Private Benjamin (1980)

R | 110 mins | Comedy | 1980

Director:

Howard Zieff

Cinematographer:

David M. Walsh

Editor:

Sheldon Kahn

Production Designer:

Robert Boyle

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures
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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Emily Barton, a student at Oregon State University, with Jon Lewis as academic advisor.

The film begins with the following text: “When Judy Benjamin was eight years old, she confessed her life’s desire to her best friend. ‘All I want,’ Judy whispered, ‘is a big house… nice clothes, two closets, a live-in maid, and a professional man for a husband.’ Today, all of Judy’s dreams come true.” The end credits conclude with: "Special Thanks to Sally Gutnick; Jerome A. Sheill, M.D."
       According to a 2 Mar 1980 LAT article, producer-writer Nancy Meyers conceived Private Benjamin for her business partner, actress Goldie Hawn, while driving. As noted in an 8 Oct 1980 NYT article, Hawn threatened Warner Bros. Pictures executives that she would make the film at another studio if they refused to produce it and, when Warners agreed, Hawn took on the role of executive producer. A 1979 DV news item announced that the film marked Hawn’s debut as a feature film producer, even though she served as an uncredited “ex-oficio producer” of The Girl from Petrovka (1974, see entry). DV noted that writers Charles Shyer, who was also Meyers’s husband, and Harvey Miller would be credited as producers and the film represented Nancy Meyers’s screenwriting debut. While Hawn told DV that the picture was budgeted between $6 and $7 million, LAT later stated that the budget was increased to $9.2 million.
       A 29 ... More Less

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Emily Barton, a student at Oregon State University, with Jon Lewis as academic advisor.

The film begins with the following text: “When Judy Benjamin was eight years old, she confessed her life’s desire to her best friend. ‘All I want,’ Judy whispered, ‘is a big house… nice clothes, two closets, a live-in maid, and a professional man for a husband.’ Today, all of Judy’s dreams come true.” The end credits conclude with: "Special Thanks to Sally Gutnick; Jerome A. Sheill, M.D."
       According to a 2 Mar 1980 LAT article, producer-writer Nancy Meyers conceived Private Benjamin for her business partner, actress Goldie Hawn, while driving. As noted in an 8 Oct 1980 NYT article, Hawn threatened Warner Bros. Pictures executives that she would make the film at another studio if they refused to produce it and, when Warners agreed, Hawn took on the role of executive producer. A 1979 DV news item announced that the film marked Hawn’s debut as a feature film producer, even though she served as an uncredited “ex-oficio producer” of The Girl from Petrovka (1974, see entry). DV noted that writers Charles Shyer, who was also Meyers’s husband, and Harvey Miller would be credited as producers and the film represented Nancy Meyers’s screenwriting debut. While Hawn told DV that the picture was budgeted between $6 and $7 million, LAT later stated that the budget was increased to $9.2 million.
       A 29 Aug 1979 Var news item announced that Arthur Hiller was set to direct the picture, which was scheduled to begin principal photography on 22 Oct 1979. On 29 Nov 1979, HR reported that Sam Wanamaker, who had subsequently been hired to direct, was instead cast in the role of “Teddy Benjamin.” Although a 30 Nov 1979 HR news item stated that actor Dabney Coleman was contracted to co-star in the picture, he did not remain with the project. A 3 Dec 1979 DV news item reported that principal photography began that day with Howard Zieff directing at The Burbank Studios in Burbank, CA. On 26 Feb 1980, HR noted that the production was moving to Paris, France, for its final two weeks of filming and on 12 Mar 1980, HR announced that the film had wrapped after a twelve week shoot.
       The 2 Mar 1980 LAT article stated that a U.S. Army obstacle course was constructed in Newhall, CA, behind Magic Mountain theme park, and active members of the U.S. Marines were hired as extras. Hawn’s stunt double, Glynn Rubin, was credited as the film’s stunt coordinator, marking the first time a woman held that position in a feature film, according to LAT .
       Although a 23 Aug 1980 Billboard news item stated that Paul Williams was contracted to compose lyrics for Bill Conti’s Private Benjamin theme song, he is not credited in the film.
       Despite the film’s mixed reviews, a 29 Oct 1980 Var news item announced that the film grossed over $18 million in the first seventeen days of its release and noted it was “particularly outstanding for this time of year.”
       Private Benjamin was adapted as a television series for Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1981 and ran for two seasons. Actress Eileen Brennan reprised the role of “Captain Doreen Lewis” in the series.
       As stated in a 5 Oct 2011 HR news item, a remake of Private Benjamin was in development at New Line Cinema.
       The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in the categories of Actress in a Leading Role (Goldie Hawn), Actress in a Supporting Role (Eileen Brennan) and Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen). Private Benjamin ranked number eighty-two on AFI’s list of America’s 100 Funniest Movies.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Billboard
23 Aug 1980.
---
Daily Variety
3 Dec 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Nov 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Nov 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Feb 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Mar 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Oct 1980
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 2011.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Mar 1980
Section O, p. 30.
Los Angeles Times
10 Oct 1980
p. 1.
New York Times
8 Oct 1980
Section B, p. 8.
New York Times
10 Oct 1980
p. 6.
Variety
29 Aug 1979.
---
Variety
8 Oct 1980
p. 20.
Variety
29 Oct 1980.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Hawn-Meyers-Shyer-Miller production
A Howard Zieff film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Prod mgr, French unit
Unit mgr, French unit
Asst dir
1st asst dir, French unit
2d asst dir
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Gaffer
Best boy
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir, French unit
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Assoc ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost des
Women's cost
Men's cost
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Boom op
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Supv sd ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Loc mgr, French unit
U.S. Army tech adv
U.S. Army tech adv
Asst to Ms. Hawn
Asst to the prods
Asst to the prods
Prod coord
Prod coord, French unit
Transportation coord
Unit pub
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt double
COLOR PERSONNEL
Color tech
DETAILS
Release Date:
1980
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 10 October 1980
Production Date:
3 December 1979 -- 12 March 1980 in Los Angeles, Burbank and Paris
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
9 December 1980
Copyright Number:
PA87713
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor®
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
110
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

