The Private War of Major Benson (1955) Poster

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Charlton Heston vs. the kids
bkoganbing13 April 2006
If there's one characteristic that Charlton Heston portrays well on the screen it's resolve. Whether he's Moses, Judah Ben-Hur or Major Barney Benson, he takes on an assignment and he sees it through.

Somebody at Universal got the bright idea to borrow Heston from Paramount for The Private War of Major Benson in which a professional soldier now assigned to beef up the Reserve Officer Training program at a Catholic military academy. Seems as though the Mother Superior Nana Bryant has some pull with the Pentagon as her brother Milburn Stone is a general and Heston's commanding officer.

And Heston's quite a problem for Stone. Seems as though an eager reporter got a real good sound bite from Heston while he was training troops. Stone figures this request from his sister, the Sister comes at an appropriate time to solve two problems.

Of course Heston and the kids don't really get along. The leadership skills you need to cross the Red Sea and race a chariot are a bit different than heading a boy's military school. Especially when these kids are not even into puberty as most of them aren't. Ironically he gets along best with Sal Mineo who's just entering puberty and offers him some facts of life points of view about the opposite sex. Heston has his eye on school doctor Julie Adams and is embarking on his own quest there.

It's a cute and funny movie and it ought to be since the it was written by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, the folks who brought you Leave It to Beaver. Think of Wally and the Beaver at military school with Charlton Heston as the commander. It's not half bad.
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Excellent comedy, even after superannuation!
aaronleverton17 March 2008
The first of Heston's two comedies (The Pigeon That Took Rome followed in 1962) and the best of the pair.

Understanding his gift perfectly, Heston chased a comedy role that didn't actually require him to be funny. The pay-off is this little film that has no room for self-indulgence or ego.

The success of Benson led to Heston doing The Pigeon That Took Rome. That one isn't bad (and way ahead of some of the "comedies" that get greenlit today), but this one doesn't hit an off-key note.

Far, FAR superior to the truly dire remake (Major Payne) with Damon Wayans.
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Funny take on the art of compromise.
rmax30482326 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A family movie about relationships between adults and children. Any reasonable adult is going to have a problem with children. They never look or act entirely human. For a while I entertained the notion of a medical model to explain their condition -- childhoodosis, the chief symptom of which was neoteny. Ordinary human traits were still discernible but nascent, not quite formed. It seemed that childhood was a disease with which otherwise normal adults were born, and that the disease underwent spontaneous remission during maturation. I have the proof of that theory right here in my back pocket but the world isn't ready for it.

The half-grown cadets at Sheridan Military Academy are no exception. We can see those human traits alright but only in the rawest form. One of them is a whiner, another a spoiled brat, another a fatty, and so on. Major Barney Benson (Charlton Heston) is in hot water with the Army for being too hard on his men, so he's assigned to the academy and ordered to bring these tykes up to snuff and get them through the upcoming ROTC inspection.

Now, admittedly that doesn't sound too promising. Positively emetic in fact. But actually it's cute and it's funny. We don't associate Heston with comic roles but he handles this one quite well. He's no Cary Grant, but the role doesn't require a particularly deft touch from the actor. What the role requires is Moses reduced by comic circumstances to a smaller set of ambitions than delivering the Ten Commandments. Maybe parting the Red Sea but then getting stuck in the mud and throwing a fit of pique.

The script sets it up nicely, even if it follows the necessary formula, and all of the performances are almost exactly suited to the template. The dialog is amusing too. When Heston first is taken through the academy, Mother Redempta points out a portrait, identifies the subject, and adds that he was canonized. "Too bad," says Major Benson.

What's the movie about? On the surface it's about a tough Army guy making these inept and spoiled brats shape up. Beneath that, it's kind of an interesting demonstration of compromise on the part of both Heston and the cadets.

Heston applies the book and rags the cadets constantly, for instance, until they finally win the football trophy that they've never won before. Instead of elation the kids feel nothing but sadness because football hasn't been fun. The kids hate him. Heston is deflated like a punctured football. He hates the kids.

