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This is truly a special film. Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen give two of their most untypical performances. The film is what I would categorize as a comedy-drama, light on the comedy and heavy on the drama. Gleason is wonderfully dry and witty as Sgt. Slaughter and McQueen is also funny in his part as well. His accent is a little difficult to get used to, but it's essential to the part he plays. The standout performance here, however, is Tuesday Weld's. She plays the slightly infantile "Miss Pepperdine" who acts as a romantic angle for Gleason's character. Their scenes together are the film's highlights. Her "introduction" in the film, involving a car wreck, is most memorable. It also features some nice acting by the supporting players. A really unique film, that hasn't had much exposure, known only to those who have seen it, and treasure it.
Ralph Nelson's "Soldier in the Rain" is a wonderful movie about the true
power of friendship. But it is also Blake Edwards' film. He may only be the
writer and producer, but it is as personal as his best films.
The movie features two exceptional performances from Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen, each cast against type here. The stunt works: Gleason is tender and convincing and McQueen is surprisingly funny and sensitive. I've read that the duo were real life friends and I think that adds another dimension to this film. We really believe that they could be friends and it makes the ending of this film, which I will only describe as a real surprise, even more effective. Like I stated before, Edwards only wrote and produced. But his script (co-written with Maurice Richlin, his co-writer on "The Pink Panther", "The Great Race" among others) doesn't preoccupy itself with the plot. It is content to simply observe these characters and Ralph Nelson has directed it well enough to make it a strong and honorable film.
More over, this film confirmed that "Days of Wine and Roses" was no fluke; that Blake Edwards was a talent that was here to stay. After making a string of disappointments ("Operation Petticoat" was a good film, but Edwards had no hand in the script and was only a contract director there), "Days" showed us a great new talent and "Soldier in the Rain" confirms it. After this, he would write and direct "The Pink Panther", which would make him bankable. "Soldier" is better than "Panther", but lesser known. Perhaps people bought into the mystique of "Panther" but wouldn't want to see a movie about character rather than plot. Hollywood must of thought the same, because "Soldier in the Rain' received zero nominations from the usual gang of idiots we call the Academy. Too bad.
"Soldier in the Rain" is not available on home video at this moment, unfortunately. It is a shame that some of Edwards' lesser films are easily available ("Switch", "High Time")but this neglected masterpiece isn't. I think that smart audiences that want to laugh, cry and think will love this tender little masterpiece. It airs often on AMC in both pan-and-scan and letterboxed versions. Tape it when you get a chance. You never know if it'll ever be seen again.
**** out of 4 stars
The unlikely pairing of Steve McQueen and Jackie Gleason generates
surprising on-screen chemistry in this sweet little film depicting the
equally unlikely friendship of enlisted man Eustis Clay and his
mentor/idol Sgt. Maxwell Slaughter.
Country boy Eustis is counting the days until his hitch is up, while the erudite, knows-all-the-angles Maxwell has made a home of what Eustis calls "this stupid old army." Theirs is a rather symbiotic relationship; Maxwell guides and educates Eustis, as well as helping him out of his little scrapes, while Eustis, with his devil-may-care enthusiasm, coaxes Maxwell from his comfortable cocoon and into various adventures.
McQueen gives an uncharacteristically animated performance, while Gleason displays ample justification for his nickname, The Great One. Indeed, it can be imagined that Master Sargeant Slaughter is exactly the person Gleason would have become had he chosen a career in the military rather than show-business. There is not so much a story here as a series of episodes in the day-to-day lives of the two friends and the colorful characters with whom they interact. There is able support from Tom Poston as a clueless lieutenant ("What's the poop, Sargeant?"), Tony Bill as Eustis' own sort-of protégé and Tuesday Weld, demonstrating the versatility for which she was already coming to be known. A pre-Batman Adam West also shows up, and has one of the film's best lines. Escorting a Batallion Major to Poston's office, he says "This company's in charge of Lt. Magee." "You mean, Lt. Magee's in charge of this company," corrects the officer, to which West replies with an uncertain shrug, "Well....."