At a Jewish wedding, Judy Benjamin and lawyer Yale Goodman pledge their vows and dance with family and friends. Leading Judy away from the party to the limousine, Yale complains of a headache and asks Judy to relieve it with oral sex. Later, Judy’s parents, Teddy and Harriet Benjamin, present the couple with a sizeable dowry. That night, Yale dies as he makes love to Judy, and, after the funeral, Judy is inconsolable. When she overhears her parents discussing what to do with her, Judy runs away to a motel. Talking on air to a radio talk show host, Judy confesses she has never been alone and a man calls the station, offering assistance. When Judy meets with the caller, she realizes he is Sergeant Jim Ballard, an army recruiter. Showing her a picture of yachts at Fort Ord in Monterey, California, Jim promises Judy that she will find a glamorous job in the service, possibly in Europe, with free housing and a paid vacation. When Jim assures Judy that she can quit at any time, she takes a pledge of allegiance and enlists. At Fort Biloxi in Mississippi, drill instructor Sergeant L. C. Ross finds Judy asleep on the bus and punishes her with push-ups. Later, in the barracks, Captain Doreen Lewis commends Private Wanda Winter’s tidy locker and feigns amusement at Judy’s complaints. After Judy points out that the toilet is unsanitary, Lewis orders her to spend the night cleaning it with her electric toothbrush and before she can sleep, Ross wakes the recruits for an announcement by post commander Colonel Clay Thornbush. As Judy ... +


