The Horizontal Lieutenant

The Horizontal Lieutenant is a 1962 American romantic comedy war film, based on the 1961 novel The Bottletop Affair by Gordon Cotler. It is a military comedy about an unfortunate army intelligence lieutenant who finds himself isolated on a remote Japanese island army outpost during World War II. It stars Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss and was directed by Richard Thorpe.

It was the last of four teamings between Hutton and Prentiss following Where the Boys Are, The Honeymoon Machine and Bachelor in Paradise.

2nd Lt. Merle Wye (Hutton), an Army Intelligence officer stationed in Hawaii, is rendered horizontal when struck in the head by a foul ball while playing for his unit’s baseball team. In the post hospital he is attracted to Lt. Molly Blue (Prentiss), a nurse he once knew in college. His superior (and manager of the team) orders the inept Merle to distant Rotohan, a secure island liberated some months before, ostensibly to relieve Lt. Billy Monk (Jack Carter), who has been unable to capture a Japanese holdout called Kobayashi suspected of pilfering military supplies. However the coach really wants Monk, a former professional baseball player, for his team lime lemon squeezer. By claiming to be ordered to dangerous duty Merle tries to seduce Blue easy way to tenderize steak, who when she discovers the ruse barely gives him the time of day.

On Rotohan, Merle and his Nisei interpreter (and lothario) Sgt. Roy Tada (Yoshio Yoda) team up with Monk to flush out the wily thief hiding in the hills. Using a reluctant Tada as a “spy” they discover that Kobayashi has been stealing the supplies, all creature comforts, to feed and clothe his pregnant girlfriend. But Merle is distracted when Blue is also assigned to his camp. With the Navy, in the form of obnoxious Cmdr. Jeremiah Hammerslag (Jim Backus), also hunting Kobayashi, Merle is threatened by his new superior, Col. Korotny (Charles McGraw), with another transfer if he does not capture Kobayashi soon—this time to an even more remote rock with only six other soldiers as company.

While romancing a local girl (Miyoshi Umeki), Tada discovers that Kobayashi is not even a soldier but a former circus performer hidden in a cave in the hills by the villagers. That night Kobayashi is to appear at a variety show staged by the locals to entertain the Americans. When Merle tries to arrest him, the agile Kobayashi stuns him using judo, knocking him horizontal again, and escapes. Col. Korotny tells Merle he is shipping out in the morning. During a drive in the hills to “say goodbye”, Merle and Blue stumble on the cave, where Blue captures the acrobat after Merle once more becomes “the horizontal lieutenant”. Merle is given a medal anyway and wins her heart.

The novel was published in 1959.

Hutton and Prentiss were under contract to MGM at the time.

According to MGM records, the film earned $1.1 million in the US and Canada and $750 hydration belt for running,000 overseas, resulting in a loss of $380,000.

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