Under the Radar

Andy Griffith's WWII Career

Most folks will remember Andy Griffith for his role as Sheriff Andy Taylor and the small-town American values he captured on The Andy Griffith Show. A few others will mention the crafty Atlanta defense lawyer he played on Matlock.

We'd like to remember Andy for an amazing movie career, including a couple of iconic roles in World War II comedies.

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Most famous is No Time For Sergeants, the WWII comedy where Griffith plays a country bumpkin drafted in the U.S. Army and later assigned to the Air Force. Based on a best-selling novel by Mac Hyman, Griffith got his big break in the Broadway play and later reprised the role of  the seemingly unsophisticated Will Stockdale in the wildly successful movie version. It turns out Will has a lot more sense than the officers around him.

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The movie's also notable for its Manual Dexterity test, a scene that introduces the comic chemistry between Griffith and Don Knotts that would later flourish in their roles as Andy Taylor and Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show.

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In this clip. Griffith talks about his role in developing the play and the movie. Over the course of his career, he proved be a shrewd businessman, keeping ownership of his tv series (and its spinoffs Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and Mayberry RFD).

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Less well known and almost as funny is Onionhead, a 1958 movie where Griffith plays a college student who hopes to sit out WWII by joining the Coast Guard. Made quickly to cash in on his No Time for Sergeants success, it received mixed reviews at the time but the movie's a lot better than it got credit for when it came out.

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It features a great performance by Walter Matthau, Joey Bishop,  James Gregory (from The Manchurian Candidate and Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes) and Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo and Aldo in Battle for Planet of the Apes).

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Matthau had famously played opposite Griffith and Patricia Neal in 1957's A Face in the Crowd, one of the great Hollywood movies ever. Featuring Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes, a scheming drifter who becomes a media sensation, the character couldn't be further from the actor's image as kindly Sheriff Taylor.

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Another great role that goes against the Sheriff Taylor image is the aging movie cowboy Pike in 1975's Hearts of the West. Griffith teaches Jeff Bridges some hard lessons about the movie business.

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Both Onionhead and Hearts of the West are tough to catch on TV, but Turner Classic Movies just anounced that they're showing all four movies we talked about in this post on Wednesday night July 18th. Check 'em out.

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