Saturday, January 23, 2010
"Francis in the Navy" and the absurdity of people who lived before us
Title: Francis in the Navy
Genre: Nonstop comedy with a talking mule
Notable because: The imagination is staggered by the concept that anyone ever found this funny
Clint's subliminal message: "Hey! My name is in the credits!"
The best thing about this movie is it gives the Flory family a Kevin Bacon-like degree of separation from Mr. Clint Eastwood.
Donald O'Connor is the human star of "Francis in the Navy" and Donald O'Connor gave a drunken and indifferent performance at the 1975 Chesaning (Michigan) Showboat. Look it up if you suspect we are bold enough to lie. At the risk of being name-droppers, Brad and Andrew both know Captain Bob Rhode of showboat fame. So we need two links to Clint. It's almost like we exchange Christmas cards.
Humiliating as it sounds to be upstaged by a mule, Clint was probably pleased with his career progression in this, his second film. He appeared in eight or 10 scenes, had several lines and was for the first time listed in the credits. His name came one notch below Jim Backus (aka Thurston Howell III) and one notch above David Janssen (aka The Fugitive).
Clint's acting is forgettable and not funny. He is "Jonesy," one of several Navy buddies who show up onscreen primarily to be confused about O'Connor's hi jinks. If you would like to see a Clint-free example of said hi jinks, click here. Clint says things like: "A little rest, Slicker, and you'll be your old self." Sadly, he has no dialog with the mule.
Poor Andrew watched with bemused disgust. O'Connor plays a double role which leads to 1 hour and 21 minutes of dumb and impossible situations of mistaken identity. The climax involves military maneuvers that make no logical sense. The story is punctuated by bad jokes from a mule, a cinematic hook that spawned seven movies.
"I imagine those dweebs in the 1950s sitting in the theater and laughing so hard," Andrew said. Then he used a mocking voice: "Oh my God! Francis is singing 'La Cucaracha.' Stop! My side is splitting!"
Forgive him. Andrew is 15 and still enjoys the certainty that his time is normal but earlier eras were absurd. One day he will look back and believe the past was better, not dumber. That will be the day he is no longer young.
"Do you think everyone in the 1950s was an idiot?" Brad asked.
"No, but I think they didn't know what was funny," Andrew said. Based on "Francis in the Navy," it is impossible to argue.
Next up: "Lady Godiva."