Hutton plays Lt. Merle Wye, a lieutenant stationed on an island in the South Pacific circa 1944. Merle is tasked with finding a Japanese soldier who's been hiding out on the island, repeatedly stealing rations from the U.S. army outpost.
Merle is a klutz -- hence the title -- who doesn't have much success in his mission. But he does gradually make some headway romancing nurse Molly Blue (Prentiss).
This was the fourth film teaming Hutton and Prentiss, who were first paired in WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960), followed by THE HONEYMOON MACHINE (1961) and BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961). They also both appeared in LOOKING FOR LOVE (1964), although Prentiss just had a cameo in that film.
Unfortunately THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT is the weakest of the four main Hutton-Prentiss entries. WHERE THE BOYS ARE, THE HONEYMOON MACHINE, and BACHELOR IN PARADISE are all fine, funny entertainment, but for most of its running time THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT just feels silly. The comedy is excessively juvenile, and there's not enough of Paula Prentiss. The film definitely picks up some energy whenever she's on screen.
Speaking of Prentiss, she and the other nurses in the film didn't look very much like women from films of the '40s. The hairstyles weren't as bad as Susannah York's very 1960s mop top in BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969), but the film had such little '40s atmosphere that I periodically forgot when the story was supposed to be taking place. It's a very generic, bland "service comedy" in that regard.
In fact, the film's attitude is in many ways so post-WWII that the treatment of Japanese characters seems oddly incongruous at times; thus, some bits may make the modern viewer wince slightly.
The supporting cast includes Charles McGraw, Jack Carter, Jim Backus, Miyoshi Umeki, Lloyd King, Marty Ingels, and Yoshio Yoda.
This MGM film was produced by Joe Pasternak and directed by Richard Thorpe. It runs 90 minutes.
All five Hutton-Prentiss films have been released in remastered widescreen prints by the Warner Archive, including THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT. I've seen all of the Hutton-Prentiss Archive releases except LOOKING FOR LOVE, and they look terrific. A trailer is included on the HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT DVD.
The trailer can be seen online at TCM.
THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT has also had a release on VHS.
Hutton-Prentiss fans will want to check out THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT, but alas, it's a disappointment compared to their very enjoyable earlier films.