Make time for No Time for Sergeants

Original made for TV production (1955)—A+

Hollywood remake (1958)—B+

I recently began a short series on wonderful teleplays and the later Hollywood remakes.  Teleplays were original live television productions that were aired in the 1950s—and usually featured top directors, actors and writers.  This is for two huge reasons.  First, Hollywood was in a rut and attendance was way down–and many respected movie stars soon migrated to the little screen.  Second, because there was a need for lots of NEW shows, lots of very talented folks behind the camera were given chances to write, direct or produce–folks such as Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen and many others.  Because of this new talent, scripts like 12 Angry Men, Requiem for a Heavyweight and Marty were all originally television productions before they became great films.  And, fortunately, you can see BOTH the original and Hollywood remakes of several of these teleplays.  Sadly, however, most of the teleplays were never saved–and who knows how many great ones have simply been forgotten.

This installment in my mini-series is No Time for Sergeants.  Unlike the rest of the teleplays I’ll discuss, the actual original version was a Broadway play—a play that, like the teleplay and movie, starred Andy Griffith and helped make him famous.  In fact, if it wasn’t for No Time for Sergeants, there probably would have never been an Andy Griffith Show.

No Time for Sergeants is the story of a hillbilly who knows very little of the real world.  Again and again, he’s totally clueless when he’s introduced to the outside world.  This introduction occurs when Private Will Stockdale is drafted into the US Army…and the US Army is definitely NOT ready for Stockdale!  Although a very nice fellow, Stockdale (Griffith) is completely ignorant about the modern world as well as its social graces.  And, again and again, this gets the very eager to please Private into trouble—especially with his Sergeant.

The movie version of No Time for Sergeants is very funny and enjoyable.  However, its structure is VERY different from both the play and the teleplay.  It’s quite polished but looks a lot like a lot of other films—you are the observer.  However, in both the play and teleplay, often Stockdale steps out of character to talk to the audience.  Herein lies so much of the charm that is lost in the movie.  Hearing Stockdale’s thoughts is wonderful–something you almost never get to do in a movie.  And, the things he’s thinking are among the funniest things you could imagine.

So where can you find this hilarious production?  Well, the movie is occasionally shown on Turner Classic Movies and can be rented from Netflix.  As for the teleplay–it’s a bit harder to find unless you know where to look.  You need to go to archive.org–a completely free source for public domain films and TV shows.  This means you can watch them online or copy them…absolutely 100% free.  Just go to the site and type in ‘No Time For Sergeants’ into the search bar.  Then, you can download it in one of several formats or watch it online for free.  However, you will need a video player that supports the formats used at archive.org–VLC player and Media Player Classic (not to be confused with Windows Media Player) work well with the films.  And, if you need any more advice on how to copy the films, ask someone under age 30–they’ll know!

by Martin Hafer