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This was one of the main reasons I joined the United States Coast Guard in 1976 and retired in 2006. I was 10 years old when I saw the movie and have been remembering it every day since. I would like to find out how to purchase this for my home collection. As I remember the story, it is close to Mister Rogers plot, except a Coast Guard version instead. Granted, there are a lot of flaws one could develop of the view of the Coast Guard, it is the unsung hero of the United States Armed Forces. Very few people realize the how small the Coast Guard is, when I retired, there were only 35,000. This does not come out in this movie, which I wished it would have. Nor does the movie depict the dangerous jobs the men and women of the Coast Guard do on a daily basis.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While I agree that "Onionhead" does not rise near the standards of the two films it most resembles, ("Mister Roberts" and Andy Griffith's earlier "No Time for Sergeants"), I do have some fond memories of this film. Andy Griffith makes one wish that he had done more dramatic roles like this and "A Face in the Crowd" and Walter Matthau proves again how valuable he was in lifting even mediocre material above its natural level. The cast is full of interesting actors and at least one sequence was memorable enough when seen on television many years ago to make the phrase, "cinnamon rolls" a sure laugh-getter for my two brothers and I. It's greatest flaw really is it's inability to decide whether it's a standard service comedy or a character drama. The two parts of it's personality jar against each other rather than seeming lifelike. It's true too, that the main character comes across as rather unlikable for a good stretch of the film.
Early in his acting career, Andy Griffith had two breakout roles that brought him fame. One was starring in the very gritty "A Face in the Crowd", the other starring in the teleplay and movie version of "No Time For Sergeants". Now considering that "Onionhead" is a military film that came out right after "No Time For Sergents", I naturally assumed it was a similar film--a hilarious comedy featuring Griffith as a very likable idiot. Imagine my surprise, then, when despite the silly title and proximity to "No Time For Sergeants", it had almost nothing in common with this film and really wasn't even a comedy. Sure, "Onionhead" had some comedic parts but only scattered about--otherwise, it was a pretty serious film. In addition, Griffith's character was incredibly different this time. Al Woods was certainly no innocent, but instead was headstrong, occasionally unlikable but ultimately decent guy. Just when you think you don't like him, he shows some character--just like a real life person. And, this real life aspect of the film is probably what will disappoint many viewers who are expecting a rollicking military comedy. However, despite failing to meet these expectations and having an uneven script and an occasionally tough to like leading man, it IS worth seeing. Griffith gives a nice performance and the more you watch the film the more you connect with it. So, if you do give it a try, don't assume it's a comedy or the same-old-same-old...and be patient. It's actually pretty good.
Follow-up to Andy Griffith's big hit in "No Time for Sergeants" moves the action to the Coast Guard and WW II. Though more of a serious role this movie is usually advertised as a comedy when it crops up on TV even though there is none of the broad farce from the earlier film. The title concerns Griffith's character's hair falling out and having an onion mixture applied to it to promote hair growth. All around unmemorable.
Apparently a lot of people who are used to Andy Griffith from No Time
For Sergeants or from the Andy Griffith Show were expecting something
quite different from Onionhead. This is an armed service film set in
the Coast Guard during World War II. It's got it's funny moments, but
if you're expecting No Time For Sergeants at sea you won't get it. At
least Griffith isn't redoing Lonesome Rhodes here.
Andy leaves the plains of Oklahoma behind and becomes a cook after a fashion on a Coast Guard vessel, earning the enmity which gradually warms to respect from chief cook Walter Matthau. He's got less success with Ray Danton the Executive Officer on his ship who is an American version of Captain Bligh in more ways than one. Fans of Mutiny On The Bounty will remember Clark Gable's lecture to Charles Laughton on all the ways that captains make extra money before and during their voyages. Danton has something of that racket going here.
But being headstrong and obstreperous Griffith does not observe the chain of command and causes more problems than what he's trying to solve. He's also got some romantic issues as well with girl he left behind Erin O'Brien-Moore and Felicia Farr the nymphomaniac wife of Walter Matthau.
Best scenes are in the galley with Matthau, Griffith separately and apart. Now their bits are standard for every Hollywood service comedy.
Such colorful cast members as James Gregory, Joey Bishop, Joe Mantell, Tige Andrews, and Claude Akins round out the cast. Many of them clean some Navy clocks when at a bar they're referred to as shallow water sailors. Onionhead is definitely a classic films though it's not quite a comedy.
Unfortunately for the movie, I read the book first and so was vastly disappointed as so often happens when producers, directors and big time actors get involved. . The book had an influence on me joining in the USCG in 1959 on that exact type of 180' bouy tenders mostly, one home-ported in Charleston SC and another based in Honolulu, Hawaii, that spent most of its time cruising the Western and Southern Pacific. The movie hams up the story and must have had a committee of screen writers trying to put in slapstick humor. Years later I reread the book at least twice and it never failed to entertain. By then I could really appreciate the authenticity of the book's details that coincided with my personal adventures and were lost in the movie. I rented the 1958 movie once to see if my opinion had changed but it is no wonder it was a box office bomb.
