Operation Mad Ball (1957): Quine’s Service Comedy, Starring Jack Lemmon in his First Major Role military comedy

Marking the first time that Jack Lemmon received top billing, and offering the first major screen role for Ernie Kovacs, Operation Mad Ball is a 1957 military comedy from Columbia Pictures, directed by Richard Quine.

The secondary cast includes Kathryn Grant, Arthur O’Connell, and Mickey Rooney.

The screenplay is by Blake Edwards, Jed Harris, and Arthur Carter, based on an unproduced play by Carter.

In a hospital unit in the U.S. Army in Europe after WWII, Private Hogan does not believe that a blue-stocking can be good-looking, but the first sight of dietetic nurse Lieutenant Betty Bixby sets him straight.

When he picks up her cigarette lighter, security officer Paul Locke admonishes him for putting down his weapon while on guard duty and confines him to quarters preliminary to a court martial. The colonel in charge of the unit, however, would prefer to keep everything “in the family” and avoid a court martial.

Hogan plans to organize a ball at an off-limits hotel with the prettiest nurses and fellow soldiers. Hogan and Cpl. Bohun go through many mishaps to make sure that the secret Mad Ball goes ahead.

Hogan uses a General’s X-ray and pretends it belongs to him to win the sympathy of Lt. Bixby, so that he can take her to the ball. Hogan claims to be suffering from heartburn and ulcer, and Bixby recommends dietetic changes. When Betty finds out that the X-ray doesn’t belong to Hogan, she is upset.

On the ball’s night, each soldier is paired with a pretty nurse, except Hogan. He waits for Bixby, hoping for forgiveness, but he ends up going on his own. When he arrives, he sees Betty with the Colonel, but at the end, she shares the last dance with Hogan.

Jack Lemmon as Private Hogan
Ernie Kovacs as Captain Locke
Kathryn Grant as Lt. Betty Bixby
Arthur O’Connell as Col. Rousch
Mickey Rooney as Sergeant Yancy Skibo
Dick York as Cpl. Bohun
Jeanne Manet as Madame LaFour
James Darren as Private Widowskas
Roger Smith as Corporal Berryman
Marilyn Hanold as Lieutenant Tweedy
L.Q. Jones as Ozark
William Leslie as Private Grimes


TCM showed the movie on May 20, 2021.