Angry and resentful Heston decides to sneak away to Los Angeles. At the bus station he runs into one of the cuter but more annoying of the tots, also trying to run away from the school. Heston bonds with the kid and actually learns a lesson. Not just something as banal as "you can't run away from yourself," but that the book when indiscriminately applied becomes an obstacle rather than a tool for greater efficiency.

If you want to increase teamwork, you take into account the characteristics of the individual and address their unique set of strengths and weaknesses. You don't act like a robot enacting a set of rules but more like a judge of human nature, differently for each problem. In sociology this is sometimes known as sub-institutional behavior.

What do the kids learn? Well, in a way, they learn the opposite -- respect and appreciation for the system to which they owe their allegiance. They change from slackers to military cadets. And in doing so, they save Heston's bacon.

That is to say, there's compromise on both sides. Each has something to learn from the other, even if it means giving up some part of their earlier taken-for-granteds -- sloppiness for the kids, unbreakable will for Heston.

Well, it sounds as if this is a slow, dull movie with too much of a moral dragging behind it, but it's not. It moves at a sprightly pace, is efficiently directed, and has some perky characters and snappy dialog. The family ought to get a kick out of this. It's one that both adults and children might find amusing and at times touching.
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Heston Plays it to the Hilt!
ghostworlder18 May 2002
My subject line says it all. If you think of Heston only as a dour Moses or as a super-conservative NRA president, prepare to be surprised. There was not one sloppy performance in this film; and the effect is charming. I guarantee you will come away from this movie in a cheerful mood.
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Goliath meeting a lot of little Davids who teach him a lesson or two
lora641 September 2001
While channel hopping on TV I came across this movie being shown and had no idea it even existed. It's simply delightful to watch Charlton Heston as Major Benson learn to cope with the youngsters at the academy. I was thinking he rather resembled the "bull in a china shop" until one of the cast in the movie says Benson was like "an elephant on an escalator" which says it all.

How regrettable that Heston should have been typecast and only known for serious roles at which he excelled of course, but it's oh so pleasant to see another side of him too, the humorous side.

I've only watched the movie for a first time and look forward to future viewings because the witty dialogue overflows from almost every scene. I'll allow the experts to fill in the details for now. An enjoyable film.
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" We'll have to transform these milk drinking boys into whiskey drinking men "
thinker169111 October 2010
From the ranks of the U.S. Army comes the story of a veteran Korean War officer who believes, soldiers made of iron, can be molded from the ranks of the very young. Charlton Heston plays Maj. Bernard R. 'Barney' Benson a hard bitten officer who has been brought to the brink of his career, by publishing his personal motto in Newsweek magazine. Repremanded by his commanding officer, Maj. Gen Wilton Ramsey (Milburn Stone,) he is given a choice, either he can resign his commission or accept an assignment at a Catholic ROTC school. Having little choice, he accepts his new assignment where he meets school doctor Kay Lambert (Julie Adams). The school has a failing score and it's his task to train the students to pass their next inspection. With William Demarest as John, Tim Hovey as Flaherty, Tim Considine as Hibler and Sal Mineo as Cadet Col. Sylvester Dusik, the school accepts their new commander, but weather he stays long remains to be seen. This comedy with Heston playing a straight lace is one which belongs in your private library as it's not too often he accepts humorous roles. The result of director Jerry Hopper, story written by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher is the creation of a fine family movie and one which easily makes it a Classic. ****
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The Private War of Major Benson (1955) ***
JoeKarlosi18 March 2007
A wonderfully charming little comedy written by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher (Leave It To Beaver). During the filming of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Cecil B. DeMille had a mild heart attack and the production shut down. Charlton Heston decided this comedy would be perfect for him to do in the meantime and tried hard to get the part, even though it was a Universal movie and COMMANDMENTS was being made at Paramount. Heston wanted the film so badly that he agreed to work quickly and for no salary and settle for a share of the profits (which turned out very well for him, as MAJOR BENSON became somewhat of a success).

