What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The Aviation In Film Blog-A-Thon being hosted By Taking Up Room. Once again, she’s outdone herself in hosting a uniquely-themed event guaranteed to draw some top-quality contributions!
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
The classic “fish out of water” film, No Time For Sergeants is the tale of the travails of Georgia hillbilly Will Stockdale (played by Andy Griffith) through the United States Air Force. Stockdale gets off on the wrong foot; he doesn’t know he’s been drafted until the McKinney, the man from the draft board (played by Dub Taylor) shows up to collect him. It turns out that Stockdale’s dad had been tearing up the draft letters as he didn’t want Will to leave. Nevertheless, McKinney labels Will as a “draft dodger” and “troublemaker.”
When they get to the bus, McKinney hand-cuffs Will to a gas pump and puts another draftee named Irving S. Blanchard (played by Murray Hamilton) “in charge,” ostensibly because he has Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) experience. Blanchard proves to be a bit pf a prick, as he immediately begins bullying the diminutive Ben Whitledge (played by Nick Adams), who is already making noise about wanting to be assigned to the infantry where his six brothers served. Will then makes his first display of his super-human strength by coming to Whitledge’s aid by dismantling the gas pump with his bare hands and waving the handle still chained to his wrist under Blanchard’s nose in a not-so-subtle warning.
Once they get to basic training, Will proves to be a handful for his drill instructor Master Sergeant Orville C. King (played by Myron McCormick). King is a set-in-his ways career Air Force man whose main goal is to keep his barracks quiet and calm. After a series of mis-escapades, one of which being when Will finally has enough of Blanchard and his buddies bullying and proceeds to clean the barracks floor with them, King assigns Will to clean the latrine. However Will does such an outstanding job…and King is ecstatic that he’s finally found something Will…that King bestows upon him the very-not-official title of Permanent Latrine Orderly (P.L.O.).
Being the simple man he is, Will does not realize his new title is a punishment; he’s proud to be a P.L.O. When the company commander inspects the barracks, he compliments Will on his exemplary work. This spurs Will to spill the beans about his new title. As a result, King ends up in it up to his stripes when the captain discovers the sergeant kept him as a P.L.O. while failing to get Will through the exams needed to classify him for what his duty in the Air Force will be. The captain informs King that if Will is not classified and does not ship out with his group, King will “in all likelihood become a P.L.O.”
This means King has one week to get Will through the classification process. Of course, King is trying to save his stripes, so gives Will an incentive. If he can get through all the exams and get classified in the time allotted, King will give him his wristwatch.
As the cliché goes, hilarity ensues as Will goes through the battery of tests designed to determine his aptitudes for military service. There’s a manual dexterity test given by the high-strung Corporal Brown (played by Don Knotts), a mental exam from the seemingly sexually-obsessed psychiatrist test from Major Demming (played by James Millhollin), and an eye exam which during a conversation in the mess hall King and Blanchard become convinced Stockdale failed.
Blanchard sees a chance to “get even” with Will for the beating he took, so he cajoles the desperate King into a plot to get Will arrestably drunk the night before the final inspection. The idea is that King can’t be held responsible if Will doesn’t get classified because he’s managed to get himself tossed in the stockade.
The problem is that Blanchard and King miscalculated when they heard Will say he never drank whiskey before. What he meant was he’d never drank any “store-bought” whiskey. He was accustomed to the stuff his father would make back on the mountain…which had an octane rating closer to Air Force jet fuel rather than anything which had a label on the bottle. In other words, the “store-bought” whiskey might as well have been the lemonade at a church social for Will. He strolls out of the saloon as sober as a judge, meanwhile Blanchard and King are trashed.
In fact, Will leaves as the military police are entering, because Blanchard and King have managed to start a brawl with some infantrymen who are as wasted as they are. Will ambles his way back to the base where he rigs up a “surprise” for the inspection. Blanchard gets tossed the stockade, and King is “missing in action” the next morning when the colonel and the captain arrive for the inspection.
This is when Will sprung his “surprise.”
He rigged a mechanical system triggered by a treadle which makes all the toilet seats rise simultaneously as a “salute.”. Will’s tribute renders the colonel speechless. But as the colonel and the captain continue their inspection, Sergeant King appears. Obviously King is in no condition for an inspection, so they try to hide him in the latrine since the colonel and the captain have already been there. However, King inadvertently sets the toilet “salute;” the noise tips off the inspecting officers. As a result, King is stripped of his rank and sent to gunnery school…which just so happens to be where Will and Whitledge are headed.
Certain things continue at gunnery school. King excels; so much so he graduates at the top of the class. He does so well that he is assigned to the staff of Major General Eugene Bush (played by Howard Smith). King is also returned to his previous rank of Master Sergeant. After all, he is a main character, and the movie isn’t called “No Time for Privates.”
As for Privates Will Stockdale and Ben Whitledge, they continue to be a couple of boobs; they finish at the bottom of the class and are assigned to a unit Will calls a “second line of line of defense.” Their first mission is as part of a crew taking an B-25 bomber to Denver. As one would expect from a flight crew assigned to the backwaters of the Air Force, once they are airborne, the pilots put the plane on auto-pilot and try to work in some nap time. Of course, they get lost, and because the radio operator didn’t make the flight, Will gets thrust into the role.
