Cast & Crew
While returning from their three-day leave in New Orleans, Cpl. Larry Dolan and his friend, Pvt. Stanley Wenaslawsky, meet fellow soldier Meredith Bixby on the train to Camp Calhoun. Though he initially seems quite normal, Bixby proves a walking disaster, as he accidentally pulls the train's emergency brake while trying to unscrew a light bulb. Hoping to make friends with his fellow soldiers, Bixby allows Larry and Stan to oversleep, but the three miss their stop and have to hitchhike ninety miles back to their base from Memphis. At Camp Calhoun, Maj. Shelton, a psychologist in the Women's Army Corps, tells her commander, Gen. Vanderlip, that the well-meaning Bixby has been a constant failure throughout his military career, causing Vanderlip to refer to him as "a sad sack." Arguing that that the Army is filled with "Bixbys," Shelton receives special permission to study the bumbling private. Assigned to the same company as Larry and Stan, Bixby makes a poor first impression on Sgt. Elmer Pulley after he accidentally dumps a load of gravel on his new supervisor. When Shelton asks him to tend to Bixby personally, Larry agrees to take on the assignment, seeing it as a way to avoid any strenuous duty. On the pretext of studying riflery, Larry and Stan then take Bixby to a roadhouse, and the three end up in a brawl with some local thugs. Quickly disguising himself as a military policeman, Bixby gets his new friends out of one mess and into another when he mistakenly returns them to a WAC barracks. Caught by Sgt. Hansen the next morning, the three soldiers are forced to get dressed in front of their female compatriots. After being returned to Pulley, Larry and Stan are informed by their sergeant that, as punishment, they will not be joining their company on its foreign assignment in Morocco. Shelton overrules Pulley's decision, however, as she wants Larry shipped out of Calhoun as soon as possible because she is falling in love with the conniving corporal. In turn, Larry decides to keep his promise to Shelton and gets Bixby qualified on the rifle range, even though the inept private inadvertently shoots a tire out on Vanderlip's passing car. A proud Bixby then re-enlists and is sent to North Africa with the rest of his squad. While on leave in Morocco, Bixby, Larry and Stan stumble into a nightclub owned by Ali Mustapha, the ringleader of a gang of thieves who have been stealing U.S. military supplies. The club's featured performer Zita soon falls for the innocent Bixby, who, in turn, offers to give the singer his life savings so she can go home to Mexico City. Suspecting the worst of Zita, Larry steps in and lies to Bixby that Zita attempted to romance him as well. The heartbroken Bixby then goes AWOL and mistakenly wanders into Ali's headquarters on his way to join the French Foreign Legion. Told that Ali heads a secret force with the Legion, Bixby agrees to help the thieves assemble a stolen R-2 rapid fire cannon at their secret desert hideout. Two days later, Bixby overhears the thieves plotting his murder, but refuses to leave the camp until he can disarm the R-2, even though Larry, Stan and Zita arrive at the hideout to rescue him. The three soldiers are soon captured by Ali's men, but a still-free Zita helps them escape the Arabs' dungeon. The Americans then capture Ali and his men, marching the thieves across the desert and into the custody of the French government. Bixby, Larry and Stan are awarded the Foreign Legion citation for gallantry, though Bixby disrupts the ceremony when his boot heel melts onto the accelerator of his jeep. Larry is reunited with Shelton, who informs Bixby that the absent Zita has left Morocco for his hometown of Scranton, New Jersey. An excited Bixby then decides to show a new private how to hold a rifle correctly and ends up shooting the champagne glasses out of the hands of Vanderlip, a French general and an Arab chieftain. Realizing only Bixby could have done such a thing, the general assigns the private to the one duty at which he can harm no one but himself: peeling potatoes.
Michael G. Ansara
Jean Del Val
F. Ben Miller
John A. Anderson
Burt F. Bacharach
C. C. Coleman Jr.
John P. Fulton
Joseph H. Hazen
F. E. Miller
Lt. Doris Schmerling
Col. Vincent Vezza
The Sad Sack
The Sad Sack had a ready-made, built-in audience, because it was based on a popular cartoon and comic-book character. Sad Sack was introduced in 1941 in a single-panel cartoon published in Life magazine. The artist, Sergeant George Baker, had been employed at Disney drawing backgrounds for their animated shorts and features before joining the Marines in World War II. He had sent his Sad Sack idea to several major newspapers, but no one showed any interest until Life published it as part of an amateur cartoon contest. The editor of Yank, the Army Weekly saw the cartoon and was impressed enough to hire Baker to turn the exploits of Sad Sack into a regular feature. The character was intended as a commentary on life in the army for the common soldier, who was sometimes frustrated by the monotony, harsh treatment by officers, and relentless KP duties. A hapless stumblebum, poor Sad Sack always seemed to be in trouble with his superiors despite his honorable intentions.
