John Frankenheimer’s The Extraordinary Seaman (1969) is quite possibly the least well known of his films and quite probably the biggest misfire of his career: an anti-war film played as a slapstick comedy. Never been on DVD so the TCM showing is a rare opportunity.
Set in the final days of the war, The Extraordinary Seaman (1969) is more farce than satire. David Niven receives top billing as Commander John Finchhaven, a sardonic old salt with a crisply British sense of decorum and a bottomless cargo of Scotch, and he plays the role with a bemused sense of dignity and unflinching perseverance in the face of disaster, incompetence and bad judgment. The romantic lead was a young stage actor by the name of Alan Alda; this was his first major screen appearance as an ill-equipped junior officer saddled with command of three more experienced (but far less motivated) sailors: a paranoid cook (Mickey Rooney), a gunner’s mate (Jack Carter) and a suspicious seaman (Manu Tupou), a native American who is silent but for reciting his name, rank and serial number to friend and foe alike. And it was the fourth feature for rising star Faye Dunaway, who was fresh off Bonnie and Clyde (1967) when she was cast as the beautiful gun-toting grease-monkey of a trading post operator given passage in exchange for supplies. Frankenheimer underplays the romance angle, letting the slapstick complications throw them together time and again while the chemistry of two attractive young people in a crew of old eccentrics did the rest. It’s a wartime comedy of a misfit unit and a Captain of questionable pedigree, a military farce, a slapstick romance and a crazy ghost story all in one strange package.
Read the complete feature on TCM. It plays on Thursday, December 23.