Will isn’t trained at all in radio communications, and his thick southern drawl doesn’t help. What the flight crew is about to discover is they are smack-dab over the nuclear test at Yucca Flats, Nevada…and there’s about to be just such a test. The testing commander, Major General Vernon Pollard soon becomes convinced the air crew was sent deliberately by Bush in an act of sabotage. Eventually, everybody comes to an understanding as to who is who…once King bribes Will with his watch again.
The problem is the aircraft doesn’t clear the blast zone before the test is initiated. The plane bursts into flames, and Will snatches Whitledge as he bails out. Whitledge is convinced they will be shot as deserters. But in the time it takes them to emerge from the wilderness to return to the base, they have been declared killed in action. In fact, when the get to the base, there is a memorial service being held for them.
They stroll into Bush’s office, and once it’s discovered who they are, the panic mode hits. Bush knows he has a huge public relations embarrassment…after all, he just award posthumous medal to men who weren’t dead. At first, Bush doesn’t know what do do with the two not-dead airmen…until Will suggests making them not airmen.
All of sudden, light bulbs go off. Everybody sees a solution…but Whitledge still wants a medal. Bush convinces Pollard to take one off his uniform so Bush can award it to Whitledge. Once he has his medal, Whitledge agrees to the transfer to the infantry.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
A theme which runs throughout this movie is Whitledge’s desire to be in the infantry. Essentially, he’s a baseball player who wants to be traded. Had he been a ballplayer rather than a serviceman, he likely would not have had such a convoluted journey from team Air Force to team Army.
Then again, maybe he would. Trades happen in baseball for hosts of reasons. Sometimes they are about team needs. Sometimes, they are a team trying a off-load a problem. Sometimes, they are a bit of both.
If you think about it, that’s what happens to Whitledge. His attitude is certainly no help, but once he becomes a living “dead” man, he is most assuredly a problem…one which creates a need for both the Army and the Air Force. As far as the Air Force is concerned, Airman Benjamin Whitledge is dead. Except he’s not. The minute he’s discovered, the whole fiasco Generals Pollard and Bush are trying to keep quiet will hit the headlines.
This sets up a situation where the problem drives the decisions. Pollard and Bush become the de facto general managers of teams Army and Air Force respectively…and they can do each other a major favor with one deal. This is when they agree to trade the Air Force’s “dead” Whitledge for the Army’s “live” one. In other words, Whitledge was traded for himself.
Ben Whitledge, meet Harry Chiti….the first baseball player to share Whitledge’s fate.
We already know Whitledge’s story; he gets drafted into the Air Force, but he really wants to be in the Army. But for those of you not familiar with Harry Chiti (I’m guessing that’s most of you), he was a weak-hitting catcher who made a 10-year Major League Baseball career out of his unique talent for catching the knuckle-ball.
Again, for those who aren’t baseball fans, the knuckle-ball is a bit of pitching “voo-doo.” It’s thrown at a slow speed with almost no spin on the ball, which makes it flutter unpredictably through the air. Very few can master throwing it, but those that do can make it nearly impossible to hit. That also makes it very difficult to catch. Legendary baseball broadcaster and former catcher Bob Uecker once said the easiest way to catch a knuckle-ball was “to let it stop rolling, walk over and pick it up.”
But Chiti’s ability to catch the uncatchable was the foundation of his career. But since not many teams have knuckle-ball pitchers, Chiti’s career was a lot of “have gear, will travel.” He spent time behind the plate for the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Mets. Oddly enough, his baseball career was interrupted for two years of service in the United States Army during the Korean War.
But it’s his time with the Mets that is at the center of today’s tale. During the off-season between 1961 and 1962, Chiti went from the Orioles to the Cleveland Indians. But 1962 was a different year in baseball history as the National League added two new teams, the Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets. One thing new teams need are players, and before Chiti played a single game in Cleveland, he was traded to the Mets for a “Player To Be Named Later” (PTBNL). Essentially, that means the teams involved have agreed to announce the final player involved in that trade at some point in the future.
Right off the bat, Chiti was not a good fit with the brand-new Mets; they didn’t have a knuckle-pitcher. Combined with his lack of talent with the bat (he hit .195 with 0 Runs Batted In in 15 games) manager Casey Stengel quickly ran out of patience for a knuckle-ball catcher he didn’t need. As a result, the Mets named Chiti as the PTBNL to complete the trade…the one in which they got Chiti.
Being sent back to the Cleveland Indians forever etched Chiti’s name in baseball history. Even though he never played in the big leagues again as the Indians sent him to the minors where he ended his career, Chiti will be known forever as the man who was traded for himself.
The Moral of the Story:
Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it.
P.S. Speaking of “familiar,” this movie This movie is chock full of “early in their career” faces you’re going to recognize. There’s character actor Dub Taylor, who has one of the more impressive IMDB pages you’re ever going to scroll through. There’s also Murray Hamilton, who has a mega-scroller of his own. Keep your eyes open for Jamie “Corporal Klinger” Farr, Raymond “Mr. Drysdale” Bailey, and more!
P.P.S. Speaking of “early in their career,” this film represents the first time Andy Griffith and Don Knotts worked together. No Time For Sergeants was a huge box-office success and is widely credited for launching them toward stardom. Of, we all know what they did together a few years later (start whistling the theme song here).
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