Director: Norman Taurog
MGM Limited Edition Collection

From the director of DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE comes this madcap comedy/musical, an American International Pictures (AIP) production with their star contract heartthrob, Frankie Avalon. SERGENT DEADHEAD (also known as SERGEANT DEADHEAD THE ASTRONAUT) is a typically zany AIP 1960s effort, which is basically a “beach” picture (using many of the same actors and personnel) in a different setting. Never before available on home video, the star-studded SERGEANT DEADHEAD finally gets his salute as part of MGM’s Limited Edition Collection.

At a United States Air Force Base (Aero Space Division), young, clumsy Sgt. O.K. Deadhead (Frankie Avalon, HORROR HOUSE) is sent to the guardhouse after causing some mischief with an exploding toy missile. This imprisonment delays his weekend wedding to W.A.F. girlfriend Lucy (Deborah Walley, IT’S A BIKINI WORLD) who also resides on the base in a barrack occupied by a bevy of leggy beauties. When Deadhead requests to see the head general (Fred Clark, CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB) in his office, he accidentally detonates on a panic button, resulting in longer jail time for the bumbling officer. But with the help of an exploding ballpoint pen, Deadhead escapes confinement, sneaking into a rocket ship for refuge and a good night's sleep.

With “Project Moon Monkey” underway, the rocket that Deadhead happened to slip into, and is now locked in, is to be manned solo by a monkey and launched into orbit. When the head officers (as well as the President) learn that Deadhead is aboard, they immediately execute a cover-up story, making it appear that he volunteered to pilot the ship (with his simian co-pilot) and that when he returns, he will be hailed as a hero and his wedding will commence with their blessings. He returns home safely, but something occurred in space that has the formerly sweet guy transformed him into a cocky, arrogant woman chaser. Not being able to deal with his obnoxious nature, the general and his cohorts put Deadhead in solitary confinement, with an exact look-alike known as Sgt. Donovan (also Avalon) taking his place as well as taking his fiancée. Further confusion is stirred up when Deadhead escapes on the day of Lucy’s wedding (to imposter Donovan) and things get even more wild when he secretly barges in on the honeymoon.

Long-time AIP collaborator Louis M. 'Deke' Heyward scripted the film, throwing logic out the window (they just happen to find a Deadhead clone who also is an Air Force sergeant) to craft a typical mid 1960s madcap comedy/romance with a number of musical performances thrown in (as sung by various cast members). Director Taurog had already been responsible for a number of Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley vehicles, so he’s totally in tune with the formula here. Like with AIP’s beach pictures, the cast is a mix of youthful actors combined with screen veterans, the oldest being silent comedy king Buster Keaton doing some unfunny shtick in the last of a handful of films he did for the company. Eve Arden plays a lieutenant who’s smitten with Fred Clark. Gale Gordon, Cesar Romero and Reginald Gardiner are the other Air Force commanders, and Pat Puttram plays the President (though he mostly heard on the telephone until the very end). Familiar Beach picture faces include “Eric Von Zipper” himself Harvey Lembeck and John Ashley (as Deadhead’s guardhouse cell mates), Mike Nader, Bobbi Shaw and Donna Lauren who sings several songs (as do Avalon, Walley and Arden, who basically talks her husky voice through her tune).

You would think that a movie about Frankie Avalon as an astronaut (nut) in a rocket ship with a monkey would spend more screen time on such a subject, but it’s only approached briefly (with Frankie playing checkers with the animal, chastising it for cheating). In one of the film’s many site gangs, the monkey is seen interviewed on TV, talking and smoking a cigarette, but his banana-eating antics are quickly forgotten in favor of the “mistaken identity” antics on Earth with Frankie playing dual roles, something he had already achieved more memorably in BIKINI BEACH. The film is also filled with light sexual innuendo, including a nervous Frankie (as the upright Donovan) trying not to gawk at Walley’s nightgown-housed cleavage as she closely serenades him, and a string of Air Force females having to salute the incoming admiral so that the bath towels that they grasp to their chests are obligated to fall to the ground. Although the production values are rather good overall, the whole thing is cheapened by some grainy, black and white stock footage of a rocket ship and capsule landing, but perhaps this just adds to the chaotic nature of the film. Dwayne Hickman (who already starred with Frankie is several AIP comedies) is unbilled as the fellow who escorts the monk aboard the ship – he is given special thanks at the very end, followed by a “coming soon” teaser for his and Frankie’s next AIP feature, DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE. AIP house composer Les Baxter (who else?) punctuates the film with an appropriately goofy score.

Making its home video debut as part of MGM’s Limited Edition Collection of manufactured-on-demand DVDs, SERGEANT DEADHEAD is presented here in its original 2.35:1 Panavision. Colors are extremely bold and detail is sharp, with the transfer looking very clean overall (only some fleeting grain and debris during the moments where opticals are employed, or if there is a real change). The mono English audio also comes off nice and clear, with no detectable flaws. No extras or trailer have been included in this barebones release, and no chapter menu, but the viewer can move ahead at ten-minute intervals throughout the presentation. It’s also nice to see MGM using the original poster art for the cover, rather than a standard publicity photo. (George R. Reis)