Heston is a tough as nails army major who treats his soldiers roughly and pulls no punches when saying what's on his mind. When he causes the Army embarrassment, his general decides to assign him to ROTC duty for one last chance to get his act together. He is sent to a Catholic Military Academy for boys, where he has a difficult job adjusting to them and dropping his rough exterior when leading them through their training. Heston proves he is able to play comedy and is quite good in the film. Also in the cast is Sal Mineo as one of the older cadets in the school, and Julie Adams (right after she made CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) as a doctor who finds it hard to resist Major Benson. A real scene stealer is 6 year old Tim Hovey, the "Private". *** out of ****
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A nice little change of pace
MartinHafer26 February 2007
This is a very unusual film for Charlton Heston, as he plays a hard as nails major that is forced to be the commandant of a boys military school. Seeing his gruff and perfectionistic ways meet the reality that these are only children makes this a cute film and HIGHLY reminiscent of Clifton Webb's MR. SCOUTMASTER--another great family film about a grumpy old guy who is eventually tamed by the boys. Sure, this makes the film awfully predictable, but sometimes I am just a sucker for a little bit of sentimentality--provided it is paired with some comedy to keep it from being too schmaltzy--as in the case of this film. Also, like MR. SCOUTMASTER, the real star of the film is a very small and very endearing little boy--played in this film by an adorable Tim Hovey. The bottom line is for all this to work, the film had to be well-written and the writers DID earn an Oscar nomination for Best Original Story. So see this film--and MR. SCOUTMASTER--two excellent family films that are lots of fun regardless of your age.

FYI--This film was later remade as MAJOR PAYNE.
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A comedy with Charlton Heston?
Bob Knob13 April 1999
You won't believe it, but Charlton Heston is a truly funny man. You'll enjoy this movie, if only for the dialogue.
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A memorable "springboard" movie
juliafwilliams26 June 2004
Before Charlton Heston became a Biblical era plaything, before Milburn Stone tended to the sick as Doc Adams in Gunsmoke, before Tim Considine became a fixture in the productions of Walter Elias Disney, and most of all, before Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher told us to Leave it to Beaver and later meet The Munsters, they all participated in this unforgettable gem of a movie set at a Catholic military school. Oh yes, let us not forget some other significant players, William Demarest, who later played Uncle Charlie on My Three Sons, David Janssen, who later played Richard Diamond and then The Fugitive, and that unforgettable teen idol, Sal Mineo, who starred in Rebel Without a Cause.

Have I mentioned all of the springboard players?

Moving right along, one will never really know the star potential of child performer Tim Hovey. I understand that Mr. Hovey took his own life in later years.

