Release year: 1980
Director: Howard Zieff
Screenwriter: Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, Harvey Miller
Starring: Goldie Hawn, Eileen Brennan, Armand Assante, Robert Webber, Barbara Barrie, Mary Kay Place, Hal Williams, Toni Kalem
Ratings: 3 Oscar nominations: Best Actress (Goldie Hawn), Best Supporting Actress (Eileen Brennan), Best Original Screenplay. 1 Golden Globe nomination: Best Actress Comedy/Musical (Goldie Hawn).
After a disaster on her wedding night, spoiled rich Judy (Hawn) is talked into joining the army, thinking it will be alone time in holiday style bungalows. When the cold, muddy and tough reality hits her Judy finds out the army isn’t something you can just leave. But maybe there is something to learn for a girl, who has had everyone else make decisions for her.
Both Hawn’s (Overboard, 1987) Oscar nominations, of where she won one of them, lies in the beginning of her career (she won Best Supporting Actress for Cactus Flower from 1969). In the case of Private Benjamin, the reason is perhaps that her role gives her a chance to play more drama, than the pure rom-coms of the 1980s for which she is best known did. Her character Judy is a quiet girl, rich and spoiled but also easy to handle. As the story plays out, you begin to realize that she hardly ever makes any decision for herself but instead follow the direction of whoever is the man in her life, be it husband or her father. In the army she finally gets a chance to prove to the world and, not at least, herself, exactly what she is capable of and watching this delightful character’s road to self respect is pure joy. Hawn is every bit as charming as always and she easily carries this tale of her character on her delicate shoulders. If you haven’t watched this since childhood, you may remember this as pure comedy and there is memorable comedy scenes (the shower scene for one), but revisiting this classic you may discover it is meatier than you remembered. A must for any fan of Goldie Hawn.
Goldie Hawn signed onto Private Benjamin in June 1979 and went through boot camp training for six weeks. In the biography ‘Pure Goldie: The Life and Times of Goldie Hawn’ by Marc Shapiro Hawn said of the training: “After going through basic training, I would not resist the draft. Provided, of course, I could have a stunt double at all times.”
Almost one hundred sets at the Burbank Studio were built for this picture’s production.
The movie spurred a successful short lived TV series Private Benjamin (1981) which aired between 1981 and 1983 and won Emmy and Golden Globe awards. Actors Eileen Brennanand Hal Williams reprised their roles of Captain Doreen Lewis and Sergeant L.C. Ross respectively. Damita Jo Freeman also reprised her role, the name of Freeman’s character was changed from Private Gloria Moe to Private Jackie Sims.
Picture copyrights: Warner Home Video