No Time for Sergeants (1958)

Once in a Blue Moon a Role and an Actor who creates the characterization and personality are a perfect match, a Marriage truly made in heaven. Such is so with regards to the young Andy Griffith and his screen part of Will Stockdale in NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS (Warner Brothers, 1958).

Andy had been doing Comedy in Night Clubs, the kind of act which today we would call “Stand-up”. His act relied on his highly animated and rustic Hillbilly way of forming his descriptions and his verbal intonations accompanying the tirade. It was this innate inclination toward his creating his own performance humor, along with (as he said in interview) his being just about the right size and age that cinched the role of Will Stockdale for him.

OUR STORY: In the now famous and infamous “nutshell”, a representative from the Local Board of The United States Selective Service System (a six-bit way of saying the Draft Board) shows up at the Stockdale Farm in rural Georgia, it is revealed that Will’s Father (William Fawcett) has been throwing away Draft Notices meant for his son. As a result, the Agent from the Draft Board (Dub Taylor) presumed Will to be a “Draft Dodger” and insisted on applying hand-cuffs, even though he was coming along peaceful like.

After this shaky start, Will and the other Inductees board the Bus going to the Air Force Base for Basic Training. Will befriends Ben Whitledge, who is obsessed with having his service time in the Army, the Infantry, to be exact. He also runs afoul with Irving S. Blanchard (Murray Hamilton) whom Will believes to be suffering from a malady. “Irving had ROTC! I think he stills got a touch of it!” declares Will.

Then comes Will’s crossing paths with his Basic Training Instructor, Sergeant King (Myron McCormick), and the stage is set! The scenes between the old, veteran Sgt. And the ever-so-green recruit, Stockdale, are all gems. And due to the wily Sarge’s own conniving and attempting to keep Stockdale from being qualified and moving on to full duty, by “appointing” Private Stockdale as “Permanent Latrine Orderly”, P.L.O. for short.

The unit C.O., Captain (Bartlett Robinson) gets wind of the prank and after that, Sgt. King is charged with getting Private Stockdale qualified and on his way, or face getting busted himself, right down to the rank of Private.

The rest of the story line involves the contrivances undertaken to get the kid through it all and the unorthodox but practical methods that get him the passing grade. Once qualified, he ships out for gunnery school along with Ben and the now Private King. It is during this time that the picture reaches a climax, when the weekend training flight that Ben and Will are part of stumbles right into a nuclear test, “Operation Prometheus”.

As for the finale, we’ll not go there right now. The only way to get it is to see it. If you’ve never seen it, shame on you! Go get it, rent it, buy it or catch it on TV. And if you have seen it, watch it again. You’ll laugh even harder this time.

Just as a little sort of historical aside to the above review we offer a little summation of the strange life journey taken by the story from Novel to the Silver Screen; being filmed in glorious B & W, it was still Silver, too! When the play was adapted from the novel, it had a slight detour before being performed live on a stage before a live audience. Instead, a slightly homogenized, abridged version was prepared for the “UNITED STATES STEEL HOUR” on Live, Network Television. This was on the Ides of March, March 15, 1955. From there it was obvious that it would make a suitable Broadway Production. Myron McCormick originated the part of Sgt. King, but it was Roddy McDowell as Ben Whitledge and Robert Webber as Irving Blanchard. Don Knotts made his Broadway debut as the same Corporal who administers the physical dexterity tests.

But the most unusual fact is to me that involved Will’s hesitancy to salute the female Colonel in the Movie. In the Broadway and later Road Show performances, Ben and Will meet up with not a Woman Colonel, but a Black Man Colonel. Will didn’t understand why he should salute a Black Man. “I ain’t gonna salute no (racial slur)!”; Will protested to Ben, who imparted the proper military protocol to Will.

In 1958 the domestic scene balked at the idea of doing that scene in film. In later years it would have survived the transfer of media. And of course, today with our Political Correctness, who knows?