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His & Hers Drive-In Double Feature :: 1962 :: Sergeants 3 and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation

A lighter fare seems to be part of the choosing of this week’s His and Hers Drive-In Double Feature, both movies on the moderate scale of great filmmaking, and not kitsch, polarizing, or hard-hitting. Perhaps that is the cinematic break needed as we gear up to that “busiest time of year” that Autumn into the Winter Holiday Season tends to be. For now, we hang on to the last gasp feelings of Summer ease, and hit play on two films that are definitely more easy-going than thought-provoking, and more carefree, than challenging; sometimes that is just what we need.

The first film is a sort of “fish out of water” endeavor, what with the who’s who of the Rat Pack transplanted to 1890’s Native American territory, as Calvary sergeants, instead of the typical Vegas Lounge Lizards and Mobsters (or at least the Mobsters’ entertainers) that we would normally expect. Yeah, I shook my head and raised a proverbial eyebrow at the notion, and definitely entered into watching this one with some doubt and trepidation. Sergeants 3 is a fun frolic of a “Western“, nothing to add to any “best of” list, but enjoyable to watch Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop play a little cinematic game of “Cowboys and Indians“.

The second film is more on the “typical” side of things. A family vacation comedy that has become a well-used trope in both films and television sitcoms. The movie even features a pop-star of the time, Fabian, which is another well-used trick of the trade to lure audiences in to the foibles and hijinks of a family on holiday. Whether it is an over-used plot, or not, the movie does have a great cast, with James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara at the helm. This one was originally a book, penned by Edward Streeter, who also wrote another family comedy, Father of the Bride.

So, as I like to say, go pop some popcorn, maybe the kind with added butter, and make yourself a tall glass of something sweet, and get ready for a duo of fun films. Maybe you should grab some candy, too. Please share with us your thoughts on this week’s movie selection, and let us know what your movie would have been for 1962. Oh, and also, next up is 1963 – what do YOU think we should watch?

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Sergeants 3 (1962)

Trailer

Brief history:

Sergeants 3 is a 1962 remake of Gunga Din (1939) set in the American West, directed by John Sturges and featuring Rat Pack icons Frank Sinatra,Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. It was the last film to feature all five members of the Rat Pack due to Sinatra’s falling out with Lawford, and later Bishop.

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Directed by John Sturges, written by W. R. Burnett, and produced by Frank Sinatra, the movie features Sinatra in the Victor McLaglen role, Martin in the Cary Grant part, Lawford replacing Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Davis in Sam Jaffe’s originally titular supporting part. It was filmed in Kanab, Utah. The Thugee cult is replaced by the Ghost dancers with Michael Pate and Henry Silva appearing as Indians.

Sinatra wanted to use the title Soldiers Three but couldn’t get the rights as the title was owned by MGM for another Gunga Din-inspired story set in India. Soldiers Three was a 1951 film, based on Rudyard Kipling’s story, that starred David Niven, Walter Pidgeon and Stewart Granger.

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After filming was completed, the producers discovered they needed to secure the rights to the original story of Gunga Din. They were forced to pay a large fee to the copyright owners before the film could be released.

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Each of the Rat Pack’s films contained a numeral in its title. The others were: Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964, with Joey Bishop absent and Bing Crosby replacing Peter Lawford), and 4 for Texas with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Anita Ekberg and Ursula Andress as the four in the title, Charles Bronson as villain, and the Three Stooges as additional comedy relief. Sinatra said of these Rat Pack films: “Of course they’re not great movies, no-one could claim that… but every movie I’ve made through my own company has made money.” The only Rat Pack film not produced by Sinatra was Ocean’s Eleven, which earned $4.3 million in rentals at the North American box office, being ranked by Varietyas the 14th highest-earning film of 1962.

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His take: 

This movie is prime example of alternate universes. What if the “Rat Pack” had actually been around in the late 1800’s, and not in the 40’s. This movie answers that question. There is no real acting in this film. Everybody is just being themselves, except instead of being night club performers, they are Calvary sergeants, remarkably at a base that is staffed by nothing but sergeants, and higher.

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They even find a way to work Peter’s personal life into one of the side-stories. Peter Lawford married into a “money situation“, and his wife-to-be wanted Peter to break away from the “Rat Pack” scene, and his friends, much like the wife-to-be in this film wanted him to leave the Calvary, and his friends.

