Military comedy often relies upon the introduction of chaos into the rigidly ordered world of the service, and “No Time for Sergeants” (1958) is a classic example of the conventional plot, in which a square peg protagonist encounters the uniformly round hole of a soldier’s life. Based on the original novel by Mac Hyman, “No Time for Sergeants” was adapted for both television and Broadway before it became a motion picture, and it proved tremendously influential in the career of its star, Andy Griffith, who played the lead for all three versions of the story. Viewers today will certainly see a lot of the seeds of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle” being sown in this funny, light-hearted film, which also serves as the big screen debut of Griffith’s long-time sidekick, comedian Don Knotts.
Griffith plays Will Stockdale, an amiable simpleton drafted into the Air Force from a rural Georgia town. Under the command of Sergeant King (Myron McCormick), Will develops an awkward friendship with aspiring infantryman Ben Whitledge (Nick Adams), but his efforts to help Ben and the sergeant repeatedly backfire, getting all of them into increasingly ridiculous situations. Against his better nature, Sergeant King eventually resorts to desperate measures to get rid of Stockdale and restore order to his carefully controlled life.
Although the film doesn’t necessarily flatter Southerners with its drawling, rural characters, Griffith manages to make his bumpkin hero genuinely likeable, largely because Will is so good-natured and generous. The comic chemistry with Myron McCormick is especially good; Griffith and McCormick had already had plenty of practice together in the television program and the Broadway play, and that experience pays off in the film. Don Knotts has only one scene, but he’s hysterically funny in it, setting the tone for the kind of character he would continue to play for the rest of his career. It’s possible that the central joke of the film wears out its welcome by the end, but overall it’s a very amusing picture and certainly required viewing for Griffith fans and veterans with a sense of humor about their own military experience.
Griffith is better known for his television roles, but he can also be found in Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd” (1957) and the charming 2007 film, “Waitress.” For more of Nick Adams, see “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), “Pillow Talk” (1959), and “Hell is For Heroes” (1962). Director Mervyn LeRoy also helmed classics like “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” (1933), “Random Harvest” (1942), and “Mister Roberts” (1955). For more military comedy, try “I Was a Male War Bride” (1949), “MASH” (1970), and “Stripes” (1981).
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