Forgotten Posters: The Extraordinary Seaman (1969)
Hard to believe this striking pop-art GOLDFINGER-esque poster for John Frankenheimer’s wacky WW II “comedy,” THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN, didn’t inspire audiences to line around the theater in 1969. Of course, the film was not only forgotten, it wasn’t even remembered — co-star Mickey Rooney has no recall of its apparent chaotic shoot. Produced in 1967, barely released in the dying days of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as they sold off their studio treasures while trying to keep up with the hippies via ZABRISKIE POINT and others of its unique counter-culture and counter-box-office ilk, I do have a faint (or taint) memory of this on late-nite television in some guarded chamber of my psyche. Damn TCM for blowing it open.
What’s it all about Alfie, you ask? A shipwrecked Navy crew (led by Alan Alda) and a tough gal (Faye Dunaway) help redeem the ghost of a British Commander (David Niven) to his final resting place by their war heroism. Intercut with this are newsreel clips to act as sardonic commentary, a forced technique used in THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S (1967) and MYRA BRECKENRIDGE (1970). The premise is so thin and silly that you wonder with furrowed brow why Frankenheimer wanted to direct this, unless it was to make something frothy after the Road-Show stylings of GRAND PRIX (1966) and the dark metaphysics of SECONDS (1966). Shot on a low budget, the film nevertheless bares his compositional skills but requires a lighter touch, if that is possible with this strange war comedy. If anything, this is John Frankenheimer’s SKIDOO (which also features Rooney and would have starred Dunaway, had she not bought out her contract to avoid working with Otto Preminger again).
THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN is beautifully lensed, but that only calls attention to the limp, unfocused humor. Only the game Niven rises above the labored material, although Alda’s nervous accountant turned soldier does say, “I wasn’t enlisted — I was drafted,” a good line later heard in MASH (1970). The film aims for a Vietnam parable by mocking the futility of combat, but World War II didn’t have the same geo-political subtext so why leaden this “G” rated featherweight comedy with such profundity and a risque title? Only the executive ghosts wandering the grounds of MGM can answer. But the studio tried to sell this thing using two disparate promotional designs, the above being the best, yet least representative. The posters below with great art by James Bond maestro Robert Mcginnis reflects the most obvious 1960’s Hollywood marketing style, showing the hi-jinks in store for the hopeful audience. Ultimately, it’s sad and fascinating to measure the chutzpah and desperation of a tag-line like, “Fun-away With Dunaway!”