Private Benjamin (1980): Shyer’s Femme-Centered Comedy, Starring Goldie Hawn in Oscar-Nominated Performance

Goldie Hawn gives a charming, Oscar nominated performance in Private Benjamin, a light feminist service comedy.

After Judy Benjamin’s husband dies on their wedding night, the ditzy Jewish American Princess decides to enlist in the army. Of course, she’s been misled by an unscrupulous recruiter, prompting an unrealistic set of expectations.

After Judy Benjamin’s husband (Albert Brooks) dies on their wedding night, during sex on their big wedding night, the ditzy and bored Jewish American Princess decides to enlist in the army.

Needless to say she is naïve and spoiled.  Having been misled by an unscrupulous recruiter (Harry Dean Stanton), she expects a tropical vacation and other niceties, just doing it in a uniform.

Thus,  Benjamin instantly receives a reality check during basic training, conducted by the snarling Capt. Doreen Lewis (terrific Eileen Brennan), who revels in cutting the spoiled snob down to size.

But Private Benjamin endures the rigors of the military, and gradually she becomes transformed into a disciplined soldier—and more mature woman.

The last reel, in which Judy Benjamin has a romantic affair with a smooth Frenchman (aith Armand Assante) is weak and distracting, but the first hour of the picture is funny, poignant, and vastly entertaining.

The parents are well played by Sam Wanamker and Barbara Barrie.

The movie was extremely popular: Made on a budget of $15 million, it earned $70 million at the box-office, reaffirming Hawn’s status as a major star and producer.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Actress: Goldie Hawn

Supporting Actress: Eileen Brennan

Screenplay (Original): Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, and Harvey Miller

Oscar Awards: None

 Oscar Context:

 The winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Sissy Spacek for the musical biopic “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”  Mary Steenburgen won the Supporting Actress Oscar for the comedy “Melvin and Howard,” which also won Original Screenplay for Bo Goldman.


Goldie Hawn (Judy Benjamin)

Capt. Doreen Lewis (Eileen Brennan)

Henri Tremont (Armand Assante)

Col. Clay Thornbush (Robert Webber)

Teddy Benjamin (Sam Wanaker)

Harriet Benjamin (Barbara Barrie)

Private Mary Lou Glass (Mary Kay Place)

Sgt. Jim Ballard (Harry Dean Stanton)

Yale Goodman (Albert Brooks)

Rabbi (Alan Oppenheimer)


Directed by Charles Shyer

Screenplay (Original): Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, and Harvey Miller

Release date: October 10, 1980
Running time: 109 minutes