Making the Grades
Lt. Rip Crandall (Jack Lemmon) thinks he's made the big leagues when the Army orders him to captain a ship across the Great Barrier Reef to the coast of Australia. However, the skilled yachtsman is more than a little disappointed when he pulls into port and discovers his "ship" is really a dilapidated schooner that's barely seaworthy. Unfortunately the sailors on board aren't much better.
Made up of rascals and reprobates who are trying to avoid jail time, the deckhands on the U.S.S. Echo are a bunch of landlubbers who can hardly find their way from bow to stern. Given the condition of the craft and crew, Rip has some real reservations about accepting the assignment. But some covert encouragement from a sweet talking naval secretary (Patricia Driscoll) soon has him taking command of the Echo.
After subjecting his gobs to some intense nautical training (amid the scoffs of officers on the Navy's other anchored destroyers), Rip and his First Officer Tommy Hanson (Ricky Nelson) set out for the open sea with the unproven seamen.
Their maiden voyage proves to be anything but smooth sailing for the crewmembers. A tropical storm and a harbor full of mines slow down their progress, as does the low flying Japanese spy planes hovering overhead.
Relieved after finally arriving in Port Moresby, Rip discovers his biggest challenge is still to come. He is asked to hand over command of his vessel to the hard-nosed and surly LT. Dennis Foster (Richard Anderson) whose mission is to safely land a coast watcher named Patterson (Chip Rafferty) on the secluded side of a nearby island.
The Wackiest Ship in the Army starts off as a light-hearted look at the serious subject of war. Using physical comedy and a musical interlude by singer-turned-actor Ricky Nelson, the film tries to establish a humorous feel as the disappointed Rip comes to grip with his new assignment. The tropical setting and spit-polished officers complete the all-is-well atmosphere.
However, the story takes a turn from happy-go-lucky musical to wartime tale when the enemy attacks the sailors and their ship. Real footage of air raids supplements the staged shoot-out between the two World War II combatants when the men are ambushed by a group of Japanese.
Decidedly upbeat in its treatment of war in comparison to the graphic reenactments of films like Saving Private Ryan and Life is Beautiful, this story is an interesting look at the way war movies have changed over the years. Showcasing the early talents of teen heartthrob Ricky Nelson and the well known Jack Lemmon, The Wackiest Ship in the Army downplays the grit and grime of battle in favor of highly groomed crooners and slap stick comedy.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Wackiest Ship in the Army.
Why did Rip Crandall feel uncomfortable about his orders to turn over the command of his ship? What was his decision and how did it affect the crew?
How did movies like this one give screen time to teen idols like Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley? How successful were these singers in their acting careers? Are there actors or singers today who use multiple media avenues to advance themselves?