No Time for Sergeants is a 1958 film starring Andy Griffith that takes southern stereotypes to the max. Griffith plays a character who spouts “gollllllllleeeee” with the frequency of a Gomer Pyle, and is so naïve and innocent you’re not surprised he’s never been off the farm. The farm itself, by the way, looks like the Clampett’s Ozark Mountain home twenty years after it was abandoned, but is located in Georgia.
Griffith plays a barely literate Will Stockdale, a young man who proves that uneducated and stupid are not the same thing. Will is inducted into the Air Force (and labeled a draft dodger because he never received his letters from the draft board), and is befriended by another draftee, Ben Whitledge (Nick Adams), whose sole desire is to be in the Army Infantry. Ben has six brothers who were in the infantry, and he’s convinced that’s where the action is; he’s mortified to be an airman.
If all of this sounds like a bunch of down-home, corny hokum, it absolutely is. However, in the hands of legendary director Mervyn LeRoy, this hokum is hilarious. Andy Griffith sealed his popularity with his gee-whiz performance of a guy who always looks on the bright side and only sees the best in people. Of course he has all kinds of misadventures and rude awakenings, and–of course–he always comes out smelling like a rose.
No Time for Sergeants depicts a kinder, gentler armed forces than are portrayed twenty years later (Apocalypse Now). For example, compare Sergeant Orville C. King (Myron McCormick) to Full Metal Jacket’s Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey). King is just a man who’s put in eighteen years, expects to put in another twelve, and wants it all to go smoothly. He considers the recruits he gets to be a bunch of morons, but he’s not particularly tough on them. Some of them can’t even salute correctly. He’s unlikely to drive anyone to suicide.
One can argue that No Time for Sergeants is a comedy, and Full Metal Jacket (1987) is a drama. Fine. Look at MASH (1970). Comparing comedy to comedy, the twelve-year difference brought an entirely different sensibility to how the armed forces were presented, due largely to the societal changes brought about by the Viet Nam war.
As a jaded ex-Northerner, I expected No Time for Sergeants to be corny in a bad way, dated, and boring. It is nothing of the sort. Despite it’s decrepitude, it comes across as fresh, perhaps because this type of comedy is seldom presented. The writing is fantastic—there are plenty of laugh-out-loud lines. Although the plot is predictable, it’s the treatment of it that makes this a classic. In most scenes the viewer knows what’s going to happen next, but when the expected is delivered, it is done so with class (if you can call a movie about a bunch of hillbillies “classy”).
Adding to the enjoyment of the film are many familiar faces from movies and television. The older you are, the more you recognize (and the older you are, the more gags you’ll get). Foremost among these is Murray Hamilton, from The Hustler, The Graduate, and Jaws. Another North Carolina boy (as was Andy Griffith), Hamilton plays a semi-tough guy, Irvin Blanchard, who is Stockdale’s antagonist.
Those who have watched a LOT of vintage television will recognize Howard Smith, Will Hutchins, Don Knotts, James Milhollin (as a humorously irksome psychiatrist), Dub Taylor, and Jamie Farr among others. Part of the fun of watching No Time for Sergeants is playing “Oh, look it’s…”
I was dismayed when I read that No Time for Sergeants runs nearly two hours, but it is two hours of solid entertainment. Coming from such an “innocent” time in our history (maybe “bland” is a better word), there is no sex, no profanity, and no violence, making it an ideal film for the family to share.
From it’s rustic opening to its heroic ending, No Time for Sergeants offers two hours of unadulterated fun, which may be why Warner Brothers was not compelled to include bonus features.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent No Time for Sergeants? Golllllllleeeeeeeee yes!