Lemmon Sails a Lemon
Just the title alone hints at what "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" is going to be about before you even learn that it stars Jack Lemmon along side Ricky Nelson. But whilst on paper this sounds like another great comedy navy movie it doesn't quite pull it off, still being amusing but never really delivering the memorable laughs of other naval comedies. And the simple reason why it doesn't quite work is not in ideas or writing but that Jack Lemmon needed someone stronger than Ricky Nelson to fire off of and far too often it feels like Lemmon sets them up but there is no one to hit them out of the park.
Lieutenant Rip Crandall (Jack Lemmon - It Happened to Jane) is excited when he receives his first commission but that excitement turns to disappointment when he learns that not only is the ship an old two masted schooner but his crew are a bunch of idiots who have never manned a sail ship before. Initially reluctant to take charge Rip is tricked into the position when he learns that if he doesn't sign for control the vastly inexperienced Ens. Tommy J. Hanson (Ricky Nelson) will be put in charge and on a dangerous mission to try and sneak the schooner into Japanese waters.
To be honest there are very few surprises in "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" as it feels familiar to many other naval comedies. As such we have a first half which is all about Rip being reluctant to take charge of what is a naval joke especially with a misfit crew who haven't got a clue. Typically they hoodwink him into it and in doing so Rip warms to the task, crew and wreck of a ship as slowly and often accidentally get to grips with manning a sail boat. About the only surprise is a musical number which gets thrown in which sees Lemmon on piano whilst Ricky Nelson sings, a scene which in truth has no place in the movie but considering the cast is not that huge a surprise.
The second half of "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" focuses on a mission to sail into enemy territory which again through luck more than better judgement they manage to get away with. As such we have the humour of the men sailing through a mine field and then through a coral reef whilst an encounter with the enemy throws up some more accidental heroics. None of which is really more than some funny ideas which whilst amusing never deliver the big memorable laughs.
The reason for this is that "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" has some good ideas but it relies too heavily on Jack Lemmon. We have a variety of quirky characters aboard the ship but the main one is Ricky Nelson as Tommy and unfortunately Nelson just can't deliver the sharp banter to make it work. In the end only about half the jokes come off and they are thanks mainly to Lemmon's brilliant sense of timing more than anything else.
What this all boils down to is that "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" is an amusing navy movie but one which falls quite a way down the ranks compared to others. It is thanks to Jack Lemmon that it ends up amusing as it does because through no fault of his own it almost becomes a one man show.