In 80s movies about the military, it was almost always men at the forefront. Women in these movies were mainly girlfriends, wives and hookers. One movie from the start of the decade approached the military from a different perspective. That movie was "Private Benjamin".
Hawn has the title role of Judy Benjamin, a spoiled Jewish American Princess who has just gotten married for the second time to a young rich fellow named Yale Goodman (Albert Brooks). Even during the wedding party, Goodman is a busy individual, but he always has time for a little hey-hey, if you know what I mean. Anyway, once Judy and Yale get to their hotel room, Yale wants immediate consummation of the marraige. A tired Benjamin obliges him and the end of the session also brings the end of his life. Dying of a heart attack, he leaves poor Judy bereft and her parents Teddy and Harriet (Wanamaker and Barrie) in a state of wonderment at what they should do.
Weeping in a hotel room trying to deal with her guilt, Benjamin is talking to a radio psychiatrist. Of course, with all her problems, the therapist gets annoyed and hangs up on her. Trying to figure out what to do, she meets the next day with 1st Sgt. Jim Ballard (Stanton), who informs Judy about life in the army... or rather, misinforms her. Lured in by promises of yachts and condos, she giddily signs on.
The next day, she and a group of other ladies are on their way to boot camp. The other ladies fall immediately into line, but Miss Benjamin is still sleeping on the bus. Army official Capt. Lewis (Hal Williams) marches onto the bus and yanks Judy out of her slumber, dragging her outside and making her do push-ups. She responds to this with the classic line:
"What is this, Hell Week?"
While most of her fellow privates are in their military gear, most notably an up-and-at-'em gung ho gal named Private Mary Lou Glass (Place), Benjamin is still dressed in her street clothes. Bad idea, Judy. Enter a rough, tough Captain who makes her colleague Lewis look weak by comparison.
She's Capt. Doreen Lewis (Brennan), tough as nails and sharp as a tack. Going over the cadets, she comes to Benjamin and they have a discussion about the army.
Judy Benjamin: I think they sent me to the wrong place.
Capt. Lewis: Uh-huh.
Judy Benjamin: See, I did join the army, but I joined a *different* army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms.
This amuses Lewis to no end...As a matter of fact, she finds it so funny she hands Judy a toothbrush and makes her clean the bathroom all night. Once she's done, she hits the hay. Unfortunately, there's a needle in the stack and that's the infamous reveille. Against her will, Judy is going full-throttle into military training. Beginning with a brisk job, she goes through what all the privates do, finding that the privileges she enjoyed in her previous life don't apply once you sign on the line. Being made fun of by her fellow cadets, she gets into a catfight with Private Gianelli (Toni Kalem), a tough gal who entered the military when offered the choice between that and jail. The ensuing ruckus gets the ladies sent out in the dead of night to walk around in a circle as punishment. Private Wanda Winter (P.J. Soles) is angry at Benjamin for getting them into the whole mess.
Judy's called out of the rain and she ends up with a surprise visit by her worried parents. Lewis says Benjamin doesn't have to stay and even has the papers for her to sign, but much to Doreen's bemusement and her parents' chagrin, Judy decides to soldier on (excuse the pun).
Now determined to get the experience she needs, she devotes herself to the military, fighting for her chance at success. She gets it at the annual war games, where put in charge of guarding a swamp, she instead becomes a leader, getting the other teams to surrender and even nailing Private Glass, who instead of participating in the war games is doing the nasty with an official named Capt. William Woodbridge (Craig T. Nelson), who is also coincidentally the beau of Capt. Lewis.
Triumphantly, Benjamin comes to the end of the war games where she's greeted by Col. Clay Thornbush (Webber), a man of respect in the military...at first. He invites Judy and her group to helicopter with him back to base.
At last, the day of graduation has arrived. Benjamin has succeeded and before she finds her assignment, she's spending a night on the town with the girls. It is here that Judy is reunited with some old friends of her parents. She also meets a man who will change her life for better or for worse (FORESHADOWING!).
The man's name is Henri Alan Tremont (Assante), an oily Frenchman who invites Benjamin to dance. It's love at first touch, and soon the two are an item. Separation comes between them for a while, though. It is during this time that Judy becomes a part of Thornbush's patrol, the first honor bestowed upon a woman. This will involve her jumping out of a plane. She's afraid to do it, so Thornbush attempts to have sex with her, scared, Benjamin jumps and once back safely on the ground, she threatens to sue Thornbush to within an inch of his life. He bargains with her, offering to put her at any military base in the world.
Judy chooses France, so she can be close to her love, although whether he wants to be close to her is another matter entirely. Working on acquiring supplies for the military, she's still followed by Lewis, who transferred to gay Paree earlier in the movie once Benjamin graduated. Picking up her relationship with Tremont, she ends up being asked to choose between the military and her love, for Henri is into Communist activity.
Love wins out and so Judy and Henri are making plans for marraige. Unfortunately, Henri is still pitching woo to one of his exes and it all comes to a head on their wedding day. Benjamin's fellow cadets are there, as are her parents, ready to watch Judy go down the aisle a 3rd time.
Or not. Judy keeps seeing her dead husband when she's at the altar, so she decides that marraige isn't for her. Henri insults her, saying basically that he turned her into somebody, whereas in the military she was nobody. Benjamin's training and the results prove otherwise, so she gives Henri a punch in the face and exits the estate.
The military helped Judy realize she wasn't helpless.
This movie was an interesting work... A good combination of comedy and drama, with some very witty lines. Hawn's work was dynamite in this movie, with plenty of great back-up from actors both well-known and of the type where if you see them, you realize they were in another movie you liked.
Although I give it a 9, I can't think of anything bad to say about it. It was a perfectly realized piece of cinema that helped usher in the 80s.
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