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You have everyone here, Joey, Dino, Sammy, Frank and Peter. Yet no gratuitous singing scene which all other “Rat Pack” movies seemed to require.
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This is not a great “Western” as “Westerns” go, but it is a great “Rat Pack” film, or at least a great deviation of the standard “Rat Pack” fare. My biggest complaint, which is typical of films of this time period, they could not find one, single, Native American actor in all of Hollywood to play in the film. I mean, seriously, between the Indian role call of White, Eagle, Feather, Wolf and one who looked as if he should have been called Irving, you would think one of them would have actually been a Native American.
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Other than that, it is not a bad film, a little slow paced at points, but a great 3 man versus horde of “Injuns” scene near the start makes up for that. Although I do have to wonder what happened to all the people from the town that the Native Americans attacked.
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3 B rating (1 point given for Boobs, Beasts and Blood): 0 B’s – No blood, which is odd considering an entire town was slaughtered. No beasts, unless you count Joey Bishop’s horrendous accent when delivering his lines, and no breasts, but still a solid Rat Pack/Western film.
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Her Take: 
Honestly, I went in to the watching of Sergeants 3 expecting not to like it. The idea of the Rat Pack in the Old West in an non-ironic, non-comediac way, just did not sit well with me in terms of cinematic enjoyment. Sure, the trailer and posters touted the movie as a hilarious comedy, but the film is not anything like a Blazing Saddles, where you know going in that ridiculousness is expected. That said, the idea of Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Frank Sinatra as Calvary Sergeants in the Old West seemed all kinds of ridiculous, and not in a slapstick, silly comedy way.
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Here’s the thing, the movie is not great by any stretch of the imagination, and not all the acting is good, but watching these actors in these roles, in choreographed saloon-fights and “cowboys and indians” battles, is kind of a blast to watch. By far, it is Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.’s unlikely roles, and eventual friendship, that were my favorites of the film.
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Dean, especially, was a delight to watch because he never seemed to be taking any of it seriously. He always had that look on his face, that he was on the verge of laughing, when he wasn’t lighting dynamite off his ever-present cigarette, or downing various kinds of alcohol. It was also fun to watch Sammy, who looked oh so young in this movie, play the naive, inexperienced ex-slave who is just itching to be a part of the Calvary, and the battle, instead of just playing trumpet in brawl-filled bars.
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Frank Sinatra’s characters was probably my least favorite. He seemed to lack any real joy in his role, which was what I loved in all the other characters. Even Joey Bishop’s character, who is supposed to be the “play by the rules” opposite of the “Calvary Rat Pack” had his moments of humor and warmth, especially during one of my favorite moments, when Dean’s Chip tries to slip Joey’s Sergeant Major Roger a laced drink, the same that had helped bring Sammy’s Jonah’s mule back to life (what was that stuff? Cocaine? Mescaline? Ground up Peyote?)
Typical of movies of this era, the Native American’s are played by non-Native American actors, which is both annoying and distracting to me, especially when you have actors like Henry Silva, Brooklyn born Sicilian actor, playing a role like Mountain Hawk. The portrayal of the Native American’s as the villains, and crazy ones at that (believing in the Ghost Dance revenge that will kill all the white men and bring back the buffalo), is hard to digest, as well. I know, I know, it was all part of the time period, both in what the film portrays, and when the film was made, but it is still something that feels uncomfortable to watch, for me.
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The movie, for me, belongs to Dean Martin, who stole every scene he was in. He brought humor, warmth, and a hell of a lot of drunken fun to his portrayal of Sergeant Chip Deal. Even during the fight scenes there was an element of silliness and self-awareness, that made me ponder if Dean was asking himself, “no one is going to take this seriously, are they?”.
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Her Rating: Out of 5 stars: I give this film 3.5 stars, mostly given to Dean Martin and the humor he brought into all his scenes.
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Trailer

Brief history: 

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is a 1962 American comedy film directed by Henry Koster and starring James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara. The film is based on a novel by Edward Streeter and features a popular singer of the time, Fabian.

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Nunnally Johnson wrote the screenplay for Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation based on Edward Streeter’s novel of the same name. Streeter had previously written the novel Father of the Bride, which was filmed in 1950 and remade in 1991. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation was filmed in California at Laguna Beach and Dana Point. The film was shot using CinemaScope wide screen formatting, with color by DeLuxe. It marked the first time James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara starred together in a film. They would co-star again in the 1966 western The Rare Breed. During the scene where Mr. Hobbs escorts his daughter Katey to a dance at the yacht club, Herb Alpert is the trumpet player in the band.