I think the other reviewers are mostly giving this movie a harder rap than it deserves, and that the 5.9 rating it gets is too low. I'd give it at least a 7.0. While it is not MISTER ROBERTS, nothing else is either, and not having read the book I can't compare it to that either. Rather, it seems to be not only a perfectly good example of fare in the humor-in-uniform genre (people seem to have forgotten just how many, many movies were made, particularly after the war, in that vein), but I found it more believable and less contrived than most in terms of both situations and acting. The quality of the banter and chaff was overall much better than you see in most such films including even A-list movies with people like John Wayne in them. I also found the adult situations more believably adult than was typical in A-list movies for those days. I could get into details if anybody really wanted to, but the bottom line is that I was glad I happened upon this on TV and wish I could get a DVD copy to add to my collection.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd heard of this movie but had never seen it before yesterday. Given
it was the movie that Andy Griffith made right after his hilarious "No
Time for Sergeants" I expected it to be a comedy but after watching it
I'm not sure if it was a comedy, a drama or what.
Griffith plays Al Woods, a lower-class guy from Oklahoma who is working his way through college as a waiter at a high-toned sorority at the college---and getting hot and heavy with one of the sorority girls. She ends up rejecting him because of his low-born status. Infuriated, he quits school and since this is early 1941, he decides to join the service and get as far away as he can. A literal coin flip has him ending up in the Coast Guard.
Though he had entered the Coast Guard to forget women, Woods is still a rake and the first chance he has to hook up with a girl he does, going for the luscious Stella played by Felicia Farr. Assigned to a buoy tender as a cook, even though he doesn't know the first thing about being a cook, you think the movie is going to be a comedy like "No Time for Sergeants" but it never gets there. Woods, despite his lack of cooking skills, becomes a pretty good cook in short order and wins over the respect of the top cook played by Walter Matthau. As it turns out, he and Matthau are vying for the same woman. Matthau marries her but when he ships out for sea, Woods learns that Stella is very much on the make.
The movie is uneven. It never makes up its mind about being a comedy, a drama or something else. The "onionhead" reference isn't explained until well into the movie when Woods is convinced by another Coastie to shave his head. The test of wills between Woods and the supercilious executive officer comes and goes. Woods isn't really all that likable a character but Griffith does a pretty good job with the role. Matthau does his usual fine performance. Felicia Farr went on to be married to Jack Lemmon for awhile. The rest of the cast includes Joey Bishop, Tige Andrews and James Gregory. You can probably count all the movies about the Coast Guard on two fingers---"Onionhead" and the very good Kevin Costner movie, "The Guardian".
I have seen the movie a few times over the years, and usually enjoy it for what it is. Its not a comedy, though it has funny moments, and the characters are interesting even though none of them is really appealing. I suppose it would have to be classified as a drama, though it isn't really dramatic in theme or treatment, and it isn't exactly slice of life, its too scatter-shot to be that. A series of incidents that define the character and development of a man from callow youth through cynical adult to something a bit more compassionate and understanding by the end of the movie. This movie was apparently something of a departure for Andy Griffith, as he rarely returned to this sort of material in his career, seeming to prefer a more slapstick, comedic role, but it does indeed demonstrate his capability of handling material outside that venue.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The novel by Weldon Hill was pretty amusing but this movie really
sucks. Andy Griffith is okay, as far as that goes, but Walter Matthau
deserves better. The other characters are based on genuine human types.
Eg., Felicia Farr is available for courtship by sailors but is
interested chiefly in marriage and a stable home, rather than someone
she actually loves. It's a real condition that many young women
probably found themselves in at the beginning of World War II. But, as
written, her character is so shallow that the humanity lurking within
the murk seems practically lucifugous.
It's the story of Andy Griffith who joins the U. S. Coast Guard, is sent directly from boot camp to a ship with a rating of third-class cook, works under a drunken superior, Matthau, who becomes a kind of friend, and a stern but corrupt officer who does not. Beginning as a clumsy cook, Griffith gradually becomes a seasoned and competent petty officer and actually saves the ship during a submarine attack.
I found it almost too painful to watch. Where to begin? The United States Coast Guard, as seen in this movie, bears as much resemblance to the real Coast Guard as Cloud Cuckoo Land bears to ordinary life. The corrupt officer, Ray Danton, for instance, is sketched as phony and unbearable because he chews Griffith out for boarding the ship without saluting the colors, then the OOD. The officer orders Griffith to repeat the ritual twice so that he gets it right. And Griffith, representing the audience, is indignant and disgusted by Danton's arrogance. I must ask: Is the writer kidding? I've seen one man returning from liberty carrying another, too drunk to walk, up the gangway, stop to salute the flag, continue to the quarterdeck, then salute the OOD and ask permission to come aboard. The ritual is fundamental. Everybody does it, officers included. You learn it in boot camp and it becomes automatic.
Against this phantasmic background, the story is played out as one hoary cliché after another. Too much yeast and Griffith's loaves of bread bulge their way out of the ovens among vulgar sounds. It was old when "I Love Lucy" used it.
Drunk scenes can be funny but usually are not and are best left off the screen, as John Ford realized. This one is shown in detail and is not funny.
Military stories can have romantic interludes if they're handled well. Sometimes they are, as in "Pride of the Marines" or "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo." Sometimes they are merely padding. Here they're padding.
The budget -- or someone's decision somewhere up the food chain -- has cut special effects to nil, so that the climactic engagement with the submarine is so clumsily handled that it's embarrassing.
A few bonus points for the appearance of Tige Andrews in a very minor part. I just loved the guy.
If you want to see Andy Griffith in a successful military comedy, watch "No Time For Sergeants."
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