Harmless but stupid, this war-themed comedy is roughly in the mode of a Disney live-action picture from the same era, only Disney moves of the ’70s were generally more palatable thanks to breakneck plotting and the participation of name-brand actors. Charge of the Model T’s writer-director Jim MicCullough Jr. grinds a small number of jokes into the dirt through endless repetition, and the broader the style of the movie gets, the more actual amusement disappears from the equation. By the time the movie sputters out, viewers who’ve gone the distance are likely to be left numb. The mere fact that McCullough obviously means well isn’t enough to make the experience of watching his picture worthwhile. Set in southern Texas during World War I, the story follows Lt. Matthew Jones (John David Carson), an ambitious young officer assigned to a cavalry unit even though he’s not a horseman. Matthew swears by his Ford Model T automobile, going so far as to advocate the creation of a fully automated cavalry unit. Meanwhile, German spy Friedrich Schmidt (Louis Nye) receives orders to stir up trouble on the Mexican border, ostensibly to distract soldiers who might otherwise participate in the European war effort. Also thrown into the mix is a trite love story involving Matthew and the daughter of his superior officer, as well as silly business related to a Mexican bandito—who is played by the familiar Jewish character actor Herb Edelman. Oh, and Laugh-In star Arte Johnson plays a dumb supporting role as an elderly doctor who causes trouble because he can neither hear nor understand what people say to him. Based on a novel by Lee Somerville, the picture starts off well enough, with Carson evincing fresh-scrubbed likeability, and then the rot sets in: To the accompaniment of awful, Keystone Kops-style music, characters engage in lifeless physical comedy and the worst kind of farce, with jokes predicated on characters being total morons. Furthermore, any novelty stemming from the sight of doughboys driving Model T’s as they battle villains in the desert wears off very quickly.
Charge of the Model T’s: LAME