At a Jewish wedding, Judy Benjamin and lawyer Yale Goodman pledge their vows and dance with family and friends. Leading Judy away from the party to the limousine, Yale complains of a headache and asks Judy to relieve it with oral sex. Later, Judy’s parents, Teddy and Harriet Benjamin, present the couple with a sizeable dowry. That night, Yale dies as he makes love to Judy, and, after the funeral, Judy is inconsolable. When she overhears her parents discussing what to do with her, Judy runs away to a motel. Talking on air to a radio talk show host, Judy confesses she has never been alone and a man calls the station, offering assistance. When Judy meets with the caller, she realizes he is Sergeant Jim Ballard, an army recruiter. Showing her a picture of yachts at Fort Ord in Monterey, California, Jim promises Judy that she will find a glamorous job in the service, possibly in Europe, with free housing and a paid vacation. When Jim assures Judy that she can quit at any time, she takes a pledge of allegiance and enlists. At Fort Biloxi in Mississippi, drill instructor Sergeant L. C. Ross finds Judy asleep on the bus and punishes her with push-ups. Later, in the barracks, Captain Doreen Lewis commends Private Wanda Winter’s tidy locker and feigns amusement at Judy’s complaints. After Judy points out that the toilet is unsanitary, Lewis orders her to spend the night cleaning it with her electric toothbrush and before she can sleep, Ross wakes the recruits for an announcement by post commander Colonel Clay Thornbush. As Judy struggles through training, her friends warn it is impossible to quit the army. That night, Judy is beaten by Private Tina Gianelli, a fellow trainee who chose the military over a prison sentence, and Judy decides to run away. When Ross alerts Lewis to Judy’s attempted escape, he finds his superior in an intimate embrace with Captain William Woolridge. As punishment for Judy’s infraction, Lewis orders the platoon to march circles in the rain and when Judy whines, the other recruits repudiate her. Ross calls Judy into a day room, where Teddy and Harriet wait for their daughter, angry that she disappeared for eight days. When Teddy suggests Judy is not competent to make her own decisions, she refuses to sign Lewis’s release form and remains in the army. Back in training, Judy displays a new commitment and gains the respect of Gianelli. Sometime later, Thornbush announces the start of the Biloxi war games and Ross assigns Judy and her team to guard a swamp. After getting lost, the girls build a campfire, smoke marijuana, and talk about sex. Judy confesses she has only experienced one mediocre orgasm and tells her friends about Yale’s death. The following morning, Judy’s group stumbles upon the rival team’s headquarters and seize control. They discover Lewis’s lover, Woolridge, making love to Winter, Lewis’s favorite recruit, and hold them as prisoners. Judy deceptively announces that the game is over, encouraging rival soldiers to come out of hiding, and wins the mock war by capturing them. Judy then exposes Woolridge and Winter, half dressed, to Lewis as the recruits cheer. Commending Judy for the victory, Thornbush offers her team a ride back to the fort in his helicopter and introduces them to his paratrooper “Thornbirds.” Later, as the girls celebrate with Ross, Lewis arrives at the barracks drunk, angry about her humiliation, and announces that she has been assigned to a new post. That night, Judy sneaks blue dye into Lewis’s showerhead and the next day at graduation, the captain is covered with makeup to conceal the color on her face. On leave, Judy and her friends go to a bar where she runs into an old friend, Selma Lemish, and is introduced to a handsome French gynecologist named Henri Tremont. Charmed, Judy leaves the bar with Henri and when they make love, she has an orgasm. Back at the fort, Judy learns that she has been appointed as the first female Thornbird. When Judy is afraid to make her first parachute jump, she is ambushed by Thornbush’s sexual advances, and leaps from the airplane. Later, Thornbush transfers Judy to a desk job in Greenland. Threatening to expose Thornbush’s indiscretion, Judy negotiates for a “procurement” job in Paris, but soon discovers that Captain Lewis is working at the same office and is withholding Judy's security clearance so she cannot advance in her position. Meanwhile, Judy renews her relationship with Henri, who has recently ended an affair with a woman named Claire, and learns that he joined the Communist Party for a week to impress her. After Lewis interrogates Judy about Henri’s suspicious party affiliation, General Foley says she will be released from the military if she continues to associate with Henri. Choosing to marry Henri, Judy calls her parents and prepares for her wedding. Henri notices Claire on the street in Paris, but later assuages Judy’s jealousy by telling her that he wants to have a baby. However, when Henri asks her to sign a prenuptial agreement, Judy questions his faith in their marriage and begins to resent her role as a housewife. After meeting her parents at the airport, Judy discovers the maid’s necklace in her bed and accuses Henri of having an affair. Henri complains that Judy no longer respects him and she apologizes. On their wedding day, however, Henri arrives late, claiming that he had to comfort Claire after she was beaten by her new boyfriend. Although Judy goes ahead with the ceremony, she remembers the dominating men in her life, including Yale and her father, and breaks up with Henri at the altar. When Henri admits to a one-night stand with the maid, belittles Judy’s service in the army, and calls her stupid, she punches him, throws off her veil and walks down the road to a new life. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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