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The film was relatively successful in the United States and Canada upon its release on June 15, 1962, earning $4 million with an estimated budget of $2 million, but found even greater success when released overseas.  James Stewart won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 12th Berlin International Film Festival for his performance, and director Henry Koster was nominated for Best Director. Stewart was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy. The screenplay by Nunnally Johnson was nominated for Best Written Comedy by the Writers Guild of America. Stewart and Maureen O’Hara were also nominated for their performances by the Laurel Awards. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation’s success inspired a series of light-hearted family comedies starring Stewart including Take Her, She’s Mine (1963) and Dear Brigitte (1965), all three directed by Koster.

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Maureen O’Hara’s bedroom in this movie is the same one she had in her Boston town house in The Parent Trap starring she and Hayley Mills in this Disney classic.

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This was the final feature film for actress Marie Wilson.

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His take: 

I like Jimmy Stewart, I really do, especially when he’s trying to play a curmudgeon, which is not his usual role. I can certainly relate to this film a lot. The last thing you want when going on vacation is to drag all the people you are trying to take a vacation from with you – which pretty much sums up the major plot of this film.

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Yes, I know, this plot is not new, and has been done many times before, but in 1962 this was an original story, one that all preceding ones attempt to mimic.
Jimmy Stewart is at his best between the physical comedy aspects, the heartwarming family lessons learned moments, and the slapstick mistaken circumstances story line. Jimmy Stewart drags to a sight unseen beach house off the coast of San Francisco with his television-addicted son and three daughters in tow. Manipulative wife, tricks him into bonding with his kids
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Mr. Hobbs’ kids are what one might call a challenge, consisting of :

1. A son who isn’t aware of anything outside of his 11″ TV.
2. One daughter who is ashamed of her braces and refuses to socialize with anyone because of them.
3. A second daughter whose marriage is on the rocks due to his unemployment.
4. A third daughter whose husband (played by John Saxon, the Father from A Nightmare on Elm Street) has questionable fidelity issues. I say “questionable” because they never touch on anything specific except for the fact that he disappeared all night with the hot tomato neighbor.
Nearly as challenging as all the suitcases he has to schlep up and down stairs, over and over again.
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Somehow, though, Mr. Dobbs manages to wrap up all his children’s problems, and find time to bond with each one of them, all in the span of an hour and a half.
Some key factors to watch out for in this film: 60’s singing idol Fabian and his horrible mixture of goatee and stipple make-up, I can only assume because he could not grow a full beard at the time, and they wanted to give him a “beatnik” look.
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Also, look out for character actor John McGiver as the world’s most boring scientist and house guest.
3 B rating (1 point given for Boobs, Beasts and Blood): 0 B’s – No boobs, no blood, and no beasts unless you count a lot of barn swallows.
Her Take: 
I have always been a sucker for the vacation/family gathering full of foibles and missteps kind of movie, be it Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Father of the Bride (both versions), Home for the Holidays, Vacation, The Family Stone, Summer Rental or Yours, Mine and Ours – just to name (more than) a few. This film shared the key components of what the others listed all contain – hilarious misunderstandings (sexy neighbor’s flirtations and/or house guest shower incident, oh, and the maid/cook/housekeeper thinking “sun on the beach” was vulgarity), cartoon style mishaps (see Mr. Hobbs repeatedly battle the plumbing), and family problems solved by the end credits (too many examples to list). Almost sitcom in its predictability and stereotypical plotting (all it needed was a laugh track), yet there was something so genuine and likable in James Stewart’ portrayal of Mr. Hobbs’ that it was impossible not to enjoy this film.
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James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara are the main reason I enjoyed the movie as much as I did, and to be honest, they were the draw that led me to choose this film for “my choice” of the 1962 double feature. I have loved Maureen since I saw her in the original Parent Trap film when I was a young girl, and James Stewart, I am not sure there has been a time when I did not love his acting and characters, most especially in The Philadelphia Story, Harvey and It’s a Wonderful Life. James plays the put upon father and husband well, revealing more and more, with each “moment” helping his kids, that he is actually quite fond of being a family man, much more than he originally lets on.
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I loved the chemistry Maureen and James had together, and how believable they played their marriage. Every small shared look and conversation and movement, down to the kiss goodnight, represented realistically a long-term marriage. I also quite enjoyed James’ nervous interactions with the blonde bombshell who keeps coming up to him on the beach where he keeps attempting, and failing, to read War and Peace (how is this a vacation book?).
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Katey, the youngest Hobbs’ daughter (played by Lauri Peters) was also a favorite of mine. She portrayed that adolescent insecurity and self-consciousness perfectly. Mr. Hobbs’ concern for his daughter, and the “help” he gives her to boost her self-confidence was touching. I could have done without the bland song in the middle of the movie, but it was not unexpected considering pop-star and teen heart-throb Fabian was her co-star; you just know there had to be at least one song in the mix.
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The scene between Mr. Hobbs and his son, Danny (played by Michael Burns), when they are on the boat and stuck in the fog was priceless. Though I know that Mr. Hobbs could not have orchestrated the fog itself, it certainly helped him connect with his son, and teach his son some valuable life lessons. He certainly was able to show his son that there were adventures outside of his television serials he seemed addicted to.
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I will say there were moments in the film that dragged on, especially the last story arc about the prospective boss and his wife for Mr. Hobbs’ son-in-law. The joke of them being the most boring couple ever got tiresome quickly, and made their scenes the most boring ever (or at least the dullest moments in the film itself). I actually found the two older sisters, their spouses and their children the least enjoyable of the entire film, and I do believe the movie would have been just fine without them. The only saving grace was the one Grandson who kept insisting that he “hated Bumpa” (Mr. Hobbs). The interactions between Grandfather and bratty Grandson were quite funny. The film tends to be a little too gag-heavy, as well, though I do know what they were trying to illustrate with each series of mishaps and happy accidents.
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Overall, though, I would visit the Hobbs’ family again if I could, and just like Mr. Hobbs announces at the end of his narrative letter he is dictating, I would be up for another family trip, too.
Oh, and also, that beach house! I love it.
Her Rating: Out of 5 stars: I give this film 4 stars, mainly for James and Maureen, and their younger kids (Katey and Danny), for some of the dialogue, and for the familial and parental scenarios and antics that cannot help but be very familiar.
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One thought on “Sergeants 3 and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation :: His and Hers Drive-In Double Feature (1962)