Anyway, The Private War of Major Benson is a charming vehicle that should never be forgotten nearly 50 years after its initial release.
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Hoisted by his own Heston
ivan-222 June 2002
Forget "I was a teenage Moses", this may well be Heston's magnum opus. For once women are not second fiddle, quite the contrary. Any movie with Sal Mineo is worth watching. I haven't seen them all, but those I've seen have been quite good. Tim Hovey is another estimable thespian. His end came too soon, but his life seems to have been a happy one. This is a very happy, cheerful movie which can teach movie makers a thing of three about simplicity and naturalness.
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A charming movie that could only be made in the 50s
mr. sardonicus31 August 2000
One would think Charleton Heston miscast in any kind of comedy, especially one that might be described as "cute." But the truth is, he is great in this film. You might have to be a baby boomer to appreciate this movie--it's definitely an old-fashioned comedy. If you enjoy the old Doris Day type comedies, you will probably enjoy this one. Heston is a perfect mixture of machoism and awkwardness and most of the boys do good jobs in supporting roles, but the best role is that played by Milburn Stone (Doc of Gunsmoke) as General Ramsey. If you can enjoy a quaint comedy with no four letter words or violence, this movie might just put a smile on your face.
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Fun, lightweight comedy at a military academy
rollo_tomaso13 May 2001
The chemistry between the cadets and Benson (Heston) is just right, and familiar territory is trod with enough panache and witty dialogue to make it well worth the trip. The supporting cast of adults is fine. And Julie Adams is once again, beautiful, steadfast, brilliant, and unappreciated. This is a worthwhile timeless film you can enjoy watching with the entire family.
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Still Fun and Heartwarming
twanurit10 February 2006
It was shown frequently on television, in the 1960s and 1970s, usually around Christmastime, probably due to its school setting, with nuns and kids, remotely resembling "The Sound of Music" (1965) without the music, and even lead actress Julie Adams resembling Julie Andrews (both Libras to boot!). Reviewing my VHS tape of the film recently (not on DVD yet), the movie remains surprisingly enjoyable, funny, tender and clever (script nominated for Academy Award), a big hit in 1955. Charlton Heston, in only a handful of comedies throughout his career, is very good as the hard-nosed Major who is assigned to military school by his superiors to soften his image, unaware its for kids and run by nuns! Adams, in one of her best roles and films, (until her "The Last Movie" role - 1971), effectively and warmly plays the school's doctor, not nurse, as other reviewers stated, and stands firm to Heston's shenanigans, not taking a subordinate role in all the proceedings. Child actor Tim Hovey is a revelation as "Tiger" who also helps melt Heston, with capable William Demarest as a caretaker and the marvelous Nan Bryant as the Mother Superior. Good color, filmed on location, direction, nice finale.
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Guiding others sometimes comes through changing yourself.
mark.waltz12 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
If dealing with the Creature From the Black Lagoon was difficult for Julie Adams, wait till she meets Charlton Heston as a strict military commander in this amusing comedy. Heston is a strict combat officer, responsible for training soldiers in preparation for active duty, and all of a sudden, he is transferred to, Don's of a Catholic military school. He doesn't realize that what doesn't always work with adults certainly won't work with the young, and he finds obstacles at every corner with school doctor Julie Adams, Mother Superior Nana Bryant and the various boys he encounters, particularly the very young Tim Hovey who could really use a father figure. Through the strict patience and guidance of the tough but caring Adams, Heston strives to make alterations through challenges that outweigh his capabilities. But miracles can happen, and sly manipulations by the pretty doctor keep him trapped at the school when demands from Washington threatened to remove him.

In the very same year where Sal Mineo played a shy and reluctant Rebel Without a Cause, he has quite a different role here as the one student who respects Heston for his strictness, knowing wisely the motivations behind it. The story of the romance between Adams and Hesston and the friendship that slowly grows between Heston and Hovey is quite touching as it is to see Heston grow from the experience. This is a comedy of mostly smiles, not laughs, and yet when there are laughing juicing moments, they bring out loud ones. William Demarest appears giving one of his typical lovable grouchy curmudgeon performances, usually being knocked around unintentionally by the rushing kids. Many of the circumstances that occur within this film don't always seem realistic in a military setting, let alone a school setting, but the charm of the cast makes that palatable. Adams and Heston have a nice rapport, and Bryan has a sly wink in her performance of the wise but very humane mother superior. The charming slightly animated credits will entrance you and you fulfill its promise to be a sweet if not perfect comedy. I have been humming the cute little ditty that opens the film since the first time I saw this several decades ago which I noticed that you being utilized in several other Universal films made around the same time.
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One of Our Faves (No Spoilers)
dishlady6923 March 2018
This is one of our family's favorite movies and always reminds me of growing up watching old films with my grandparents and hearing not only the original filmography and individual actor bios straight from the generation that knew them best, but to hear about what was and wasn't accurate about the academies like the one in the film. Apparently there were a few "Major Bensons" after the war and several academies in need of a firm-but-empathetic hand. The curmudgeon Benson ends up learning just as much as a leader as his young charges at the academy learn about diligence and dignity for a job well done. (No Spoilers, go watch it on Netflix/Amazon.)
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One Disappointment
bomboogie8 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I have waited for this to come out on DVD for over 10 years, and it finally did, although it had one disappointment. Seems like I recall the original shown on TV many years ago had the cadets march to "The Bonnie Blue Flag" as part of their test for ROTC certification. Sadly, it did not.
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Good message drama , with some humor
weezeralfalfa8 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is primarily a drama, with occasional comedic moments. It's mostly a study in how to strike a balance between trying too hard, with draconian standards, and not trying hard enough, which invites failure to achieve accepted standards. At's also a message about how some accepted standards should be lowered for children vs. adults, and the need to consider individual idiosyncrasies. But, it's also a troubled love story between the commandant(Major Benson) of a pre- high school catholic military school and the resident doctor: Kay Lamberi(Julie Adams). A bevy of nuns serve as subordinate authorities, headed by Mother Redempta(Nana Bryant). William Demarest, as John, appears to be mostly a handyman.

