What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?

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What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?
What Did You Do in the War, Daddy.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Blake Edwards
Produced by Blake Edwards
Written by William Peter Blatty
Story by Maurice Richlin
Blake Edwards
Starring James Coburn
Aldo Ray
Dick Shawn
Sergio Fantoni
Giovanna Ralli
Carroll O'Connor
Harry Morgan
Music by Ray Evans
Jay Livingston
Henry Mancini
Cinematography Philip H. Lathrop
Edited by Ralph E. Winters
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • August 31, 1966 (1966-08-31)
Running time 123 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $ 7,000,000 USD[1]
Box office $2,650,000 (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]

What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? is a 1966 comedy film written by William Peter Blatty and directed by Blake Edwards for the Mirisch Company. It stars James Coburn and Dick Shawn.


In 1943, during Operation Husky, when asked by General Bolt (Carroll O'Connor) about the little Italian village called Valerno, his hitherto adjutant Captain Lionel Cash (Shawn) insists on attacking and immediately finds himself in command of Charlie Company to carry out the operation. The war-weary company, led by Lieutenant Christian (Coburn) and Italian-American Sergeant Rizzo (Aldo Ray), is not overly fond of another mission.

The company proceeds cautiously towards its assigned target only to find the supposed-to-be enemies holding a soccer match. Capitano Fausto Oppo (Sergio Fantoni), the Italian officer in command, is all too willing to surrender but for one condition: the annual village wine festival scheduled tonight must be held. No festival, no surrender, basta!

Persuaded by Lt. Christian, the inexperienced Capt, Cash reluctantly gives in. To disguise the delay, Christian sends a wire to the brass detailing "minor resistance". The festival is a great success lasting well into the night.

The next morning, Headquarters requires an urgent report of what's going on. Capt. Cash is out of action due to wine and woman (the mayor's pretty daughter Gina (Giovanna Ralli)), so Lt. Christian takes command, discovering that many of his men have exchanged uniforms with Italian soldiers during a drunken game of strip poker.

PR Office Major Pott (Harry Morgan) shows up to check on the reported "minor resistance." To prevent the truth from getting out, Pott is taken hostage by the "Italian soldiers" and locked up. He is accidentally rescued by two bumbling bank robbers, who spend the entire film digging underground looking for the bank vault. He then falls into the catacombs under town, where he gets lost and goes insane.

Pott being missing, and Oppo having discovered Gina (his mistress) in Cash's bed, all hell breaks loose. The surrender is called off, and a massive fistfight breaks out just as an American reconnaissance plane flies overhead. The personal fight is mistaken for actual hand-to-hand combat, so Cash and Oppo receive wires from their superiors to continue fighting, as sending back-up is impossible.

Everyone is stuck now, so the Italians and Americans must work together to stage a battle whenever a plane flies overhead, using blank ammunition. This state of affairs goes on for three days until the Nazis fly over, see what's going on, and decide to help out their Italian allies.

The Germans, led by Colonel Kastorp (Leon Askin of Hogan's Heroes) assault the town, discover Oppo and his men fraternizing with the enemy, and arrest everyone. Pott, still insanely wandering the catacombs wearing gladiator armour, pounds the ceiling with a trident, breaking a hole in the prison floor that sends Cash plummeting to the ground.

Cash, Christian and Oppo devise a plan to slip out of town and get help, which necessitates Cash dressing up as a woman, fending off the advances of an amorous German officer, and then pretending to be Colonel Kastorp, who has been accidentally killed by some local Communists. He discovers that the Germans are planning to shoot all the prisoners, which by now include the townspeople.

This leads to a wild change of plans as the Americans sneak out of the prison, attack German soldiers and steal their uniforms, returning their unconscious bodies, dressed in THEIR uniforms, as prisoners. At dawn, just as the execution is about to begin, the Americans surprise the Nazis, holding them hostage and taking the town for America.

General Bolt personally rides into town to congratulate Cash, now promoted to Major as the "hero of Valerno," only to learn that the Italians are hiding and will not come out unless they are given another festival. There the story ends, Cash and Christian entertaining the general with wine (and Gina) while enjoying one last day in Valerno.



The title of the film came to Edwards when asked the question by his son Geoffrey. As Edwards was having marital problems at the time he didn't want to leave the United States so Mirisch Productions agreed to film the movie in Lake Sherwood, California for $5 million that included the construction of a large Italian village set.[3] In his study of Edwards, Myron Meisel stated that Coburn imitated Blake Edwards' mannerisms throughout the film.[4]

The film was the first of what was originally intended to be six Mirisch-Geoffrey Productions[5] between Edwards and the Mirisch Company. Only one other film, The Party was completed.

William Peter Blatty recalled that he and Edwards originally agreed to make the film grim and without comedy for the first twenty minutes. This idea was shelved when during the scene where Captain Cash visits Charlie Company at their chow line he holds out his hand and one of the GI mess orderly's ladles beans into the Captain's hand.[6]


The score is by Henry Mancini. It includes "The Swing March" and the song "In the Arms of Love".


  1. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 185
  2. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
  3. ^ Wasson, Sam A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards Wesleyan University Press, 2009
  4. ^ Meisel, Myron Blake Edwards Coursodon, Jean Pierre & Sauvage, Pierre editors American directors, Volume 2 McGraw-Hill, 1983
  5. ^ http://www.imdb.com/company/co0301497/
  6. ^ 1994 Blatty Interview http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvKJCj6DM7g

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