Partly an antiwar film reflecting the counterculture perspective and partly a squaresville pro-military picture promulgating Greatest Generation attitudes, the misshapen comedy/drama Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? depicts an explosive conflict between the soldiers occupying a U.S. Army base and the citizens of the hick town neighboring the base. The movie features myriad subplots and several principal characters, so for about the first hour of the film’s running time, it’s hard to tell who or what the story is about. Once things come into focus—or at least as much so as they ever do, which is not a lot—the sum is less than the parts. Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? includes some amusing performances, as well as fine production values and fleeting passages of snappy dialogue, but the script is simultaneously overpopulated and underdeveloped. Interesting ideas fade into the ether, silly tropes rise to the fore, and it all congeals into a kind of cinematic sludge.
The basic gist is that a career soldier named Officer Michael Nace (Brian Keith) gets tasked with handling community relations between the base and the town. That’s easier said than done, because troublemaking Army personnel including drunken womanizer Sergeant Shannon Gambroni (Tony Curtis) have made enemies of the town’s sadistic top cop, Sheriff Harve (Ernest Borgnine). As the film progresses, tensions between citizens and soldiers grow worse and worse, eventually inspiring Mace to lead an armed assault on the town. The town fights back not just with police but also with a private militia funded and overseen by megalomaniacal idiot Billy Joe Davis (Tom Ewell).
This short synopsis excludes easily half of the film’s narrative threads, because characters played by Don Ameche, Bradford Dillman, Ivan Dixon, and Suzanne Pleshette—among others—also have significant amounts of screen time. Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? is such a mess that it’s not worth expressing frustration that certain elements almost work. Borgnine adds another scenery-chewing monster to his gallery of screen villains, and Keith is entertainingly grumpy, but their efforts are stymied by the general formlessness. As Borgnine says in his autobiography, “We had a lot of fun doing it and I got a paycheck, even though it turned out terrible.”
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?: FUNKY