Francis Joins the WACS


1h 35m 1954

Brief Synopsis

On arrival at Fort Chase, ex-soldier Peter Stirling, recalled to active duty, is re-united with his old pal Francis the Talking Mule. Gradually, it dawns on Peter that a clerical error has assigned him to an all-female WAC base, where broad slapstick is the order of the day and Francis has more horse sense than any of the human officers. Too innocent to appreciate the pleasant aspects of his predicament, Peter ends by helping the "enemy" in a war-game battle of the sexes.

Film Details

Release Date
Aug 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 30 Jul 1954
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
ForT Ord, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on characters created by David Stern.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.00 : 1

Synopsis

In the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., a computer reclassifies veterans into new miltary assignments. A few days later, bank employee and former lieutenant Peter Sterling reacts with panic to the news that he has been recalled into the Army. On the way to his assignment at Fort Chase, Pete stops to switch trains, and then hears the familiar voice of his pal Francis, a mule who talks, but only to him. In his rush to find Francis, Pete leaves his bag on the wrong train, and his attempts to retrieve it result in bumping into, dropping a bag on, and pouring water over WAC captain Jane Parker. When he reaches Fort Chase, Pete realizes that it is a WAC installation, and that the Pentagon computer has confused his name with that of "Bunny Sterling," a female camouflage expert. Both he and the fort's commander, Major Louise Simpson, are eager to have him reassigned, but Louise believes that Pete is mocking her troops, and commands him to stay long enough to gain respect for them. On his very first night, Pete accidentally breaks the rules when a female officer assumes his bunk is hers, and they are caught sharing the same quarters. Francis, who spotted Pete on the train and arranged a transfer to Fort Chase in order to help his old pal, makes rude comments through Louise's office window while she is reprimanding Pete. Angered by Pete's apparent insolence, Louise orders him to join her troops in training. The next morning, after Pete's bumbling inadvertently entertains the second battalion, Louise mentions to Jane, her second-in-command, that perhaps Pete can lift the spirits of the failing battalion, which will help the platoon ready for the upcoming camouflage demonstration ordered by General Ben Kaye. Jane then challenges the troop to an obstacle course, which Pete fails miserably. Francis finds him on the course and reveals that woman hater Kaye, in an attempt to discredit Louise's camouflage program, has scheduled the demonstration for the following week, before the platoon can finish their training. When Jane later discovers that Pete knows about the demonstration, she and Louise decide that he must be a spy for Kaye and scheme to put him in command of the second battalion, in order to blame its condition on him. Pete's failure to take command of the battalion is noted by Francis, who advises him to give the women perfume and compliment their legs. Pete soon becomes an object of adoration for the women, whose morale and performance levels quickly improve. Kaye arrives a day early, and in response to Louise's accusation that he planted Pete, the general searches for the lieutenant. Kaye finds him conversing with Francis, whose voice is identical to that of his own. Kaye hears Francis's muttered comments and, assuming that Pete is making fun of him, leaves. Francis fumes over the fact that Kaye once took credit for the mule's brilliance, and insists that he and Pete teach Kaye a lesson. Francis begins to train Pete's battalion in advanced camouflage, and when Louise notices that her demonstration map is missing, she blames Pete for stealing it. Pete's claim that Francis stole the map lands him in the psychiatric ward, where he spends his time fingerpainting. Later, Jane accompanies the doctor and Pete to Francis' stall. The mule refuses to speak in front of the doctor, but then calls Jane "cutie," after which she, too, is fingerpainting in the psychiatric ward, followed by Louise, who has a similar experience. The women conclude that Pete is a ventriloquist, and bring Kaye to Francis, who labels the general a chauvinist. Unfortunately, Pete is hiding in the pen at the time, and when he is discovered, Louise's assumptions seem proven. Jane, however, appreciates Pete's loyalty, and when Francis visits her that evening to chastise her for not helping Pete more, she rushes to the psychiatric ward. There, with the help of a nurse, Lt. Valerie Humpert, Jane disguises Pete in women's clothing and sneaks him out. The next morning, the demonstration begins. While Kaye brags to the press about his imminent victory, Francis coaches Pete to steal a walkie-talkie, so the mule can impersonate Kaye and feed false commands to the troops, quickly creating chaos among Kaye's ranks. Kaye deduces what has happened and delivers his own false orders to the WACs, but Francis, sensing a trap, creates a smokescreen under which the camouflaged women escape. With only minutes left, while Kaye gloats that there is not a WAC in sight, the women emerge from their hiding places to pass the test. Kaye loses his voice in frustration, allowing Francis to take over the victory oration and praise the women as brave and honorable soldiers. As a result, Pete receives adulation from the WACs, while Kaye spends his time fingerpainting in the psychiatric hospital.

Film Details

Release Date
Aug 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 30 Jul 1954
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
ForT Ord, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on characters created by David Stern.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.00 : 1

Quotes

What trick is there to talking? Any fool can do it.
- Francis the Talking Mule

Trivia

Notes

The opening credits read: "Based on the character 'Francis' created by David Stern." The closing credits begin with the following: "We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the Women's Army Corps of the United States Army." Although the onscreen title reads "Francis Joins the Wacs," "WACS" is capitalized in all other sources. "Francis, the talking mule" is listed last in the closing credits, but is listed above Joan Shawlee in the opening credits. In Francis Joins the WACs, ZaSu Pitts reprised the role of psychiatric nurse Lt. Valerie Humpert, which she played in the series' first film, Francis. A December 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Lisa Gaye was to star in the film, and an April 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Bonzo was to appear, but neither is in the final film. Chill Wills, who provided the voice of Francis throughout the series except for the last entry, also played "General Ben Kaye" in this picture, marking the first time he appeared onscreen in a "Francis" film. Some scenes were shot on location at the Fort Ord Army base outside Monterey, CA. For more information on the "Francis" series, please consult the Series Index and see the entry for Francis in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50.