The Major appears to have been cut from the same mold as General George Patton, who occasionally was reprimanded for being too strict. Major Benson(Charlton Heston) appears to have been a commander in the recent Korean War, where his strict style is sometimes necessary to get things done with minimal casualties, He's having trouble finding a challenging role in peacetime. Recently, he's been leading war games: teaching milk-drinking boys to become whiskey-drinking soldiers, as he puts it. But , it takes him quite a while to agree that he should lower his standards somewhat for the children.

Benson is devastated when the boys unanimously agree that his perfectionism in their football play, which led to a trophy, was not appreciated. At their ages, football should not be so competitive as to seem more like work than enlighten play.

The Major softens his approach somewhat. But when he is laid up for a while in a measles quarantine, and one of the boys takes his place as drill sergeant, the boy's approach is exactly like the Major's, for which he was criticized as too demanding.

Major Benson seems to have a low opinion of the leadership potential of women, saying that women are 10% brains and 90% emotion. He gradually revises this assessment during his stay. He seems to need the attention of at least one woman, who presently is Dr. Kay, and aggressively pursues a romance with her. They have an up and down stormy relationship, often disagreeing on policies. She's hoping she can smooth out his rough edges before making a long term commitment.
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dougdoepke27 February 2007
Cutesy little comedy that tries hard but trips over its own obviousness. Hard-nosed army Major Charlton Heston is unwillingly dispatched to a lax military school to shape up the boys' failing ROTC program. There's an immediate clash of backgrounds that provides some comedic potential, but I suspect this is a film Heston would just as soon forget. The trouble is he's miscast-- Moses just doesn't do pratfalls well. And here, unfortunately, he does a lot of them. The comedy is clumsily done, with a real lack of timing , and is not helped by the many blaring close-ups of the precious little Tim Hovey, who I'm sure many find adorable-- which he may be, but in very small doses. After about the 20th close-up of "how cute I am", my dinner began to rebel. I kept wishing a really digestible kid like Alfalfa or Spanky had been available . With a more jaundiced eye, better direction, and appropriate casting, this might have made a humorous little 90 minutes. As it stands, the only interest is to aficionados of early Sal Mineo.
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something missing?
acw315 January 2004
i loved this movie.. hovey was 2 years older than me.. my dad was career-military.. of course, i placed my dad in the role of charlton heston, myself as tim hovey.. any way, after watching it 10 times, it occurred to me that something was missing from the film.. if you're really busy enjoying the movie, it's not so obvious.. if you've seen it a dozen times, it becomes more obvious.. teachers! there's no teachers in this flick! there's barely any discussion of academics, zilch about teachers they feel strongly about, subjects they love/hate..

what do cadets at a military school talk about? apparently 1) being away from home; 1) wearing uniforms; 3) military protocol; 4) upperclassmen; 5) food; 6) cadet duty; the new commandant..

they talk very little about 1) studies; 2) teachers; 3) graduation; 4) tests; 5) tutoring; 6) what school they hope to attend next..

of course, the story has to involve few people to maintain the tightness of the plot.. still, it would appear realistic to see heston discuss curricula with a teacher, or observe a couple of classes.. a new commandant would do that, wouldn't he?

