Onionhead


1h 50m 1958
Onionhead

Brief Synopsis

An irresponsible student enlists in the Coast Guard expecting to sit out World War II.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Oct 1958
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 28 Sep 1958; Los Angles opening: 15 Oct 1958
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Alameda--Coast Guard base, California, United States; Long Beach, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Onionhead by Weldon Hill (New York, ca. 1957).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

In 1941 at an Oklahoma college, Alvin Woods grows frustrated as yet another girl, this time his girl friend Josephine Hill, seems to prefer him as a friend rather than as a suitor. While serving as a bartender at Jo's sorority party, Al spots another boy making advances to Jo, and when he starts a fight with the boy, he is fired. Jo then refuses to leave with Al, prompting him to accuse her of dating him only to shock her rich friends. Jo angrily denounces him, but is secretly despondent to see him leave. Al decides to quit college in favor of joining the armed forces, and visits his father Windy, a barber in their small Oklahoma hometown. The provincial Windy reveres his only son and regrets that the only advice he has to offer Al is about maintaining his hair. At the draft office, Al flips a coin to choose between the Marines and the Coast Guard, following it as it rolls into the Coast Guard office. Soon, he is at boot camp in Louisiana, along with Charlie Berger and Harry O'Neal, another barber. Although the three at first quarrel, they are soon fast friends, and when Al picks a fight with a bossy recruit, Charlie and Harry defend him. As a result, they are all assigned to a Boston "buoy tender," the U.S.S. Periwinkle , which never sees battle. Before boarding, they visit a local bar, where Al wins the attention of pretty Stella. Although Stella refuses to invite Al in at the end of the night, she agrees to meet him again. When Al boards the Periwinkle , he receives a thorough chastisement from boorish Ens. Dennis Higgins, then discovers that his new superior officer, crusty head cook "Red" Wildoe, resents Al's quick, unearned advancement to cook and so refuses to bunk with him. The next morning, Wildoe throws Al out of the mess, but then becomes so drunk that he misses lunch, forcing Al to cover for him. After the surly mess cooks, Gutsell and Poznicki, abandon him, Al is forced to improvise a meal for the ship, but later strong-arms them into returning to work. Despite Al's inexperience, he prepares a delicious meal, forcing Wildoe to accept him in the mess. Soon after, Higgins orders Wildoe, Al and their superior, Chief Miller, to correct the deficit in the mess budget, suggesting that they cut rations, and clandestinely offers Wildoe and Al promotions after Miller retires. During liberty that night, Al dances with the flirtatious Stella. Although she will not allow him to take her home, she agrees to go to a hotel with him that weekend. Al borrows a month's pay to rent a room, but when he picks up Stella, she refuses to go with him, pretending that she did not understand his earlier request. Furious with her teasing, Al calls Stella cheap, then proceeds to get drunk. Wildoe, equally intoxicated, joins him at the bar, and although the two have entirely incongruent conversations with each other, that night Wildoe finally allows Al to sleep in the same room. In the morning, the captain announces that Pearl Harbor has been attacked, signaling the start of the war. Al, frustrated that Higgins has been promoted to Executive Officer, distracts himself by responding to a postcard Jo has sent him. Later, Wildoe reveals that he has been seeing Stella and plans to marry her, despite Al's warning that if they ship out to battle, he will have to leave Stella to her own devices for months at a time. Wildoe and Stella marry at the local bar, and when some Navy men interrupt the celebration, Al leads the seamen in beating them up. The group is arrested, but kindly Ens. Fineberg ignores the charges and sends Wildoe back to his honeymoon. Soon after, Wildoe is reassigned to the U.S.S. Algonquin and asks Al to keep an eye on Stella. Al becomes head cook, but is soon hated by the men after Higgins procures sub-par food stores, such as powdered eggs. One night at the bar, Al sees Stella flirting and drags her home, where he tries, but fails, to resist her seduction. In addition to his guilt, he is soon plagued by Harry, who insists that Al is going bald and devises a "cure" by which he shaves Al's head and applies a poultice of onion juice and alcohol, earning him the nickname "Onionhead." Higgins, planning a party for the captain, stores up high-quality food, from which Al surreptitiously steals. After Higgins catches Quatermaster Osborne with a pound of butter Al has given him, Al confesses to stealing it, but Higgins insists on punishing Osborne. Fed up, Al refuses to cook for the party unless Higgins backs off and allows Osborne to transfer to California, to be close to his family. The party is a success, but when Al discovers that Higgins' ledger reports the officers are only paying $9.50 for food rather than the actual cost of $21, he assumes that all the officers are in cahoots to receive the best food, at the expense of the enlisted men. After securing a copy of the ledger, Al writes a complaint letter to the district office, despite Miller's warning that he should confront the captain before going behind his back. The next day, Al learns that his father has died, and rushes home, where he finds Jo waiting for him. Al is wracked with guilt about failing to write to Windy, but Jo's loving ministrations soothe him, and soon they are in love. Al returns to Boston, and at the bar, Wildoe, who has been visiting, asks him to walk Stella home. There, she tries to seduce him again, and when he calls her a tramp, she reveals that she is a nymphomaniac who has hoped to heal her sickness by finding love with him. Saddened by Stella's plight, Al is prompted to call Jo and propose, and to his joy, she agrees and makes plans to come to Boston. That night, however, the Periwinkle is called into duty to rescue the Algonquin , which has been sunk by a German U-boat. When the German submarine shoots the Periwinkle , it lists enough for Al to aim the archaic gun, allowing him to eliminate enough of the German gunnery crew for the captain to ram the U-boat and sink it. Although it is a decisive victory, Al feels responsible for the deaths of so many men. He visits the captain, who immediately deduces Al's concern and reassures him that he bears all the accountability. Al then asks how much the officers pay for food and the captain responds, "Twenty-one dollars," Al realizes that the officers have been paying fairly but Higgins has been pocketing part of their fees. Soon after, the district officers show up to conduct a court of inquiry, and Al finally realizes that, for the good of the whole crew, he must shelter Higgins and the captain from blame. He consequently lies that he has no proof of his allegations of wrongdoing, but slips the ledger to the captain. Al is then stripped of his rank and reassigned to Greenland. Later, the captain court-martials Higgins and offers to explain the situation to the district office, but Al, eager to do the right thing, bravely accepts his punishment. Proud of Al, the captain allows him five days' leave to find Jo, who has been waiting in Boston for him. For four days, he is unable to locate her, but when she finally enters the bar in which Al is drinking, he is able to claim his bride before heading off to Greenland.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Oct 1958
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 28 Sep 1958; Los Angles opening: 15 Oct 1958
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Alameda--Coast Guard base, California, United States; Long Beach, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Onionhead by Weldon Hill (New York, ca. 1957).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Articles

