Something of an aberration among ’70s live-action offerings from Walt Disney Productions, The Boatniks is a straightforward comedy with a romantic subplot. It doesn’t feature animals or children, and it doesn’t showcase special effects (excepting process shots of submarines) or supernatural elements. The Boatniks doesn’t even star one of Disney’s regular leading men, though it’s easy to picture Dean Jones in the starring role. The Boatniks could have been made by any studio, since it holds no special appeal for children beyond slapstick gags. After all, how interested is the average juvenile viewer in a love story, the exploits of jewel thieves, and the problems of a young Coast Guard officer trying not to botch his first command assignment?
Onetime song-and-dance man Robert Morse, appearing in his last film role before a 17-year hiatus from the big screen, plays Ensign Tom Garland, a young junior officer assigned to supervise a patrol boat in the waters surrounding Los Angeles. A well-meaning klutz, Tom screws up his first few patrols, doing things like running a boat aground and spilling a can of paint on Kate (Stefanie Powers), the attractive proprietor of a sailing school. Tom’s misadventures cause friction with his exasperated supervisor, Commander Taylor (Don Ameche). Meanwhile, a group of jewel thieves led by fast-talking Harry Simmons (Phil Silvers) attempts aquatic getaway, which is impeded by the thieves’ lack of nautical knowhow. Clues eventually hip Tom to the presence of wanted criminals, so he strives to capture them and thereby refurbish his reputation. Naturally, he and Kate transition from frenemies to significant others amid the madcap antics.
Notwithstanding its lack of standard-issue Disney plot elements, The Boatniks contains stylistic hallmarks of the studio’s live-action fare, notably dense plotting and mile-a-minute pacing. Some of what happens onscreen is amusing and charming, even though the overall tone of the piece is squaresville. (One exception: the randy running gag about a drunken playboy who keeps his boat stocked with bikini-clad babes.) Morse is personable in the leading role, though he’s outgunned by comedy pros Ameche and Silver, as well as supporting players Joe E. Brown, Wally Cox, and Norman Fell. Deserving special mention are writers Arthur Julian and Martin Roth, whose story is more of a juggling act than a proper narrative. Their deftness at keeping so many subplots running in tandem is impressive, even if The Boatniks never achieves the desired level of hilarity.
The Boatniks: FUNKY