The cartoon was so popular with soldiers that Simon & Schuster published two hard-cover collections of the strips in 1944. After the war, the Bell Syndicate picked up the strip, and it was distributed through regular newspapers until the late 1950s. The character's most lasting success came in comic-book form. Sad Sack was turned into a comic-book character by Harvey Comics in 1949, and the first issue was published in September. Like his creator George Baker, Sad Sack had re-entered the work force after the war, but in 1952, Harvey Comics decided to return him to the army, because the bumbling, unlucky nature of the character worked better in a military environment. Whereas the original comic strip was read by young men, the comic book appealed to children and adolescents, and Baker had difficulties writing for the younger audience. In 1954, Harvey brought in Fred Rhoads, a young but experienced comic-book writer and artist, to handle the storylines, while Baker stayed on to draw the covers. Rhoads introduced several characters that became part of Sad Sack's circle, including General Rockjaw, Muttsy the G.I. Pooch, and Sadie Sack. Baker continued with this arrangement until his death in 1975. Rhoads left two years later in a dispute with Harvey Comics regarding royalties and payment. The last issue of Sad Sack was published in October 1982.
By the time Hal Wallis purchased the film rights to the character, the term "sad sack" was in common usage to refer to any inept person who is full of good intentions but incapable of completing a task without difficulties. Given this description, Lewis's comic persona seemed a good fit with the Sad Sack character. Lewis originated his persona in the late 1940s when he teamed with handsome crooner Dean Martin to play the nightclub circuit. He referred to their act as "the Playboy and the Putz," because it featured Martin as an onstage Casanova-like singer who is heckled from the audience by a juvenile-acting Lewis. In the late 1940s, it became chic among show-business elite to attend a Martin and Lewis show. Lewis fine-tuned the act as the pair began to play to larger audiences in better venues. Their largely unscripted antics represented a kind-of controlled chaos that was exciting to watch and almost subversive in nature. Martin's relaxed demeanor and quiet authority made him the perfect straight man for Lewis's adolescent destructiveness. The act depended on an intentional friction as the energetic comedian relentlessly annoyed the laid-back singer with his constant disruptions, manic physical gags, and purposefully irritating voice.
When the pair signed with Hal Wallis, who produced films for Paramount, Lewis tweaked his image to suit the silver screen. The Kid, as the comedian began to call his screen persona, evoked the mental age of a pre-teen--someone who was aware of girls but more interested in boyish pursuits. The Kid is an ungainly, clumsy character that allowed Lewis to exploit his high-pitched voice, gangly movements, pratfalls, and mugging. His film characters were tailored to this persona, and they were often saddled with names such as Harvey, Myron, or Seymour to emphasize their awkwardness.
After the breakup of Martin and Lewis, the comedian continued to play roles that were variations of the Kid. In The Sad Sack, the title character is a naïve and gullible young man christened Private Meredith Bixby, a name that echoes previous Lewis roles. On his way to Camp Calhoun, Private Bixby befriends Corporal Larry Dolan and Private Stan Wenaslawsky. Once in camp, the fates of the three are intertwined, much to the chagrin of Dolan and Wenaslawsky who discover that Bixby tends to attract trouble. Dolan is assigned to tutor Bixby on the finer points of being a soldier by Major Shelton, a beautiful WAC who is also a psychiatrist. Major Shelton wants Bixby to be a better soldier, because she is confident that the army can make use of Bixby's best talent, which is his photographic memory. Like the Sad Sack of the comic book and strip, Bixby is a well-intentioned friend and a hard-working soldier, but he can't seem to keep from losing tanks, destroying jeeps, or shooting his friend in the foot. Bixby, Dolan, and Wenaslawsky are shipped to Morocco, where Meredith gets entangled with Zita, a beautiful spy who works for a group of arms dealers stealing from the U.S. military. (In a nearly silent role, Peter Lorre appears as Abdul, one of the Moroccan villains.) When the hapless Bixby is lured into their plan to procure and assemble the army's latest secret weapon, he is rescued by Dolan and Wenaslawsky, who realize they are more attached to Bixby than they care to admit.
In addition to being a worthy interpretation of the Sad Sack character, the role of Meredith Bixby is typical Jerry Lewis. It allows the comedian ample opportunity to display his talent for physical comedy. Dolan and Wenaslawsky take Meredith to a local bar for some rest and relaxation, but the pitiful private falls prey to the wrong woman. During a raucous bar fight over the girl, Lewis fends off a trio of muscle-bound, ill-tempered barflies with a carefully choreographed comic display of judo that includes an amazing pratfall on the hard floor. Even small-scale physical gags are performed with precision and immaculate timing. A running joke finds Bixby constantly trying to help his superiors by noting that their ties or shirts have a loose thread, and he is only too happy to pull it for them. With a dainty tug, Bixby extracts the tiny thread, causing the article of clothing to unravel until it is merely a rag. Most dialogue scenes feature Lewis mugging his way through the conversation, with exaggerated expressions that exploit his huge mouth and incredibly flexible facial muscles.
