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SOLDIER IN THE RAIN(director: Ralph Nelson; screenwriter: Blake EdwardsMaurice Richlin/from the book by William Goldman; cinematographer: Philip H. Lathrop; editor: Ralph Winters; music: Henry Mancini; cast: Jackie Gleason (M/Sgt Maxwell Slaughter), Steve McQueen (Sgt. Eustis Clay), Tuesday Weld (Bobby Jo Pepperdine), Tony Bill (PFC Jerry Meltzer), Tom Poston (PFC Jerry Meltzer), Lew Gallo (Sergeant Fred Lenahan); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Martin Jurow; Allied Artists/Key Video; 1963)
“The movie looks like a ’50’s TV sitcom.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ralph Nelson directs a bittersweet comedy/drama based on a novel by William Goldman. The screenplay was co-scripted by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin. The great TV sitcom comedy star Jackie Gleason tries his hand at an army base camp drama, and is ok. Steve McQueen goes for comedy, and is not ok. Tony Bill is a poor substitute for the role usually played by Jerry Lewis. Tuesday Weld is slightly amusing and extremely sexy as a stereotyped dumb Southern teenager. The film’s funniest moment is when Gleason asks Weld: “What did you learn in school today?” and she responds: “Mrs. P is pregnant.”

It captures the authentic feel of the army base, but the movie looks like a ’50’s TV sitcom. The film never makes up its mind if it wants to be a comedy or a sentimental melodrama as its whimsical story revolves around two unlikely army buddies, the swinging Master Sergeant Maxwell Slaughter (Jackie Gleason) and the more ambitious Sergeant Eustis Clay (Steve McQueen). Gleason is content to be an army lifer and milk the security of being in a peacetime army, while McQueen is looking to leave and go into business to make a pile of dough. McQueen idolizes Gleason because he’s such a smooth operator and seems to have made an art of how to live the good life in the military. Tony Bill plays the bumbling Private First Class Jerry Meltzer, who gives the film the trappings of a comedy.

When McQueen introduces Geason to the pretty but ditsy teenager, Bobby Jo Pepperdine (Tuesday Weld), this irritates Bobby Jo’s would-be suitor Sergeant Fred Lenahan (Lew Gallo), a hard-nose military policeman and sworn enemy of McQueen’s. It leads to a surprisingly tragic turn of events for one of the soldiers. A strange film results, that is an interesting misfire.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”