At War with the Army (1950)
Director: Hal Walker
Starring: Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Mike Kellin & Polly Bergen
Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Marking their debut as a comedy team, At War with the Army stars Dean Martin (Ocean’s Eleven) and Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor) as a bossy first sergeant and clumsy private stationed at an army post during World War II. Equally yearning to escape their surroundings for various reasons, the childhood friends find themselves in a variety of comical situations while, putting their singing and dancing chops to the test. Mike Kellin (On the Yard) and Polly Bergen (Cry-Baby) co-star.
Based on a play by James B. Allardice, At War with the Army would reunite Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis following their brief appearances in My Friend Irma and its sequel, My Friend Irma Goes West. In their first effort as a comedy duo, Jerry Lewis appears as the geeky Pfc. Alvin Korwin, rarely capable of doing anything right in his troop and desperately attempting to receive permission to see his wife and newborn baby. Meanwhile, Dean Martin co-stars as Korwin’s childhood friend and higher ranking 1st Sgt. Vic Puccinelli who longs to leave the mediocrity of his respected desk position to transfer overseas for active duty. Stuck in the day to day activities of maintaining their compound, the two find themselves in a series of situations involving their need to rehearse for an upcoming talent show and Korwin trying his best to avoid higher-ranking officials determined to make his life miserable. Weaving in the duo’s endless talents, Martin and Lewis inject entertaining musical numbers into the film along with several notable gags including, Lewis dressed in drag and the duo performing very spot-on impersonations of Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby. In addition, Mike Kellin (Sleepaway Camp) makes his film debut as Korwin’s least liked superior, Sgt. McVey, who drunkenly takes a liking to Lewis while adorned in dress and wig.
For their first outing, At War with the Army gives glimpses into the fine-tuned chemistry of Martin and Lewis that would prevail in later efforts. Although, occasionally humorous, At War with the Army suffers from sharing its spotlight too generously with supporting characters that are never as charismatic as its stars. In addition, as the film progresses, Martin and Lewis’ shared screen time runs scant until their enjoyable Army act allows both their strengths to shine. Concluding with an overlong gag of miscommunicated information amongst characters, Korwin and Puccinelli obtain what they wanted and find themselves once again on equal ground. A decent debut that would fall into the public domain after an endless legal bout, At War with the Army won’t leave viewers overly impressed but, offers a fun point of reference for an iconic duo whose collaborations would carry on another 13 films.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents At War with the Army with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Newly remastered in high-definition, the film opens with a heavily scratched title sequence that transitions to a transfer bearing scuffs and vertical lines. Considering its public domain stature and assumed lack of care for its elements, At War with the Army still maintains a satisfying filmic appearance and decent detail in facial features. While, the transfer has its obvious drawbacks from age, At War with the Army still easily satisfies for a film with its heavily distributed history. Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, At War with the Army maintains a mild hiss as dialogue kicks off restrained before slightly improving to more audible conditions. Meanwhile, song numbers offer better clarity and another light boost in quality. On par with its video transfer, At War with the Army sounds respectable given the circumstances. Finally, no special features have been included on this release.
A partnership long considered one of entertainment’s finest, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ debut effort finds the duo comfortable in their skin but, doesn’t offer them the ideal canvas to let their showmanship truly shine. Separating them for one too many instances and crowding moments with forgettable supporting characters, At War with the Army while, capturing several colorful moments, lacks the punch from later Martin and Lewis entries. Nestled in the public domain since the 1970s, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ high-definition transfer is a valiant effort that will leave Martin and Lewis fans pleased so long as expectations are maintained. Like Abbott and Costello before them, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ efforts continue to be cherished by generations young and old. Admittedly, At War with the Army is far from comedy gold but, the uninitiated need look no further to begin their cinematic journey with Martin and Lewis.
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