here's the cast representing the school admin.: the commandant; the principal; the school nurse; the janitor.. other nuns appear, but are not identified as teaching or doing anything in particular..

im not critcizing the film.. it's great.. music by mancini, produced by the two guys who produced the 'beaver' show soon after..

you gotta love it!
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Delightful comedy at a boy's military school gives Heston a change of pace...
Doylenf26 February 2007
Before CHARLTON HESTON parted the Red Sea as Moses, he took time out to work on a delightfully original little comedy called THE PRIVATE WAR OF MAJOR BENSON, nicely photographed at St. Catherine's Military Academy in Anaheim, California, and giving Heston one of his rare comedy roles.

He's a good sport about doing this sort of thing, a step down from the heavy dramatics usually assigned him, but he's no Cary Grant or James Stewart when it comes to comedy finesse. You can see him struggling to put some comic charm into certain moments, but he's only half successful.

Others around him have a surer way with this kind of material. JULIA ADAMS is attractive, warm and easy in a role that involves a romance with Heston after a few squabbles over just how tough he should or shouldn't be with the young cadets.

TIM HOVEY is a little scene-stealer as the youngest, who tries to win Adams' attention all the time by making numerous trips to the infirmary where she's the head doctor. And NANA BRYANT as Mother Superior and WILLIAM DEMAREST as a crusty handyman, add their professionalism to the pleasant cast, as does SAL MINEO as one of the more earnest cadets.

Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, it's a predictable yarn but the writing is well crafted (the authors wrote "Leave It To Beaver" for TV), and the story is fresh and interesting even though the happy ending is telegraphed long before the final credits.

Summing up: Enjoyable and fun to watch Heston tackle a comedy role so earnestly, if not with the ease of a Grant or Stewart. At times, it's like watching the bull in a china shop.
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Good comedy
labnfn8 November 2002
The film is overall a delightful comedy with the best actors being the children. Mr. Heston makes an effort to appear less imperious than usual, and partly succeeds. The script and children were of such quality, I think that a number of other actors may have played Major Benson with success, e.g., James Whitmore, James Stewart, Glenn Ford, and others.
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BOYS WILL BE BOYS.... and so will grown-ups...
renfield5429 September 1999
The idea for this film was brilliant. How do you get a "too" macho, "too" rough and ready, "too" blustery, know-it-all combat Major to understand his men and be a leader they would follow anywhere???

You let children teach him, of course!

Take his troops away and assign him to be the commandant of a young boys military school. A rag-tag group, about to lose their ROTC rating (and the Major's way back to grown troops) because of their ineptness, and , well, lack of leadership. (Oh, by the way, the school is run by nuns!) The Major's career is riding on his success, and he hasn't a clue. Methods used on adult combat troops only produce tears and resentment in children, who are afraid enough just living away from home.

The children are delightful and involved in the sort of movie nonsense that is very endearing and entertaining. Major Benson is given a good lesson, by his "men". He eventually becomes their leader and more importantly earns their respect. In the end, Major Benson is doomed to become a human being. Have fun watching it.....
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Maybe Charlton Heston's fans will like it?
JohnHowardReid16 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This trite story actually had a good basic idea back of it, but that intriguing plot line was very poorly developed. Also not helping to make the movie anything like a success, was Jerry Hopper's very mediocre direction. I always wondered where Jerry came from. Now, thanks to IMDb, I now know that he started his movie career from scratch. He first worked as an uncredited assistant editor, and then somehow managed to move into directing in Paramount's short subjects division in 1946 with "Golden Slippers", a little number with only one claim to fame, namely that it was filmed in Technicolor! Would you believe that nearly ten years later, this little movie's only tangible asset is also its engaging Technicolor photography. True, it does have a meaty but totally wasted cast led by Charlton Heston, who had slipped from his pinnacle in "The Greatest Show On Earth", but was soon to hit the big time again with "The Big Country" and "Ben-Hur".
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