Plot: Francis has been drafted and is soon to be part of the Navy, but the plan is to sell the mule as surplus. Of course, Peter (Donald O’Connor) is not going to stand by while his best friend is shipped off, so he jumps into action. As it turns out, the Navy is interested in Peter as well, but not for the usual reasons. Another sailor looks exactly like Peter and he is somewhat of a mischief maker, so Peter is rounded out, since the Navy assumes he is the other sailor. This leads to a series of mishaps, as Peter tries to prove his identity and escape from the Navy’s clutches, to rescue his friend. But can he figure out how to help Francis and himself in time?
Entertainment Value: This was the sixth movie in the Francis series, but it marked the end of an era for the franchise, as it would be the final return for Donald O’Connor, director Arthur Lubin, and Molly, the mule who played Francis. The series would come back one last time, but with new cast and crew, so Francis in the Navy marks a farewell of sorts. The narrative here at least makes an attempt to freshen up the well worn formula, but the mistaken identity thread gets repetitive fairly soon and for some reason, Francis has a much smaller role than normal here. As the series has been centered on Peter and Francis through the first five installments, I was let down to see this one put Francis in the background. Donald O’Connor is humorous as always, but I missed the exchanges between Peter and Francis and without that element, this feels like a run of the mill, forgettable comedy in most scenes. There is still some humor to be had here, but it is a rather lackluster send off for the series regulars, especially Francis, who feels like an afterthought here. But if you’ve enjoyed the franchise to this point, you might as well wrap it up with Francis in the Navy.
One of the reasons this movie has some historical interest is because it happens to be the first credited appearance of Clint Eastwood, so fans of his work should appreciate this very early performance. He is by no means a lead here, but it is still neat to see such a young Eastwood in action. Donald O’Connor returns for his sixth turn as Peter to lead the movie and while he is fun to watch, I can’t help but wish he had more scenes with the namesake of the series. Those scenes were some of the funniest in the franchise, so it feels like a missed opportunity to give the friends a proper farewell, since they have such little time together in this one. But O’Connor is likable and the double vision thread lets him mix up his performance a little, which is good news, since he did have things down to a routine at this point. I wouldn’t have minded some more creative uses of the look alike angle, but at least it presents a few new scenarios. The cast also includes Martha Hyer, Jim Backus, Martin Milner, and David Janssen.