Despite the suitable fit with Lewis's comic persona, The Sad Sack was still early in his solo career. Wallis and scriptwriters Edmund Beloin and Nate Monaster felt the need to craft a character to serve as a foil for Meredith Bixby--in other words, a Dean Martin-like role. Corporal Larry Dolan, played by David Wayne, is Bixby's long-suffering father figure, friend, teacher, and straight man, much like Martin's characters in the films the two made together. Though Dolan really cares about Bixby, he is exasperated, frustrated, and annoyed by Meredith throughout most of the film, so the pair's comic interactions are based on the friction between two mismatched characters, which also emulates the Martin and Lewis onscreen relationship. Though the boyish Bixby has a crush on sexy Zita, who reciprocates his affection, it is Dolan who is the romantic lead, ardently wooing shapely Major Shelton in the manner of Dean Martin.
The Sad Sack is a solid example of the first phase of Lewis's solo career, before he began directing his own material. During this era, which lasts from about 1957 to 1960, he made six films and honed his skills as a promising director, learning a great deal from mentor Frank Tashlin. A former cartoon director for Warner Bros., Tashlin helmed two Martin and Lewis comedies and six of the comedian's solo efforts. Unfortunately, The Sad Sack was not one of them. Director George Marshall lacked Tashlin's penchant for crisp pacing, cartoon-like gags propelled by energy and exaggeration, and broad satire. Despite its weaknesses, the comedy deserves a place in pop culture history not only because it marks an important turning point in the career of Jerry Lewis but also because it preserves a version of Sad Sack, a popular character type during America's postwar era.
Producers: Hal B. Wallis and Paul Nathan
Director: George Marshall
Screenplay: Edmund Beloin and Nate Monaster based on the comic-strip character Sad Sack
Cinematography: Loyal Griggs
Editor: Archie Marshek
Art Directors: John B. Goodman and Hal Pereira
Music: Walter Scharf
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Cast: Private Meredith Bixby (Jerry Lewis), Corporal Larry Dolan (David Wayne), Major Shelton (Phyllis Kirk), Private Stan Wenaslawsky (Joe Mantell), Abdul (Peter Lorre), Sergeant Major Elmer Pulley (Gene Evans), Ali Mustapha (George Dolenz), Zita (Liliane Montevecchi), Moki (Michael Ansara, uncredited).
by Susan Doll
The Sad Sack
The film begins with the following written statement: "Acknowledgment is hereby gratefully made to the United States Army and Air Force without whose cooperation, deep understanding, and sense of humor this picture could never been made." The "Sad Sack" comic strip was created by George Baker, then a sergeant in the U.S. Army, and made its debut in a May 1942 issue of the military weekly Yank, where it quickly became a permanent feature. It was so popular with servicemen and civilians alike that Simon and Schuster published two hardback collections of the strip. Following the end of World War II, the strip was picked up by the Bell Syndicate, which carried it in newspapers throughtout the U.S. until 1958.
In 1949, Baker signed an agreement with Harvey Comics to publish comic books featuring the "Sad Sack" character, who had been transformed into a civilian for his syndicated Sunday strip form. When the Korean War broke out, "Sad Sack" re-enlisted in the Army and gained even greater popularity, becoming one of the first comics to be published monthly. The "Sad Sack Comics" series continued until 1982, appearing in 287 issues. During World War II, "Sad Sack" had also been the basis for a short-lived radio show, which featured the voice of Mel Blanc.
According to a September 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, producer Robert L. Lippert was planning a series of "Sad Sack" films, featuring actor Mickey Rooney. In January 1951, Los Angeles Times reported that Lippert was still negotiating for the film rights to "Sad Sack," and was considering actor Sterling Holloway for the lead role. By March 1951, however, Daily Variety announced that Paramount had purchased the film rights to Baker's character as a vehicle for Alan Young. Paramount press releases state that the planned Young picture was to be produced by Paul Jones.
According to modern sources, producer Hal Wallis acquired the film rights to Baker's comic character in hopes of making it into a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis picture. Following the breakup of the comedy team, a January 7, 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Paramount, Hal Wallis Productions and York Productions (the production company owned by Martin and Lewis) had concluded an agreement in which Lewis was to appear in The Sad Sack for Wallis, with Martin agreeing to star in another film for the producer and studio later in 1957, as part of a settlement upon the unfulfilled portion of an earlier contract. Still hoping to reunite the duo, Wallis told Los Angeles Examiner at the time: "My arrangement still retains Martin and Lewis as a team for future Hal Wallis pictures." According to modern sources, The Sad Sack was one of two films-the 1965 picture Boeing, Boeing being the other-in which Lewis appeared to finish off his commitments to Wallis under the Martin-Lewis agreement with the producer.
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, portions of The Sad Sack were shot on location at Vincent Air Force Base near Yuma, AZ. Paramount press releases alos state that scenes were also shot at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, CA. Technical advisor Lt. Doris Schmerling was the commander of the WAC troops stationed at Fort MacArthur, according to Hollywood Reporter. In 1962, Paramount re-released The Sad Sack, along with another 1957 Lewis film, The Delicate Delinquent, garnering $1,500,000 in North American rentals, according to New York Times.
Released in United States Winter December 1957
Released in United States Winter December 1957