SOLDIER IN THE RAIN moves deftly from farce to drama, and at 88 minutes, packs a lot into a small package. One can't help but wonder what the set of this film was like. Both Gleason and McQueen were uncompromising, take-charge kind of guys and, with the possible exceptions of billiards and broads (excuse the terminology), probably found little common ground over which to relate. Maybe that was enough. Whatever the case, they play off of each other beautifully.
Ralph Nelson was a more than capable director who had associated with Gleason the previous year on "Requiem For a Heavyweight." He wisely lets the charisma of his two lead players dominate, and the result is an unusual but thoroughly charming picture. Not available on video except for a years-old VHS release, it may be hard to find, but catch it if you can. "Until that time, Eustis, until that time."
Update: It's now available from TCM (online only) as part of their "From the Vault" collection, at a very affordable price.
While this scantily plotted 1963 comedy-drama is nothing to brag about in itself, what makes the film memorable (at least for me) is Jackie Gleason's superlative performance as Army MSgt Maxwell Slaughter. It seems the role of aging, overweight and fairly complacent career NCOIC was tailor-made for Gleason. OTOH, Steve McQueen overacts in his role as a young supply Sgt. Eustis Clay, who idolizes Slaughter and attempts to get him to quit the service and go into a business venture with him. It has been said that McQueen instinctively realized that Gleason was stealing the show and over-reacted, making himself look foolish in his comedic attempts. Tuesday Weld also delivers a fine performance in another tailor- made role as the pouty teenager, Bobby Jo Pepperdine, whom Gleason dates and inevitably forms a paternal attitude towards. Great chemistry between Gleason and her in their mutual scenes. Tom Poston and pre-Batman Adam West play small supporting roles as Army superior officers. Not much drama, but it is fascinating to watch Gleason actually bodyslam an adversary in a bar brawl! Besides the Gleason-Weld scenes, the most memorable ones involve the wistful monologues Gleason gives while standing before a full-length mirror in his office, as they reveal poignant insights into his character. As I've said, the film meanders, not really going anywhere, so the truncated ending is much of a surprise. If you don't care for Gleason too much, then you probably won't like "Soldier In The Rain" all that much either. However, if you are a Gleason fan, this film will be a delectable feast!
This film is a comedy, drama, buddy movie, love story, tear jerker and coming of age film, all rolled very nicely into one very entertaining film. Gleason usually the comic, is brilliant as Maxwell Slaughter, demonstrating his underappreciated dramatic talents. McQueen, in a rare comedic role, shines also. As a pair, they truly can "rule the world". I give it 10 stars out of 10. A classic, and one of the best films no one ever heard of.
By the early 1960s, attempts at screwball comedies were often strained. This service buddy film is certainly oddball, and frequently lurches into unsettlingly dramatic material, but it contains one of Tuesday Weld's very best performances: her scene at the fair with Jackie Gleason is amazingly touching and funny and (startlingly) romantic. Any film that can sustain a comic-romantic idyll between Tuesday Weld and Jackie Gleason must be given credit (it's the only truly romantic scene in Gleason's movie career).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Something about this movie just gets to me. I'm a big McQueen fan, and have seen this movie classified as a failed attempt at comedy. But anyone looking for a lot of laughs is looking in the wrong place. While McQueen, as Eustis Clay does overact in this movie, as he was apt to do as he was approaching super stardom, you get the sense he is a true outsider trying to make it as sane as possible for himself. He hates the army, hates being away from his dog, but has made the best of things around him by never letting go of his dreams of civilian success and constantly setting himself up for that point in his life. Jackie Gleason, as Sgt. Slaughter, (is this where the wrestler got his name?) is perfect as the stoic career soldier, set in his routine while amusingly watching his buddy's attempts and thoughts of what the two are going to do once they get out. Gleason knows he's not going anywhere, but is too much of a friend to shoot down his pal. Tuesday Weld is very good as the young lady who came close to probably getting Gleason to actually start coming to McQueen's line of thinking. Future TV stars Tom Poston and Adam West have funny bit parts worth looking for. But the friendship between McQueen and Gleason, from the scene where Gleason pretends he's a doctor over the phone to get McQueen a fan to one of the final scenes where McQueen forgets one of his get-rich schemes due to concern for his hospitalized friend, is what makes this movie standout. The movie is bittersweet throughout.
