Lemmon received his first starring role in this military comedy which also served as the screen debut of the brilliant television comedian Ernie Kovacs. Based on a play, OPERATION MAD BALL centers on a group of bored WWII GIs stationed at an Army medical unit in France who try to improve
morale by throwing a "Mad Ball" for the nurses. Unfortunately, all the nurses are officers and the enlisted men are forbidden to fraternize with them. The mastermind behind this plan is Lemmon, a fast-talking private who sneaks around behind the back of his by-the-book captain, Kovacs. Lemmon
arranges for the party to be held at a hotel run by Jeanne Manet, a shifty French local out to make a fast buck off the GIs.
Rooney shines as the clever master sergeant who can dig up anything Lemmon needs at a moment's notice, and Grant (Mrs. Bing Crosby) is likable as Lemmon's disapproving girlfriend. The film is filled with some funny rapid-fire dialogue adapted by playwright Carter and producer Harris with help from
a young Blake Edwards. OPERATION MAD BALL was the obsession of actor Richard Quine, who saw the property as his ticket into directing. Quine brought the screenplay to Columbia studio chief Harry Cohn and refused to sell it unless he could direct. Cohn balked at first but gave in with the proviso
that Cohn and Jed Harris, who produced the show on Broadway and whom Cohn hated, would never meet. At one point in the shooting, Quine decided to film the climactic party scene at night and served the cast real alcohol so that everyone would be relaxed and in a party mood. When Cohn learned of the
costly overtime shoot, he stormed onto the set and demanded an explanation. Quine explained his logic and invited the mogul to stay, have a drink, and watch the shooting. This seemed to appease Cohn, and he sat out of camera range sipping a drink and had a good time.
Kovacs grabbed eagerly at the chance to work his special magic on the big screen. He tackled the role of Capt. Paul Locke with verve and a malevolent zest and garnered good reviews. Unfortunately, Hollywood didn't really know what to do with Kovacs and typecast him in the role for much of his
brief movie career. Of the nine movies Kovacs appeared in, he played a captain four times (OPERATION MAD BALL, OUR MAN IN HAVANA, WAKE ME WHEN IT'S OVER, and SAIL A CROOKED SHIP). Frustrated by this short-sighted casting which handcuffed his creativity, Kovacs took out an ad in Variety which
simply read, "No more [*] [!!] captains."
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: Lemmon received his first starring role in this military comedy which also served as the screen debut of the brilliant television comedian Ernie Kovacs. Based on a play, OPERATION MAD BALL centers on a group of bored WWII GIs stationed at an Army medical u… (more)