Sicily, World War II: A group of American soldiers assigned to occupy a Sicilian village find that the inhabitants have no resistance to being occupied, as long as they allowed to carry on with a planned festival and the ensuing celebration. Complications abound when Allied forces meet Axis powers with comic results.
"So this is why you stayed in the bathtub with me!"
War comedies are a welcome subgenre - that is when they’re done well. Making light of such a serious thing as war is a delicate balancing act to say the least, you can’t be so over the top as to be disrespectful to veterans, but at the same time you can’t play things so deadpan as to lose any sort of satirical edge. 'M.A.S.H.', 'Stripes', 'The Secret of Santa Vittoria', 'Good Morning Vietnam' all are prime examples of how comedy can provide a sharp and welcome contrast to the horrors of war. Then you have movies like Blake Edwards' 'What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?' a film that hovers somewhere in the middle without going full tilt farce as to be absolutely hilarious, but remains incredibly funny.
Straight as a razor Captain Lionel Cash, a deadpan Dick Shawn, is army through and through. He’ll do his duty to the letter without any exceptions. He won’t even call his commanding officer General Bolt, Carroll O'Connor, by his first name Max, even when the man orders him to. As the Allied Forces push through Italy towards Germany, Captain Cash is put in charge of one of the most disorganized companies in the army and tasked with taking a small Sicilian village and clearing out any resistance. At his right hand is Lieutenant Christian, a goofy James Coburn a man who would rather sit the war out entirely, or at least have a good time while fighting.
Captain Cash and his rag tag team of soldiers make their incursion into the town, taking it street by street encountering light resistance. In fact they encounter no resistance of any kind. Sure, the town is loaded with Italian soldiers, but they would much rather enjoy a game of soccer and celebrate than fight the Americans. Lead by Captain Oppo, a hilarious Sergio Fantoni, the Italians are in fact more than willing to surrender to the American troops - on the condition they can continue with a planned festival. After much prodding from Lt. Christian, the blood hungry, war-ready Captain Cash accepts the terms - reluctantly. As the celebration envelops the American soldiers, it becomes a game of getting the Captain good and drunk so everyone can have a great time and give peace a chance.
Peace doesn’t last long however, as the next morning Army Intelligence officer Major Pott, Harry Morgan, is due to arrive any moment. The severely hungover Italian and American forces have to muster together to clean themselves up, make things look like a real battle ensued, and maintain the fragile peace the men secured so delicately the night before. Only things don’t go exactly according to plan.
Blake Edwards is a man known for his incredible contributions to comedy with the likes of 'The Pink Panther,' 'The Great Race,' and '10.' If there is a man who knows how to embrace and exploit madcap comedy, it's Blake Edwards. Which leads to a puzzling conundrum, with 'What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?' Blake Edwards has actually held himself back, keeping a quieter and more reserved pace and far less farcical than would naturally be expected. Sure, there are some genuinely hilarious wild and crazy moments that harken back to the pie fight from 'The Great Race,' but this movie favors a more "comedy of errors" tone in the end. Helping with the more subtle approach to the comedy is none other than 'The Exorcist' writer himself, William Peter Blatty. Blatty lent his talents to Edwards' 'A Shot In The Dark' and finds himself in fine comedic form again.
That Isn't to say 'What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?' isn't funny - it is. It features a slew of fantastic comedic performances. How Dick Shawn never became widely known for comedy is beyond me. Then you have tough guy James Coburn who delivers his own contributions to the hilarity as the hungover Lieutenant desperate to restore peace and ensure the surrender goes through without a hitch. Perhaps it’s the quieter moments that mine the real comedy gold. The opening scene of the forlorn Carroll O'Connor desperate to hear someone say his first name instead of "sir" got a solid laugh out of me.
If you've never seen or heard of 'What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?' you're probably not alone. It's not the most well known Blake Edwards film out there, but that isn't to say this movie should be forgotten, as it offers plenty of laughs and fun to be had all on its own. I had a great time with this one and it'd be surprised to hear of someone not letting out more than few good laughs watching this. Give it a spin, it's worth every minute.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'What Did You Do In The War, Daddy' makes its Blu-ray debut from Olive Films on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens to the main menu featuring a static image.
'What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?' makes a splendid AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 Blu-ray debut. Without a fresh and exhaustive restoration effort, I can't imagine this one looking much better than it does. Once you get past the slight print wear that pops up in the form in small nicks and very minimal scratches, this transfer offers a lot to see and appreciate. Clarity is very strong here as film grain is minimally present and only really visible during darker scenes. Detail is strong, if occasionally soft in some places, but scenes like the aftermath of the festival are a delight to see in such detail as confetti and streamers are strewn about covering every surface and passed out soldier. Colors are also very strong here providing that World War II drabness while also offering a lot of pop from the primaries. Flesh tones skew slightly pink in places, but not so bad as to knock this transfer. Black levels for the most part are okay, but there is a bit of crush at times, leading to some floating heads during the darker scenes. Part of me hopes this disc sells well enough to instigate a full restoration. It looks pretty great now, so it makes me wonder how much better it could or should look?
'What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?' gets everything it can out of its strong DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. This is a film that relies heavily on dialogue for a lot of the laughs and thankfully everything comes through with great clarity. Without any track damage the likes of hisses or breaks, this track is in fine form allowing sound effects and the goofy Henry Mancini score to occupy the space peacefully without any competition. Imaging is also nice, from the film's few quieter moments to the full on madcap brawl, to the climatic "battle," everything feels lively and layered. A solid audio track for a good comedy.
Original Trailer: (HD 1:53) This trailer is in really rough shape to say the least. Framed at 1.35:1 it looks like something from a 16mm home theater print rather than an actual theatrically run trailer.
Comedy is subjective. One man's 'Hamlet' is another man's 'The Hangover III'. I for one thought 'What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?' was a pretty darn funny movie. While it may not be one of Blake Edwards' best comedic efforts, it certainly isn't his worst by any stretch. The cast is great, and the film wisely allows guys like Dick Shawn and James Coburn to let loose in all the best ways. This Blu-ray release courtesy of Olive Films is a strong offering providing a fairly solid HD transfer with a lively audio track. Some more extra features would have been nice, but as a simple film only release, you'll just have to take my word for it that it's a funny movie and worth checking out.