Warner Bros. // 1958 // 119 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // May 10th, 2010
Sgt. King: "Why ain't you dead?"
Stockdale: "No excuse, sir!"
No Time for Sergeants is a light, inoffensive comedy about the military that originates from a simpler time. Based on the book by World War II veteran Mac Hyman and subsequent Broadway play, featuring much of the same cast, the film follows Lt. Will Stockdale (Andy Griffith) through the treacherous minefield of conscription.
The U.S. Air Force really has its hands full after drafting Will Stockdale, a country bumpkin who possesses a little more intelligence and a little less strength than John Steinbeck's Lenny. Above all else, the naïve soldier is proud to be serving his country in any capacity -- even if that means being Permanent Latrine Officer.
Stockdale soon learns that the military isn't as friendly as he initially thought; his barrack is filled with all sorts of abrasive caricatures: Pvt. Ben Whitledge (Nick Adams, The Rebel), a scrawny, wide-eyed go-getter who dreams of transferring to the infantry; Irvin Blanchard (Murray Hamilton, Jaws), a ROTC tough guy in aviator glasses; and Sgt. Orville King (Myron McCormick, The Hustler), a 45-year-old sergeant who's trying to coast by with as little incident as possible in the waning years of his military career.
With a little help from soldiers and superiors, Stockdale makes his way through orientation, testing, and his first catastrophic mission.
War is hell, but if No Time for Sergeants is any indication, boot camp is a bunch of goofing around. This old fashioned American comedy is a shining example of the wholesome late-'50s humor that Andy Griffith owns a patent on -- a simple, country boy ventures out into the structured world of the military and mild chuckles ensue. It's an easygoing affair with great performances by some then up-and-coming stars.
Sergeants doesn't have much of a plot, so to speak, as much as it's a series of skits where Andy Griffith gets to chew the scenery and befuddle those around him. The opening scene, in which a draft board officer wades through the tall grass to find Stockdale's farm shack, is about as much plot development as you need: the boy's been drafted. From there, the film, with the help of some unnecessary voiceover narration by Griffith, moves to camp, where Stockdale meets the rest of the gang.
Your enjoyment of the film, not counting any sentimentality, will hinge on your tolerance of Andy Griffith. He's a fairly young guy here, and he's playing up that Southern accent like a character from Pee-Wee's Playhouse. I didn't mind it so much, especially since most of the characters are just as over the top. However, if you don't find his drawl amusing, you'll wish you were cleaning the latrine yourself. Griffith is surrounded by a great supporting cast, including Nick Adams, Myron McCormick, and Don Knotts.
Everyone is playing up to Griffith's level of goofy intensity, and their constant underestimation of Stockdale provides some consistent laughs. The first two-thirds of the movie follows a quick pace as Stockdale goes from one hilarious test to the next. His run-in with Don Knotts's aptitude test -- it's like halfway between a magic trick and a game you'd buy at the Cracker Barrel -- is classic. Sergeant moves along just fine until Stockdale and his comrade Ben make it out of camp and into an unnecessarily complex final act.
Like Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, the film's runtime is bloated by a tacked-on air mission. The last thirty minutes or so of the film are spent on a haphazard flight straight into a mushroom cloud, a lengthy sequence of mistaken identity, and then a final, downer of an ending in the middle of the woods. Perhaps screenwriter John Lee Mahin thought it would be good to get Stockdale out of boot camp and into a real-world scenario, but by this time, his shtick becomes repetitive and the threats feel strangely prescribed.
Third act complaints aside, No Time for Sergeants is an enjoyable film -- a cynicism-free comedy with some grade-A goofballs. Fans of the film have undoubtedly been waiting for this first-time DVD release. Warner Bros. did a great job with the transfer, re-mastering the picture and mono sound from its source. The image looks great, featuring crisp a black and white picture with just a few minor scrapes. The sound isn't anything to write home about, but at least the dialogue comes in loud and clear. Sadly, that's all there is to this release. There isn't a single supplement on the disc, not even a trailer. Surely this movie deserved something.
No Time for Sergeants is an honest comedy born out of one guy's crazy experience with the military. It's not bleak, it's rarely underhanded, and it's nothing but an honest, good time. The cast is great, and the jokes are classic in structure. It's a film that, more than likely, will garner bigger laughs from older viewers. There's certainly nothing wrong with that.
Not guilty, sir!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated