Wanda Hendrix (left) tries to tell Edmond O'Brien to get lost.

Wanda Hendrix (left) politely tells Edmond O’Brien to get lost. (Lousy screencap by yours truly.)

We all know someone who is, shall we say, “thrifty”.

This is a person who panics if they have to spend their money, but they’re very encouraging when it comes to spending your money.

Yet, there are rare people who elevate thriftiness to an art form and make it look like an enviable – even honourable – profession.

Such is the character Edmond O’Brien portrays in The Admiral was a Lady, a 1950 comedy about recently-discharged vets adjusting to civilian life after World War II. O’Brien heads a former bomber crew who meet a WAVE ensign (Wanda Hendrix) at the so-called “52/20 Club”. (This is a social security office where veterans collect a $20/week assistance cheque while looking for employment.)

The airmen take Hendrix under their wings (ha ha), and settle into a domestic arrangement à la Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

O’Brien is perfectly cast as a charming con man who claims he “can’t afford to work”. Hendrix is delightfully funny as a down-to-earth woman swept up by the airmen’s enthusiasm. Our fave, Rudy Vallee, steals a few scenes as a cash-strapped businessman whose ex-wife is his “only liquid asset”.

Rudy Vallee (right) threatens Edmund O'Brien with a job if he doesn't behave. Image: sjad askjf sdkj

An angry Rudy Vallee (right) threatens Edmund O’Brien with a job. Image: wn.com

But wait! This movie is more than brilliant casting and laugh-out-loud lines. The screenwriters have thoughtfully provided us with a gift, something that resonates with us today as much as it did with vets in 1950.

A Blueprint for Happier Living through Not Working

How is this possible? We’re glad you asked! We have organized the script’s blueprint for Not Working into five handy categories:

1. Housing

There’s no need to pay for housing if there are abandoned, freshly scrubbed buildings that no one else has thought to live in. In our movie, the airmen have commandeered empty army barracks, complete with cavernous, multi-stall bathrooms.

2. Food

Food is always a tricky item to avoid purchasing. However, our scriptwriters assure us that days-old food is inexpensive and poses no health risk! In one scene, the men treat Hendrix to chicken that’s been on a rotisserie for five days. What’s five days on a spit when it’s an extra 50 per cent off?

3. Transportation

Why bother with a car when you can hitch a ride with a delivery truck? In our film, the boys are chauffered by in a delivery van. With deliveries all over the city, a person can go anywhere free of charge.

4. Banking

Sadly, banking rules have changed since 1950, and perhaps O’Brien’s crew was responsible. The script tells us that, back in the day, you could cash your $20/week cheque by opening a bank account, collecting your cash, then immediately closing the account. (And don’t forget the promotional piggy bank, Mac!)

5. Entertainment

Who says a person can’t have fun on $20/week? O’Brien poses as a millionaire looking to buy a yacht so he and the men can take Henrix for an ocean excursion. When the current yacht owner mentions the price of the boat, O’Brien nearly chokes. But he recovers and says coyly, “$70,000 is a lot of money. Even for me.”

The Admiral was a Lady is a small budget film that deserves to be more well known. If it isn’t praised for its script and acting, then it should be revered for its tongue-in-cheek budgeting tips.

The Admiral was  Lady: starring Edmund O’Brien, Wanda Hendrix, Rudy Vallee. Directed by Albert S. Rogell. Written by John O’Dea and Sidney Salko. United Artists, 1950, B&W, 87 mins.

This post is part of Fabulous Films of the 50s Blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Be sure to read all the other contributions, daddy-o.


Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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