Onionhead


You'd be hard-pressed to find a more unlikely movie star than slope-shouldered Walter Matthau, who started stealing pictures the minute he appeared on screen as a supporting actor, and cajoled audiences into loving him throughout his storied career. The roles may have gotten bigger, but Matthau always approached his work as if he was just another Joe who was somehow allowed to appear in a high-stakes Hollywood movie. "I don't look like an actor," Matthau once said. "I could be anyone from a toilet attendant to a business executive. People either ask me, 'Are you a television actor?,' or else 'Are you from Erie, Pennsylvania?'"

Onionhead (1958), which stars Andy Griffith as a love-struck member of the Coast Guard, features Matthau in one of his earliest comic roles. In theory, the film was meant to take advantage of the steam generated by Griffith's well-received turn in No Time for Sergeants (1958). But Onionhead's script isn't all that it could be, and Matthau chews the scenery with enough basset-hound appeal to overwhelm the rest of the cast.

Griffith plays Al Woods, a college student-lothario who decides to join the Coast Guard when he starts having problems with his girlfriend (Erin O'Brien). The ship that he's assigned to, which is populated by the usual cross-cultural crew of misfits, is also home to "Red" Wildoe (Matthau), a grumpy cook with a particularly enticing girlfriend named Stella (Felicia Farr). When Al and flirty Stella hook up, the expected sparks fly, but the real reason to watch is Matthau's majestic sense of comic timing.

At this point in his career, Matthau still made regular guest appearances on various TV shows, and garnered most of his praise via the Broadway stage. Shortly after co-starring in Onionhead, he returned to the Great White Way, where he won a second New York Drama Critics Award for his work in Harry Kurnitz's comedy, Once More with Feeling. But Matthau would finally focus solely on film work. Among other things, the bigger paychecks enabled him to indulge in his lifelong passion for gambling.

However, Matthau's mother, who raised her son in poverty, never really believed that their financial struggle was over. "I got my mother out of a tenement in New York and down to Florida," the actor later recounted. "Now my mother has a habit of stealing toilet paper from cafeterias. She goes to a cafeteria, has a cup of coffee, goes to the john, and steals the toilet paper." By the time she moved, Mrs. Matthau had collected "10 or 15 brown bags full" of paper. "I said, 'Mom, this is a new apartment, I don't want you stealing toilet paper, go out and buy some.'" Matthau then dumped the offending rolls into the bath tub and soaked them with water, much to his mother's chagrin. Angry, he went for a walk to cool off, only to return to find individual sheets of paper drying on the terrace.