  1. Re: the lack of Am. Indians in Sergeants 3, Frank called the shots for casting and he liked to pick people he was familiar with for the most part, Henry Silva (shown here) had been in Oceans 11. Frank was fond of Silva as an actor and as a person who he knew he could trust to keep the lid on things that happened around set. Frank & Silva were also in the Manchurian Candidate together.

    Far as Michael Pete, he was well known at the time around Hollywood studios as a go to actor who would ride a horse really well and pull off (with those days’ standards) anything from Mexican, Italian and American Indian and was cast a lot in those types of roles in TV mostly to that point but had films credits as well.

    The times were very different then with the audience perception of ‘foreign’ type actors on screen. We didn’t expect to see anyone really true to type in a light weight film – long as you could understand the dialog that was all we really required and there was INTENSE bigotry in a large section of the movie going public who would have balked if you used real American Indians in a film. Those types simply would not go to see the move – so gentle here with your critique – times were very different then.

    Frank was anything from being a bigot. He had supported Sammy intensely getting him into casinos and other clubs that would never hire a black or only hire them on a lesser salary and make them stay on ‘the other side of town’ vs. giving them a suite in the casino hotel like a white person got back them. Frank had to think too of the bottom line with his film company – he didn’t have that much money really and his outlay was huge then with a new record label that never did really well from the get go.

    They dd use Eddie Little Sky in the film to show the Indian dance.

    Far as Richard Hale goes, he had been playing Am. Indians since the 40s and was a strong character actor who like Mike Pete, he had been ‘used’ for these kinds of roles and was a natural needing little rehearsal time which was key for Frank and Dean alike.Sammy would rehurse til the cows came home if that was needed but he was along for ‘the ride’ so to speak on this film and just looking to his next gig and next film he would get.

    The camera work was good on this one. It was no Howard Hawks Rio Bravo or The Young Lions or the others Dean had done initially when spitting from Jerry Lewis. It was an easy film to make and get ‘into the can’ which everyone involved pretty much needed to meet their already set schedules for other filming, recording, and night club acts. These guys were all intensely popular then (all but Peter Lawford that is) and had busy schedules to try to even free up the time to get a movie made together. If anything, this film didn’t fall to the depth Elvis movies had already hit – and Elvis didn’t even have a big tight calendar to keep in addition to a filming schedule!

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