This funny and sweet film brings together three characters whose
personalities are in sharp contrast to each other.
McQueen is known for his roles as a "tough guy," but in this movie, his remarkable comedy skill was shown. If you have seen McQueen only as a tough guy, then seeing him in this movie will impress you with the range of which he was capable.
Conversely, Gleason, the great comic, as the straight man here, is sweet and touching and tragic.
Tuesday Weld plays a ditzy bimbo who oddly enough, becomes a girlfriend for Gleason's character in a May/December pairing that is even more peculiar on account of her fluffiness contrasted to his quiet and sober nature.
The film is in black and white, which was very effective for the story.
Buddy movies seem to work particularly well when the twosome is made up of
opposing elements often reflected in physical types and races. Pryor and
Wilder, Mostel and Wilder, Glover and Gibson, the list goes on... Steve
Mcqueen and Jackie Gleason are certainly an unexpected buddy duo, but it's
a coupling which works very well.
The heroic action type seems to have dominated Mcqueen's career. As an actor he was capable of a lot more. As a likeable rogue he brought much charm to "The Reivers" similar to what we find in "Soldier in the Rain" though with an added edge of eccentricity.
Jackie Gleason, (who not only looks like Orson Welles but seems to sound like him to here), complements the duo with his own inimitable charm. Tuesday Weld, who as always has that special charm of her own, adds to the general good vibe this innocuous army life comedy has to offer.
While not exactly a film of much importance, its undeniable abundance of good nature plus talented cast make it a pleasant way to pass 88 minutes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like many other "old movies", I originally saw Soldier In The Rain in
fragments here and there on television. Not until the VCR percolated down
the little people did I get to see it in its entirety, and only then did I
confirm for myself just how right Edwards, Gleason and McQueen "got
Most see the military as an organization that flits around "fighting wars", not realizing that (like any other huge organization) it's mostly bureacracy and tedium. Gleason and McQueen put this point across very well, pointing out the adaptive uselessness that Slaughter (a combat veteran; check out his decorations and CIB when he's in full uniform) has mastered as a typical career NCO in peacetime, and his agonizing over leaving the home he has known for so many years. His role alone is enough reason to take the time to watch this excellent movie.
McQueen may seem like a clown to some, but I can remember any number of similar clowns from my two years back in the 1970's, and I suspect that they are still there in the modern US (and in all other nations') forces to this day. Both he and Slaughter are "types" that anyone with military service can recognized from their own experiences, even though the fictional characters may be a bit more concentrated.
Those who doubt the Tuesday Weld portrayal might have been swayed by an hour or two with any of several of my young female acquaintances in the Louisville KY area in 1971. We soldier boys had groupies that were every bit as airheaded as the rock groupies of the Swingin' Sixties. A bit concentrated of a role, once again, but not very far from reality as I saw it.
And, the final coming of age of the McQueen character (after the abrupt and complete departure of Slaughter in one of the most unique death announcements in film (the only other case I can think of was how Daisy Miller's death was revealed)) is both priceless and true to reality. As long as that Coke machine was there and malfunctioning in the same fashion for the now re-enlisted McQueen, a little big of Slaughter would be there as well.
In the end, there is a lot more to Jackie Gleason than most suspected (his work in the music field, for example), and this movie role is one of the indications of what's hidden from the casual observer.
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