In Don’t Give Up the Ship, Jerry Lewis plays Lt. John Paul Steckler VII, a man who was charged with returning a destroyer escort ship to San Diego after the end of World War II. He’s completely inept at running a ship however, and ends up running it up onto a reef near an island along the way. When he and two other crew members get off the ship to explore the island, he’s captured by a group of Japanese soldiers who don’t know the war is over yet. Assuming he’s dead, the other two crew members return to the ship, and they head back home without him.
Jumping forward, John was able to return home, and has just married the great love of his life, Prudence (Diana Spencer). Unfortunately, Congressman Mandeville (Gale Gordon) wants to know what happened to the ship he was supposed to have brought back, which has since disappeared, and he’s threating to hold back a massive appropriation until it’s located. As such, Vice Admiral Philo Tecumseh Bludde orders John back to Washington just as he’s about to leave on his honeymoon, to hold him accountable for the loss of the ship. When John pleads his case however, he’s given ten days to produce the ship…or else. To help him in the search, he’s assigned to work with Ens. Rita J. Benson (Dina Merrill) on the search. Will they locate the ship in time? Even more important, will John ever be able to get back to his honeymoon? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.
So…here’s the thing. I haven’t seen a Jerry Lewis movie since I was a kid, so I was really looking forward to getting the chance to review this one. I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but in all honestly, it’s just sort of meh. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its moments. There was one moment involving a piece of wedding cake and a top hat that actually made me burst out laughing, but the laughs are few and far between. The problem is that Jerry’s mugging for the camera, and his constant barrage of overexaggerated reactions to everything start to wear thin really quick. I guess when you’re a kid it’s a lot funnier than when you’re an adult. In any case, that wasn’t the only problem with the film. The story was just as mediocre as the humor. It plodded along at a rather tedious pace, and never really felt like it built up to anything that was worth the time it took to watch it.
That said, it was the other cast members that saved this film from being a complete and total bore. Dina Merrill was an absolute delight as Ensign Benson, and Mickey Shaughnessy as John’s first mate turned professional wrestler after the war was a very likable fellow indeed. Throw in Gale Gordon, who many will remember from The Lucy Show, and Mabel Albertson who played Darrin’s mother on Bewitched, and you have a variety of recognizable faces that will add immensely to your overall enjoyment of the film. Was it enough to save the film and make it something you’d want to seek out to view for yourself? It’s hard to say. While the supporting cast was wonderful, Jerry’s constant overexaggeraions and mugging are an annoyance that’s difficult to get past. I think in this case, it would simply come down to individual taste. For example, Robin Williams was the same way, especially back in his Mork and Mindy days. He was so over the top and obnoxious that I couldn’t stand to watch him, and yet other people loved it. If Jerry Lewis’ style of acting and humor is to your taste, then you’ll enjoy this film. If you’re annoyed by that sort of thing, then I would hazzard to say that while you won’t hate this film, it’ll probably get annoying for you after a while.
This new release from Kino Lorber has been restored, and both looks and sounds amazing. It has subtitles as well, which I was delighted to see. They’ve been putting subs on most of their Kino Classics releases lately, which is a most excellent development.
This film, as I’ve already said, is sort of a hit and a miss. It has its moments, but those moments aren’t enough to cover the annoyances. If you’re a Jerry Lewis fan, then I suppose I could give it a luke warm recommendation. If you’re not a fan of his acting or humor, then you’ll probably want to give this one a pass. Like I said, I went into this really wanting to like it, but by the time it was over, I was just ready for it to be over. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either.
If you’d like to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here: https://www.kinolorber.com/film/Dontgiveuptheship1959