most of his first big opportunity in films... Credit his grimacing, pompous and clumsy attempts as the film's top individual comic portrait." The reviewer for Time Magazine also singles out the newcomer, saying "In his first movie role, Comic Kovacs is approximately terrific, the funniest new funnyface that has been seen on the screen in years. His sneeringly ingratiating personality has all the morbid fascination of a mentholated cigar." This reviewer's overall opinion is that the film is a "routine regimental farce, but fast and snafurious."
The third-listed writer on the screenplay credit for Operation Mad Ball was a young Blake Edwards. The former actor had begun his writing career in 1948 and had just recently turned to directing, having helmed two Frankie Laine musicals at Columbia, Bring Your Smile Along (1955) and He Laughed Last (1956). Edwards cowrote the screenplay of the former with Richard Quine, the same year the duo also adapted Quine's screen version of the play My Sister Eileen, which featured another early role for Jack Lemmon. Edwards, of course, would go on to create the Peter Gunn TV series (1958-1961), and the Pink Panther series of films starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. He also directed Jack Lemmon in two of that actor's most important films of the 1960s, Days of Wine and Roses (1962) and The Great Race (1965).
Young actress Kathryn Grant displays a fine comedic flair in Operation Mad Ball; the film offers one of the most substantial parts of her short career. The uncommonly stunning brunette from Texas entered films in 1953 and soon scored unbilled walk-ons in big budget movies such as Rear Window and Living It Up (both 1954). She was seen to better advantage in supporting parts in low-budget crime films like The Phenix City Story and Cell 2455 Death Row (both 1955). Grant is particularly memorable in the latter, as a Bad Girl influence on leading character Whit Whittier (William Campbell), who was based on real-life killer Caryl Chessman.
Columbia Pictures was clearly grooming Grant for stardom, and following Operation Mad Ball she appeared as Princess Parisa in their classic fantasy The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), in the process becoming an early crush for legions of matinee-attending boys. In 1959 Grant landed an important supporting part in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, but shortly after she retired from films (she had married crooner Bing Crosby, although 30 years his junior, the year before). Throughout the 1960s up until Bing's death in 1977 she could be seen as part of the Crosby Clan in numerous Christmas specials and orange juice commercials on television.
Producer: Jed Harris
Director: Richard Quine
Screenplay: Arthur Carter, Jed Harris, Blake Edwards, from the play by Arthur Carter
Music: George Duning
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Film Editing: Charles Nelson
Art Direction: Robert Boyle
Cast: Jack Lemmon (Pvt. Hogan), Ernie Kovacs (Capt. Paul Lock), Kathryn Grant (Lt. Betty Bixby), Arthur O'Connell (Col. Rousch), Mickey Rooney (MSgt. Yancy Skibo), Dick York (Cpl. Bohun), James Darren (Pvt. Widowskas), Roger Smith (Cpl. Berryman), William Leslie (Pvt. Grimes), L. Q. Jones (Ozark).
by John M. Miller
Operation Mad Ball (1957)
The working title of this film was The Mad Ball. According to an April 1956 Los Angeles Times news item, Lewis Milestone was originally to produce the film with Jed Harris. According to a March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, Carter DeHaven, Jr. was to appear as "Sgt. McCloskey," but had to drop out after it became too difficult for him to both work as assistant director and appear in the film. A March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that Odette Myrtil was to play a featured role, but had to drop out of the production after she was injured in an accident.
Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart includes Joey Forman and Frank Moore Four in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Operation Mad Ball marked the screen debut of noted television comedian Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962). The film's screenplay was nominated by the Screen Writers Guild as Best Written American Comedy.
Released in United States Fall November 1957
Ernie Kovac's makes his screen debut, coming out of television.
Released in United States Fall November 1957