The Wackiest Ship in the Army is a 1960 Eastmancolor CinemaScope comedy-drama war film directed by Richard Murphy and starring Jack Lemmon, Ricky Nelson, and Chips Rafferty. It was filmed at Pearl Harbor and Kauai.
During World War II, Lieutenant Rip Crandall (Jack Lemmon), an expert yachtsman in civilian life, now based at Townsville, Queensland, Australia, is surprised to be assigned command of a sailing ship, the USS Echo. The only crew member who knows how to work a ship with sails is eager young Ensign Tommy Hanson (Ricky Nelson), who cost Crandall a yacht race with a mistake before the war.
Crandall tries to refuse this dubious command, but Hanson and Crandall’s former sailing buddy Lieutenant Commander Vandewater (John Lund) wear down his resistance. Vandewater points out Crandall’s poor fitness report and advises that, if he does not take this command, he will never get another. Hanson takes Crandall out drinking with some of the men so he’ll feel guilty about abandoning them.
The Echo barely makes it out of the harbor, sailing straight into a storm. When it arrives in Port Moresby, New Guinea, Crandall is supposed to train a replacement to deliver a coastwatcher named Patterson (Chips Rafferty) to a location only a shallow-draft vessel can reach. However, the replacement (Richard Anderson) strikes Crandall as stiff-necked and unqualified to handle this kind of mission, so he takes the ship out under his own command to deliver Patterson.
Making the crossing in a not-very-convincing disguise as a native trading vessel, Crandall and his crew are spotted and photographed by an enemy plane. While they are delivering their passenger, a Japanese force from a passing war fleet boards the boat and captures the landing party when they return.
Crandall manages to rally his men to take the ship back. He is then faced with the decision of whether to radio a warning about the fleet, even though that will give away their position to guns on shore. He sends the warning and abandons ship as the guns open fire on the Echo and destroy her.
The crew survives to be rescued, and Crandall is given command of a modern destroyer whilst Hanson gains command of a sub chaser for their role in helping to win the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
The film inspired the 1965 TV series of the same name.
Production & Filming Details
- Director: Dick Murphy.
- Producer: Fred Kohlmar.
- Writers: Richard Murphy, Herbert Margolis, and William Raynor.
- Music: George Duning.
- Cinematography: Charles Lawton Jr.
- Editor: Charles Nelson.
- Distributor: Columbia Pictures.
- Release Date: 20 December 1960 (US).
- Running Time: 99 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.