Book Review: Military Comedy Films: A Critical Survey and Filmography of Hollywood Releases Since 1918


by Hal Erickson

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012. Pp. viii, 418. Illus., filmography, biblio., index. $55.00 paper. ISBN: 0786462906

Although not particularly popular in recent years, military comedies were once a mainstay of movies and television, and in this book media historian and critic Erickson gives us a comprehensive and entertaining look at the genre.

Erickson opens with a concise historical introduction, discussing what constitutes a service comedy.  He notes that many serious war pictures, such as Stalag 17 or The Story of GI Joe, often have humorous moments, but can hardly be called “comedies.”  Erickson then examines Charlie Chaplain’s pioneering 1918 Shoulder Arms, which in many ways set the basic structure of service comedies.  He then gives us twenty chapters.  These cover everything from silent era films to Abbott and Costello spoofs and imitations thereof.  There are chapters on Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force comedies, on women in uniform, on joining the service, and “Wheeler Dealer” films.  There also comedic anti-war and anti-military pictures, television comedies, and even cartoons.

In each chapter, Erickson focuses on one or two films, such as See Here, Private Hargrove or Biloxi Blues, for pictures about coming to grips with military life, and shows how they exemplify the genre.  Each of the exemplar films is examined in some detail, with a profile of the cast, a summary of the plot, a look at some of the principal gags or running themes, and some comment on the influence of the films.  Altogether some scores of films are thus examined, plus brief comments on many, many others.  While Erickson’s main concern in American military comedies, some foreign, mostly British, films released in the US also are included.

This, plus many humorous insights, anecdotes and trivia, make Military Comedy Films an essential work for those interested in film, civil-military relations, and war propaganda, and is an amusing read for anyone else.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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