Wake Me When It’s Over (1960): Mervyn LeRoy’s DeLuxe-Color Military Service-Comedy, Starring Ernie Kovacs and Dick Shawn

Prolific director Mervyn LeRoy helmed Wake Me When It’s Over, an old-fashioned (even by standards of the time) service comedy, starring Ernie Kovacs and Dick Shawn, which benefits from its Deluxe Color.

Based on the novel of the same name by Howard Singer, the story centers on a WWII vet who gets called back into service by mistake, and then sent to a dreary Pacific island. 

After the Korean War, the wife of Gus Brubaker (Dick Shawn) talks him into applying for G.I. insurance; he’s eligible due to his WWII service at the Air Force.  Gus is initially reluctant, because he was shot down and became a war prisoner, but the military listed him as killed.

A red-tape foul-up results in Gus being back in uniform, assigned to a shabby radar station in a remote island near Shima, Japan.

Boredom has made the airmen apathetic, slovenly, and unmotivated. Its equipment and supplies are a collection of junk, abandoned or surplus.

Ernie Kovacs plays Capt. Charlie Stark, a free-wheeling nonconformist Air Force pilot, is in charge. His superiors have forgotten that the base even exists. Gus gets to know Ume Tanaka (Nobu McCarthy), the daughter of the village’s unfriendly mayor, who shows him a pool of natural hot springs.

Gus and Charlie then conspire to open a resort hotel, using the men as labor and the broken-down equipment as materials. To get free publicity, Doc Farringtom (Jack Warden) scams journalist Joab Martinson (Robert Emhardt) to write about the water’s “healing powers.”

Doc recruits the humorless Lt. Nora McKay (Margo Moore) to lend a feminine touch, and Charlie falls for her. The airmen, including Charlie, construct a first-class facility, the Hotel Shima. Nora staffs the hotel with young women from the village. Honoring local customs, the girls are “sold” for two years to Gus at the insistence of their fathers. Nora and Charlie fall in love, but she is doubtful that he is “marriage material.”

When Martinson gets drunk and embarrasses himself, he writes a story about the hotel as a den of sin. Gus is court-martialed as a scapegoat, despite the fact that many airmen are its owners. Charlie, enraged, demands to testify, but he is transferred by his commander to prevent it.

A Congressional panel also launches an investigation, and Charlie is buzzing the trial in a jet as Doc Farrington blackmails Colonel Hollingsworth with the knowledge that he received Hotel Shima-supplied luxury goods. Stark testifies on Gus’s behalf, and all kinds of crazy antics occur during the trial.

Brubaker is found guilty of taking government property. But when the court discovers that it has tried the wrong man, due to the earlier error, the panel clears Gus’ name, but orders him to leave the hotel to the natives.

In the happy ending, Charlie and Nora reconcile and decide to get married, and Gus bids adieu to Ume, heading home.

Needless to say that this culture-collision comedy relies heavily on conventional stereotypes of both American military and Japanese women.