Producer: Jules Schermer
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: Nelson Gidding (based on a novel by Weldon Hill)
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editing: William H. Ziegler
Music: David Buttolph
Art Design: Leo K. Kuter
Costume Design: Howard Shoup
Principal Cast: Andy Griffith (Al Woods), Felicia Farr (Stella), Walter Matthau ("Red" Wildoe), Erin O'Brien (Jo Hill), Joe Mantell ("Doc" O'Neill), Ray Danton (Ensign Dennis Higgins), James Gregory ("Skipper"), Joey Bishop (Gutsell), Roscoe Karns ("Windy" Woods), Claude Akins (Poznicki), Ainslie Pryor (Chief Miller), Sean Garrison (Yeoman Kaffhamp).
B&W-111m. Letterboxed.

by Paul Tatara
Onionhead

Onionhead

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more unlikely movie star than slope-shouldered Walter Matthau, who started stealing pictures the minute he appeared on screen as a supporting actor, and cajoled audiences into loving him throughout his storied career. The roles may have gotten bigger, but Matthau always approached his work as if he was just another Joe who was somehow allowed to appear in a high-stakes Hollywood movie. "I don't look like an actor," Matthau once said. "I could be anyone from a toilet attendant to a business executive. People either ask me, 'Are you a television actor?,' or else 'Are you from Erie, Pennsylvania?'" Onionhead (1958), which stars Andy Griffith as a love-struck member of the Coast Guard, features Matthau in one of his earliest comic roles. In theory, the film was meant to take advantage of the steam generated by Griffith's well-received turn in No Time for Sergeants (1958). But Onionhead's script isn't all that it could be, and Matthau chews the scenery with enough basset-hound appeal to overwhelm the rest of the cast. Griffith plays Al Woods, a college student-lothario who decides to join the Coast Guard when he starts having problems with his girlfriend (Erin O'Brien). The ship that he's assigned to, which is populated by the usual cross-cultural crew of misfits, is also home to "Red" Wildoe (Matthau), a grumpy cook with a particularly enticing girlfriend named Stella (Felicia Farr). When Al and flirty Stella hook up, the expected sparks fly, but the real reason to watch is Matthau's majestic sense of comic timing. At this point in his career, Matthau still made regular guest appearances on various TV shows, and garnered most of his praise via the Broadway stage. Shortly after co-starring in Onionhead, he returned to the Great White Way, where he won a second New York Drama Critics Award for his work in Harry Kurnitz's comedy, Once More with Feeling. But Matthau would finally focus solely on film work. Among other things, the bigger paychecks enabled him to indulge in his lifelong passion for gambling. However, Matthau's mother, who raised her son in poverty, never really believed that their financial struggle was over. "I got my mother out of a tenement in New York and down to Florida," the actor later recounted. "Now my mother has a habit of stealing toilet paper from cafeterias. She goes to a cafeteria, has a cup of coffee, goes to the john, and steals the toilet paper." By the time she moved, Mrs. Matthau had collected "10 or 15 brown bags full" of paper. "I said, 'Mom, this is a new apartment, I don't want you stealing toilet paper, go out and buy some.'" Matthau then dumped the offending rolls into the bath tub and soaked them with water, much to his mother's chagrin. Angry, he went for a walk to cool off, only to return to find individual sheets of paper drying on the terrace. Producer: Jules Schermer Director: Norman Taurog Screenplay: Nelson Gidding (based on a novel by Weldon Hill) Cinematography: Harold Rosson Editing: William H. Ziegler Music: David Buttolph Art Design: Leo K. Kuter Costume Design: Howard Shoup Principal Cast: Andy Griffith (Al Woods), Felicia Farr (Stella), Walter Matthau ("Red" Wildoe), Erin O'Brien (Jo Hill), Joe Mantell ("Doc" O'Neill), Ray Danton (Ensign Dennis Higgins), James Gregory ("Skipper"), Joey Bishop (Gutsell), Roscoe Karns ("Windy" Woods), Claude Akins (Poznicki), Ainslie Pryor (Chief Miller), Sean Garrison (Yeoman Kaffhamp). B&W-111m. Letterboxed. by Paul Tatara

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The film closes with the following written statement: "Our grateful appreciation to the United States Coast Guard...whose generous cooperation made this motion picture possible." Daily Variety announced in November 1956 that Warner Bros. had purchased the film rights to Onionhead, a novel by Weldon Hill that had yet to be published. The Hollywood Reporter review noted that the film closely followed the original story's plot. As noted in reviews, Onionhead was a follow-up to No Time for Sergeants, the extremely popular Warner Bros. film starring Andy Griffith as a hillbilly drafted into the air force. The production was suspended for one week in late November 1957 when Griffith contracted the Asiatic flu, according to studio press materials. Press notes add that many scenes were filmed on location at the Coast Guard station in Alameda, CA and aboard the U.S.S. Heather, which was stationed in Long Beach, CA. Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: Mina Vaughn, Sal Sportelli, Paul Marianetti, Chuck Hicks, Frederic Ford, Alan Gifford, Fred Eisley, John Bontiz and Charlene James. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 1958

Released in United States October 1958

b&w

Released in United States Fall October 1958

Released in United States October 1958